18 No. 1 — Jan/Feb 2004
The Marketing Mix: The 4-P Recipe for Customer
by Christie Koontz
During high school, I worked at the local library after school. My job was
to shelve books in the children's room, and occasionally to man the front desk
when the real librarian was on her afternoon break. My hours after school and
during the summer were primarily spent in that small children's area, shelving,
weeding books for repair, reading to younger children, helping develop story
program material, preparing window displays, and making sure all was in tip-top
shape on Fridays for the families who came in on Saturday mornings.
Less than 10 years later, I worked in a dress shop in San Francisco while
looking for a "real" job in the advertising field. My primary tasks were to
keep stock straight and crisp, decorate the front store window, sell dresses,
and move apparel around for best positioning to increase sales. These two jobs
often seem alike to me, since I was charged with making each organization's
products available to a specific customer marketbooks to children, and
dresses to women.
My previous MLS columns have addressed other marketing concepts, such
as segmentation (grouping customers by similar traits or needs), marketing
research (information about customers' wants and needs), target markets (prioritized
customer groups), and market areas (actual and potential customers). This column
will discuss another topicthe marketing mix strategy within the library
environment. The marketing mix is, summarily, the product (dresses or children's
books), price of same, places of distribution, and related promotional messages.
The strategy is how these four work together to deliver optimal customer satisfaction.
The product can be a good, service, idea, place, or even a person. The price
is consideration of what the customer exchanges that is of value to him (e.g.,
money or time) for the product. The product is distributed in a place, such
as a facility location or through a Web site. The product is communicated to
the customer via promotion, which includes publicity, advertising, direct mail,
the Internet, or personal selling. The summary of these actions is the famous "4
P's"product, price, place, and promotion.
While the concept of dresses and books as products is straightforward, what
about a reference question answered correctly? Last summer, I was invited by
the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) division of ALA to present
a program on marketing virtual reference services. I was informed by a concerned
colleague that the group needed highly specific examples for marketing their
specialized product. While I agreed that all products have unique characteristics
that comprise the benefit package and competitive edge, I disagreed that the
systematic principles of marketing need specificity with different products.
The basic tenets of any tried-and-true principle do not change over time.
Marketing Wild Burros
To underscore my belief that any product meeting an identified customer want
or need can be marketed, I called my RUSA presentation, "Marketing Wild Burros:
A Four-Step Approach to Customer-Based Marketing." The opening PowerPoint slide
was an actual photo of wild donkeys running across an open field. This was
sent to me by a student who had successfully completed my online marketing
class (a Virtual Campus course located at
http://www.esri.com). His job was
to increase distribution of wild burros in the Southeast. Using marketing
research and GIS (geographic information system) software, he identified
people who had previously purchased a wild burro. He then identified customer
characteristics and designated similar pockets of people in the Southeast.
He segmented the potential customers into geographic areas and established
cost-effective delivery methods. For each customer group, communications
regarding the burros were distributed via direct mail and the Internet. Overall,
successfully developed a marketing mix strategy (4 P's) using tried-and-true
Here's the point: Is the product wild burros or virtual reference? Children's
books or dresses? Any of them can be marketedonce you identify customer
need and employ the proper principles.
First P = Products: What 'Dresses and Burros' Does Your Library Sell?
Embracing the concept that libraries offer products to customers is initially
difficult. But once you make the leap, a stroll through the library with pad
and pencil will show you a plethora of its products. Let us start at the front
door of a public library and identify products for a target market, children
under age 12.
Remember, a product can be a good, service, idea, place, or even person.
Upon entering the library, the program room is on the immediate left, and
is full of children who are watching a puppet show. The puppet show program is
a product (in this case the product is a service).
Moving along and up several doors to the right is the children's room. Shelves
are filled with products (goods) such as picture books, magazines, audio-books,
and videos. Banking the walls are four computers that are designated
for juveniles only. The products here include computer access (a service),
an online dictionary, online spelling and math programs, and educational
games (which are goods).
The children's librarian is stationed behind her desk, and serves as a guide
to services and materials. The product is the service she is providing.
She is specially trained for this position. The community is aware of the expertise
of the children's librarian and her staff. In this case, the product is a person.
Large posters line the wall with the bold letters "R-E-A-D," or the faces of
the Cat in the Hat and other children's favorites. The posters are promoting
children coming into the library (and the product is now a place). The
children are coming to read. The product is the whole concept, which
is an important idea.
All of the above represent the library's product line for children.
The library offers each targeted customer group a product line. Why
is this a useful concept? Because there is so much expense associated with
providing the products. Each product must be reviewed over the life cycle for
its ultimate ability to satisfy customer wants and needs. The whole of the
library's product lines represents the product mix. For example, the
range of materials and services for adults, outreach, programming, Internet
and e-mail access, reference, and so on is the library's product mix.
Price: Nickels and Time
The price can be measured in nickels and time, not dimes (alone). Price is
what people give up to obtain a product. That price may be "dimes," which we
all understand, but alternately it may be time, or anything else of value to
the other person. Consider long ago when people simply traded with each other.
Perhaps they would farm a plot of land so their family could grow their own
food, or trade intricate shells for hand-hewn tools. In today's world, someone
who owns a beach house may give away a weekend in exchange for the recipient
painting the walls of two rooms. And in today's world, time is a commodity
that is valued.
For marketing librarians, it is critical that we understand this broader
concept of price, and from the user's perspective. To a user, the price is
her costs for procuring the good. Let us go back to the library and identify
possible user costs associated with the puppet show targeted to children under
From the library's perspective, the puppet show costs staff time, materials,
and space in the program room. But from the user's perspective, the costs may
include any or all of these factors:
1. Time and transportation are required to bring the child to the puppet
2. Parent is aggravated by limited parking.
3. The time of day is inconvenient for the parent.
4. Too much noise during the show reduces the value.
5. Parent is required to attend with the child.
6. The room is small and too crowded.
Reviewing each product in this manner provides strategic knowledge to the
librarians about what might prevent a potential customer from attending the
puppet show, or about why its attendance figures are low.
Place: Is It Convenient?
In my first MLS column 2 years ago, "Stores and Libraries: Both Serve
Customers" (vol. 16, no. 1, Jan./Feb. 2002), I illustrated the point that libraries
are traveled-to entities just like retail stores. And just like retail stores,
your optimal location affects sales or usage due to factors such as distance
between facilities, topographical barriers, and population characteristics.
People choose whether or not to travel for products. This is where the above
price factor "cost of travel time" enters into a partnership with place. Hours
of access (facility and online availability) also affect travel to a place.
Libraries' product mixes range from children's materials to meeting room
space to Internet access and virtual reference services. The last one would
be considered a specialty good, with a narrow and deep inventory. Retailers
know that people will travel a greater distance for a specialty good, or spend
more time acquiring it. Also, libraries carry convenience goodsthings
you run in and out foras do typical quick-stop stores. Stores offer milk
and snacks and newspapers. Libraries offer the latter, along with ILL delivery
and videos. Unlike convenience stores, though, libraries are not usually located
close to all users homes. The library is bound by place for many of its goods,
and cannot accommodate all consumers' information access needs and travel habits.
So what is the solution? The key word is convenience.
In order to overcome our lack of flexibility to provide the optimal location
for our many product lines and broad product mix, we must act on those aspects
of location that we can control, or at least affect. In short, librarians must
strive to make their products or services available to the target markets with
the most convenience possible. The puppet show can illustrate:
1. The show could be offered at other locations by a bookmobile or by
sending staff off-site to schools, day-care facilities, or housing centers.
2. The puppet show could be offered at various times in order to accommodate
the different schedules of parents and caregivers.
3. You could produce a video of the puppet show for check-out. Children
love familiarity and would enjoy seeing their favorite librarian in a television-like
4. A take-home, cut-it-out-yourself version of the puppet show characters
could be available from the children's librarian.
The key concept is to consider "place" from the users' point of view. You
need to increase customer convenience despite the fact that libraries exist
in only a few locations. Offering online access to catalogs and reference are
two ways that libraries are striving to do this today.
Promotion: Our Middle Name
In the old days, before Library Literature was online, the first exercise
in my marketing class was for students to find "marketing" in the multi-volume
index. They would all pile down the stairs to the library school's library
and dig through mountains of printed pages. Lo and behold, they'd find "marketing" under "publicity." Herein
lies a problem, because that's like indexing "body" under "pinky finger." Marketing
is a tried-and-true systematic process that includes marketing research, segmentation,
and then development of the marketing mix strategy, which includes promotion.
(The final step is marketing evaluation which will be the subject of my next
column in the May/June issue.)
There is one essential point that we all need to remember when planning programs
and marketing: We must identify whether anyone wants or needs our intended
product before we promote it!
We have traditionally leaped to develop and publicize services before asking, "Does
anyone want or need this?" And, we fail to ask when potential patrons need
the product, what costs would be too high to pay, and where they would want
to pick it up. We are not the only field that falls in love with its own ideas,
then implements and promotes same without customer research. For instance,
remember New Coke? The story of its creation and failure is permanently ingrained
in marketing research history. The Coca-Cola Co. created New Coke without identifying
customer desire for a change. New Coke was developed by management in response
to Pepsi's growing market share. Ultimately, poor sales signified that no one
wanted a new version; drinkers preferred the old, and New Coke faded. And while
failure for libraries is not counted in the millions of dollars, it can add
up to loss of valuable staff time and other resources.
How to Choose Promotional Tools
By knowing what people want and need, an organization will also know who
the target audience is. The next step is to consider, identify, and understand
what media the target market consumes.
There are many promotional tools available for today's librarian: publicity,
advertising, sales promotion, personal selling. Any of these tools can be implemented
over various media, including television, radio, newspapers, posters, billboards,
or the Internet.
Let us go back to the puppet show. Consider these questions when choosing
media (Andreasen, Alan R. and Kotler, Philip. 2003. Strategic Marketing
for Nonprofit Organizations, p. 446):
1. What are the target audience's media habits? Ask members of the
target group what media they get information from. In this case, you must consider
the parents or day-care providers' media habits. Alternatives include direct
mail to registrants or day-care centers with times of the shows, announcements
on the library's Web site, in-library brochures and posters, and perhaps publicity
through feature stories in the newspaper or on the radio.
2. Think about the characteristics of your product, and the strengths
and weaknesses of the media. Television is great for helping people visualize
the product or service, but may not be available to you. Radio lacks visuals,
but captures ears and "speaks" to select markets. Print has great ability for
providing an accurate picture and creating a more permanent recall, and it's
readily directed to the target audience. It also offers great pass-along value.
Personal selling by the librarian is strong in that she is presenting portions
of the show one-on-one. The real consideration is to figure out how the benefits
of the puppet show can best be communicated to children and their caregivers.
3. Cost. While television has high impact, it is expensive. Also,
the delivery is unevenwhat if no one is watching the morning show? Radio
is lower-cost, but may not reach your audience when you want it to, or at all.
Posters and brochures can have high frequency of exposure at lower cost, but
there is little audience selectivity. Can you successfully offer a product
without communicating its availability? No.
Tweaking the 4 P's for Optimal Customer-Based Marketing
A true marketing organization pays attention not only to the communications,
but also to the desired benefits of the product, its costs to the target audience,
and where it will be available. Finally, the promotional messages must reach
people where their ears are, not where the organization wants to place them.
The library must be willing to tweak the 4 P's for the convenience of the
customer. From puppet shows to virtual reference, a true marketing mix strategy
must be in place to optimize satisfaction of customer wants and needs. And
if you do not believe me, I will send wild burros to your door!
Christie Koontz, Ph.D., is a research associate and director of the GeoLib
Program at Florida State University in Tallahassee (http://www.geolib.org). Koontz
also teaches marketing at the School of Information Studies at Florida State
University and conducts marketing workshops around the globe. Her e-mail address