Report from the Field
Czech-ing Out EUSIDIC
By Marydee Ojala
It was a small but lively group that gathered in mid-October
in Prague, Czech Republic, for the European Association
of Information Services' (EUSIDIC) annual conference.
With "Building Customer Loyalty: The Branding Imperative" as
its theme, the event provided a solid 2 1/2 days of
talks and discussion. Long breaks, lunches, and the
conference dinner offered excellent opportunities for
networking and exchanging opinions. Three sponsorsthe
Main Library of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech
Republic, Ovid Technologies, and Thomson ISIcontributed
to the success of the meeting.
Opening remarks by Karel Aim, a member of the Presidium
of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, reminded
us of the damage done to Prague's library and archival
collections as a result of the disastrous flooding
in August 2002. He also commented on the status of
national academies of sciences in other European countries.
Some have closed, and the Czech academy itself has
been downsized. Aim put a positive spin on this, however,
noting an increased impetus for digitization to preserve
cultural heritage in the Czech Republic.
Setting the stage for the conference theme was Chris
Beckett, director of Scholarly Information Strategies,
Ltd. He traced the history of branding, starting with
ownership marks painted on the walls of the Lascaux
Caves around 5,000 B.C., and observed that the first
modern trademark was issued in the U.S. in 1870. He
then talked about the function of branding for both
the customer and seller: Customers can easily identify
and buy products, while sellers gain recognition, increase
their control of the market, and lessen price sensitivity.
Drawing heavily (perhaps too heavily) on "Brand Report
Card," a 1999 Harvard Business Review article
by Kevin Keller, Beckett led the audience through the
10 characteristics shared by the world's strongest
brands and related these to the information industry.
Following this high-level overview were three presentations
on end-user aspects of branding. Dialog's Cynthia Murphy
started off, saying: "It used to be easy. Branding
succeeded or failed on its merits. For library and
information products, high-quality content and precise
search engines aligned with price and value. Today,
brands seldom stand on their own."
Not restricting herself to Dialog, Murphy noted the
benefits of co-branding efforts such as those between
Subaru and L.L.Bean. She advised identifying brands
that influence buyers, not just your own, and determining
the degree of influence of individual brands. (Profound,
for example, is one brand, but the market research
brands within Profound can have greater name recognition.)
Next, Judith Broady-Preston of the University of
WalesAberystwyth described research she conducted
on the marketing strategies of U.K. museum libraries.
Museums, which are now facing competition from commercial
Internet providers, need to realize that marketing
involves more than simply promoting services. In a
world in which image is reality, Web sites are important
tools for making the library's presence known. By shedding
their fuddy-duddy image, museums can reinforce the
notion that they are organizations on the cutting edge
of technological progress. Branding the museumwhich
includes having a strong domain nameencourages
repeat visits. This is the museum's equivalent of brand
loyalty in the retail world. Broady-Preston introduced
the concept of "outside-in" thinkingsomething
others might call customer-driven marketing. For the
rest of the meeting, speakers referred to this idea.
Thomas Schael, managing director of the Instituto
di Ricerca e Intervento sui Sistemi Organizzativi in
Milan, Italy, then contributed a somewhat futuristic
overview of the Multimedia Interaction for Learning
and Knowing project. Designed for knowledge workers
in multiple geographic locations, MILK uses a "community
wall" to support informal networking and provide a "new
way of interacting with knowledge."
Moving on to branding for library and information
services, Isabel Oswell, head of marketing for business
at The British Library, spoke about the challenges
facing her institution. These include a spate of bad
press, the perception that The British Library is for
scholars only, and a lack of consistency in branding.
Rebranding the library and gaining a new identity required "a
strong, distinctive structure to bring all parts of
the library together but still allow for the communication
of the library's depth and richness." Living the values
and vision of this reinvigorated library is at the
heart of the effort.
Both Broady-Preston and Oswell stated that as a measure
of success, Web site visits supplement, if not replace,
physical visits to institutions. Ursula Georgy from
the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne, Germany,
took this a step further. She speculated that Internet
use leads to less personal contact and a diminishing
sense of brand loyalty, since the brand is often obscured
when databases are accessed in library settings. She
believes that personalization, particularly for library
portals, will change the negative perception of libraries
and alleviate the impersonality that currently exists.
Unless libraries rebrand themselves, Georgy fears they
will "increasingly lose market share to commercial
In a presentation with the catchy title, "The 4 Bs
... Before Branding, Be Brutal," Sheila Pantry suggested
reviewing an information service's current situation
by asking the critical questions "What is the core
business?" and "How are we doing?" Customer loyalty
can be cemented only with firm answers to these questions.
Pantry introduced the concepts of service-level agreements,
information audits, and reputation management. She
also shared her practical experience with building
loyalty: Customers don't like change, but they do like
to be consulted. When it comes to rebranding, make
sure it's not just a cosmetic exercise. You should
have a good reason for doing it.
Several information providers weighed in with the
supplier's point of view on branding. Cynthia Murphy
discussed the implications of acquiring brands. This
is something Dialog has had to contend with, both in
terms of acquiring companies and being acquired itself.
Gerri Potash approached the topic from the perspective
of reinventing an information company. In her case,
the organization was NERAC, a relic of 1970s NASA funding
that's now a powerful provider of intermediary information
Jennifer Rowley's branding presentation reiterated
much of what had been said previously, although her
tips on building an online brand were well-received.
It's not just about logo, graphics, color, and shapes,
she said. It's about the entire brand experience.
Undoubtedly, the most frightening presentation of
the conference was "Seven Deadly Cyber Sins," by Brian
Earle, CEO of Envisional Solutions. After listening
to him, I was ready to give up online and never touch
a computer again. Cybersquatting, piracy, counterfeiting,
logo abuse, hacking, identity theftyou name it
and Earle's company has probably investigated it. Having
detailed harrowing incidents of cybercrimes, not just
sins, Earle's parting piece of advice was "Be aware." It's
a more frightening world than most information professionals
care to admit.
With all the talk of branding, customer loyalty,
and reinventions, you'd think EUSIDIC had a lock on
the concepts. The association itself, however, is sorely
in need of a makeover. In his opening remarks, EUSIDIC
chairman Johan van Halm acknowledged that EUSIDIC's
continued existence was questionable. The organization
began in "300 baud times" and has a missionary history.
Its first objective was to convince European telephone
authorities to speed up connections. Originally, it
was the only association in which information practitioners
and suppliers shared a common goal. Today, EUSIDIC
sees itself as a platform for discussing the issues
that shape the information industry.
But is that enough? With fewer than half of the anticipated
attendees present in Prague, we can ask: What is the
value of the EUSIDIC brand? What do members expect
from their association? Does EUSIDIC communicate sufficiently
with the membership? Has it followed the customer-loyalty
advice given by its speakers? Some theories bandied
about for the low attendance included competing meetings
occurring the same week, a new secretariat that's unfamiliar
with EUSIDIC, a marketing effort that was slow to get
off the ground, budget cuts, and travel restrictions.
Personally, I thought the topic of branding was not
compelling enough to draw EUSIDIC members to Prague.
While talking with attendees, I was struck by the sense
that they don't have a strong idea of what EUSIDIC
does or should be doing. They do, however, have a decided
commitment to the organization and want it to continue.
Networking and building bridges between the various
players in the information industry continue to be
vital components of the EUSIDIC experience.
EUSIDIC is not the only professional association
to experience decreased membership and low meeting
attendance. It is, however, one of the few that's clearly
positioned to reinvent itself. It's not clear what
that reinvention will look like. As its chairman, van
Halm is convinced that EUSIDIC should not take up the
lobbying role the membership voted to discontinue a
decade ago. The key question, asked by a member of
the audience, is "What is the ROI for members?" Hopefully,
EUSIDIC will find the appropriate answer to this question
and stage a comeback as a vital component of the European
Marydee Ojala is editor of ONLINE magazine.
Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.