What happens when you brand your library “the most modern in the world”? Read what an old-world library does to shake up the new world of library marketing. DOK Delft marketer Mark Borneman shares his philosophy and global perspective for reaching and retaining library customers in a competitive environment.
Mark, tell us about your educational background.
My first professional education was in music, studying jazz guitar and music recording at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. Eighteen years old and living by myself for the first time, I studied guitar during weekdays and worked as a sound engineer in weekends.
What is your marketing background? Do you have formal training, or are you an accidental marketer?
After finishing my studies at the Royal Conservatory, I wasn’t able to provide an income for myself playing guitar, so I worked as a sound engineer for over 7 years, touring with Dutch bands, working for theaters and national radio stations. After 7 years, I had the urge to develop in another direction, choosing “communication” as a subject at The Hague University. I finished the 4-year program with A grades in 3 years while working full time. It made me realize that I could drive myself quite hard, and I found a new love for the layers behind communication: psychology and sociology. My work at DOK library is all about figuring out how the decision-making process of (potential) customers and our own staff is taking place. Trying to understand what expectations they have and getting them in line with our service, or vice versa.
How large is your department?
Four staff members, including myself, all with a marketing education, run the marketing and communication department. In total, it comprises three FTE (full-time equivalent) jobs. We have a design intern throughout the year and have a strong network of external advisors (covering mobile and internet services, text editors, photographers, etc.).
Though a lot of “marketing” is required from other staff as well. Every point of personal or digital contact with our customers is a chance to increase loyalty and advocacy. We really try to find the critical contact moments, which are most important for the customer experience, no matter what your role in the library is.
How many staffers are at your library?
Around 50 people, or 30 FTE. In the last few years, the Netherlands has been facing major cutbacks on libraries. DOK Delft closed a branch, and staff was fired. The fact that we have fewer colleagues available at service desks in the library has great impact on how digital solutions need to function. Customers are now asking for more and better digital guidance as a result, for example in our digital catalog.
What percentage of the total organization budget is dedicated to marketing?
Seven percent, including personnel costs.
What was your most successful library campaign?
It’s hard to name one “most successful” campaign, due to the fact that we focus on the entire customer life cycle through integrated marketing. This starts with good monitoring, on- and offline. What do our (potential) customers say about our brand and our products? Why do they spend their time and money on competing brands? But we are also trying to focus on life-changing events, such as marriage, moving, birth of a child. We try to understand what moves our prospects and what time and place are best to start or build on a relationship.
For example, dozens of people quit their library subscriptions due to the fact that they move to another city. And 95% of the time, their current home will be occupied with new residents, who we can welcome with books and magazines on decoration and information on our art-lending service. This puts a smile on people’s faces and gives great word of mouth. If we know where our former customers are moving, we will go the extra mile to make sure they get all the necessary information on the library in their new hometown, and a discount as well. Family and friends stay behind in Delft and hear about the service level that DOK provides.
If I would have to name one strategically strong marketing move, it would have to be DOK branding itself as “the most modern library in the world” in 2007. We were and are not the “most modern.” There are many beautiful libraries across the world, but nobody was proud enough to claim such a thing. We really shook off the image of the outdated library and got a lot of free publicity from that throughout the years (infotoday.com/searcher/mar10/Birdsong.shtml; tinyurl.com/modernDOK). At the same time, it gave a clear direction for our own staff (better than a long mission statement), and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What was your biggest challenge? What did you learn from it?
Libraries in the Netherlands went (and still are going) through a phase where they think that the answer lies in retail marketing. Of course, you need to think about what product or service goes where and how you want people to move throughout your building. But we are not, and will never be, a supermarket. Finding a good balance between users quickly finding what they are looking for and inspiring people to look beyond their current interests is an enormous challenge. We learned that the collection needs to sell itself. The collection brings color, and it needs to inspire; signs cannot do that. It tends to be very confusing coming into a space where there are dozens of things screaming for your attention. This disruptive marketing works in supermarkets; it doesn’t in libraries.
Another thing is the staff at our service desks. This used to be lower-educated staff, although they do roughly 80% of our customer contact. So they need to know how to cross-sell [and how to] handle complaints and turn them into a positive experience. Management needs to promote ownership of problems that arise at every level. It is essential that our desk staff have good skills and proper behavior because they interact with members at many key points in our customer life cycle. It took us years to get to a level and understanding of how we could best manage the expectations of our customers through staff behavior at service desks. We are still learning and now expecting to have excellence in telephone conversations and social media tone of voice. Not so much marketing management, but expectations management.
What technology has helped you reach new audiences?
Email marketing has been an eye-opener for us. We send out regular emails to over 15,000 Delft inhabitants about products, services, news, and activity programs. And it’s easy to automate certain processes, which makes it time-efficient. We can address our customers personally and learn from their behavior. Do they open an email? Do they click on an event? Do they go to our website? Do they buy the ticket? We track the conversion and see what we need to adjust. Is it the promotion, price, place, product, personnel, packaging, presentation? You have all the marketing P’s and more at your disposal.
It might be interesting to know that I ask my staff to spend no more than 1 hour a day on Facebook and Twitter, although we have over 4,000 followers. We are not considered a “real friend” in the eye of our customers, and only around 5% of our customers use their social platforms to connect to the library. We do of course interact, monitor, and really try to build relationships with influencers in the local community. Every hour spent needs to be evaluated so we can be as efficient as possible and make sure our efforts are always directed to the benefit of our customers.
Discuss some of your productive partnerships.
As I said before, we work together with a design college, who sends us their best interns throughout the year. We work together with the Technical University of Delft to send us interns of industrial and interface designers. Libraries have this great potential; we have a great number of customers in our building and online every day. If we share this with these talented students, they get aroused by the audience they can build. It’s a wonderful test ground for them.
What guidance would you give a fledgling marketer?
Learn design and coding skills. You need to be able to draw out an idea or build a mock-up to convey an idea to your boss or colleagues or to test it with your customers. It will make you a serious sparring partner for those who design marketing campaigns for you. Our customers compare our visual imagery (and service quality) to that of what they see from big brands, such as Apple or Zappos, so we need step up.
At DOK, we tend to “steal” some great advice from top designers, which translates beautifully to marketing disciplines. For example, Paul Rand (IBM, UPS) says: “Imitate. Don’t be shy about it. Try to get as close as you can. You’ll never get all the way, and the separation might be truly remarkable.”