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Volume 13 No. 5 • June 1999
• How-To •
How to Write a Marketing Plan
by Amelia Kassel

In recent years, libraries of all types have found it necessary to compete for both money and clients as major changes have occurred. Corporate librarians have realized that they must show management why they are useful and how they contribute to the bottom line. Public libraries face stiff competition for funding. Additionally, the Internet brings a whole new dimension of competition that public, academic, and corporate libraries are facing daily. Whereas budget problems have been around for some time, the recent competition from the Internet can translate into fewer users, despite the fact that the Internet is also a crucial tool used by librarians for research and marketing.

In an interview for this article, Suzanne Ward (author of Starting and Managing Fee-Based Services in Academic Libraries, JAI Press, Inc., 1997) told me that “students are no longer a captive audience” because many do their own research using PCs (and at the beach at that!). She says that both students and faculty are seeing less value in the library infrastructure, and this is creating a need for more proactive strategic planning and marketing to keep libraries from being discounted even more. Ward also explains that academic libraries sometimes create planning documents that are updated periodically. She contends, however, that not many even do this. Eric Lease Morgan asserts that, “As the perception of worth decreases so do tax dollars or other administrative support.”

Because of all of these existing challenges and intensifying changes, it is not surprising that at least a handful of libraries have turned to “tried and true” business models for improved planning and development, and that they are employing marketing plans as one method for moving forward. Indeed, Suzanne Ward believes that “as time goes on [libraries] must think in this way to achieve goals.” Recent library literature supports the concept of marketing. (See reading list at end.)

One approach to library services during the past 15 years has been to develop fee-based information services that are geared toward businesses, local governmental agencies, or other target markets beyond what basic budgets can otherwise support. Fee-based services in libraries enhance institutional image and prestige, make contributions to the community not possible before, create more opportunities for interaction, and have the potential for making money and diversifying revenue.
Without question, fee-based services require a business and marketing plan, since, as Ward explains, “starting or managing a fee-based information service is very much like starting and running a small business.”

Steps for Creating the Marketing Plan
One of the fundamental procedures involved in any successful business operation is creating and implementing a marketing plan. A market is a particular group of buyers—or in the case of libraries, users or clients—who needs services. A marketing plan consists of several components, each of which is described below.

Before writing a marketing plan, it is necessary to define your target market and to understand its needs. This involves conducting market research, which Eric Lease Morgan describes as using transaction log analysis, circulation records, user surveys, focus group interviews, and information interviews to provide insight on what your customers really expect.

To write a marketing plan, follow the numbered outline below.

1. Prepare a mission statement.
The mission statement clearly and succinctly describes the nature of the business, services offered, and markets served—usually in a few sentences. Sometimes for larger companies it’s combined with a vision statement that can be two to three paragraphs in length. Some examples of mission statements can be found at

2. List and describe target or niche markets.
In this section, list and describe potential groups of users or clients. After you create the list, identify various segments of a market. Segments can include specific types of people in a company by role—for example, chief executive officer, chief financial officer, or marketing director. Department heads are another type of market segment. For segmenting the consumer market, consider age groups. In addition, niche markets are an integral part of marketing. Within a target market of attorneys, for instance, there may be niche groups such as trial or malpractice attorneys. In some instances, targeting by firm size is an important consideration.

3. Describe your services.
As mentioned above, it’s necessary to conduct market research to understand your market and to identify the services they require. At the same time, inventory the services you currently offer and identify new services you wish to provide. Determine what it will take to provide these services in terms of staff, expertise, and costs.

4. Spell out marketing and promotional strategies.
Various strategies work better for different target markets and, therefore, several may be required to triumph. The key for successful marketing is understanding what makes someone want to use or buy services and what type of marketing strategy they respond to. This requires you to learn needs, problems, industry trends, and buzzwords. To get up to speed for a particular business market, read trade journals and attend professional conferences to meet prospective users or buyers in person. Become active in various groups whenever possible and form strategic alliances. Find out what works best for the markets you serve.

This is a trial-and-error process that requires testing and interaction with clients or prospective clients, although reading case studies and interviewing and consulting with libraries that have already had marketing achievements is one way to save time. To this end, I have included some references at the end of this article that contain success stories of other libraries.

Basic marketing strategies include the following:

When a strategy works, repeat it. But if it fails, and you have done it right, drop it. The ability to develop and implement each of the strategies above requires learning and honing new skills. It will most likely be necessary to read marketing and sales books, attend courses or workshops, or hire consultants and specialists to assist you as necessary.

5. Identify and understand the competition.
As part of the market planning process, you must learn about your competitors and how to position yourself in relation to them. Describe your strengths and what you want to emphasize. Once you identify both direct and indirect competition (for example, the Internet as indirect competition), you can determine how and why your services are special and benefit users in a particular way. You can compete based on value, price, product, or service, or some combination of these. Your unique position in the marketplace must be touted in your marketing programs and marketing literature.

6. Establish marketing goals that are quantifiable.
Marketing goals can include setting the number of new clients you would like to acquire, the number of people you would like to reach, or the amount of income you would like to generate. Be realistic and practical in establishing your goals. Take a good look at the available skills and resources that you can commit to implement and integrate your goals into your marketing plan effectively. Study the budget requirements for the strategies you select and plan accordingly.

7. Monitor your results carefully.
By monitoring results, you determine which of your marketing strategies are working and which are not. Identify strategies that generate leads and sales. This involves tracking and evaluating customers’ responses to each marketing strategy. Survey or interview regular users for comments about why they find a service important. As you get to know your repeat clients better, meet with them for detailed feedback and ask them for ideas and suggestions about how you can introduce your products and services to more prospects who are just like them. Client comments are invaluable for creating or enhancing your market literature, and you can also learn and incorporate terms or language common to a particular user group through this process. Just as valuable, these interviews lead to statements that can be used as testimonials (with permission of course) and in future brochures and promotional activities.

Hints and Tips for Beginners

This Is Really a Plan for Success
Any successful business must have knowledge about prospective or current clients and must implement a marketing plan that is regularly revised. Marketing is beginning to catch on in libraries, and librarians are hearing more and more about it. Unlike the longer-term strategic planning documents, marketing plans in libraries should be revised annually, like a business model, and should reflect changes and revised goals based on the previous year’s experience.

A marketing plan is an important tool for making your library victorious in this age of change, where working smarter is necessary to achieve your desired results.

Amelia Kassel is principal of MarketingBASE, an information brokerage that provides business and market intelligence worldwide. She has an M.L.S. from the University of California at Los Angeles. Kassel teaches information brokering as well as Internet and online research to students from all over the world at seminars and in her e-mail-based, go-at-your-own-pace Mentor Program. She is an information industry author, speaker, and workshop leader for national and international conferences. You can contact her at or at

Further Reading

Bushing, Mary C.
The Library's Product And Excellence. Marketing of Library and Information Services, Library Trends, January, 1995, Vol. 43; No. 3; Pg. 384.

Carpenter, Beth.
Your Attention, Please! Marketing Today’s Libraries. Computers in Libraries, September 1998, Vol. 18; No. 8; Pg. 62.

Cram, Laura.
The Marketing Audit: Baseline For Action. Marketing of Library and Information Services, Library Trends, January, 1995, Vol. 43; No. 3; Pg. 326.

Gorchels, Linda M.
Trends In Marketing Services. Marketing of Library and Information Services, Library Trends, January, 1995, Vol. 43; No. 3; Pg. 494.

Holt, Glen E.
On Becoming Essential: An Agenda For Quality In Twenty-First Century Public Libraries. Perspectives on Quality in Libraries, Library Trends, January, 1996, Vol. 44; No. 3; Pg. 545.

Jarvis, Margo.
Anatomy of a Marketing Campaign. Computers in Libraries, September, 1998, Vol. 18; No. 8; Pg. 74.

Johnson, Diane Tobin.
Focus On The Library Customer: Revelation, Revolution, Or Redundancy? Marketing of Library and Information Services, Library Trends, January 1995, Vol. 43; No. 3; Pg. 318.

Morgan, Eric Lease.
Marketing Future Libraries.Computers in Libraries, September 1998, Vol. 18; No. 8; Pg. 50.

Powers, Janet E.
Marketing In The Special Library Environment. Marketing of Library and Information Services, Library Trends, January, 1995, Vol. 43; No. 3; Pg. 478.

Smith, Duncan.
Practice As A Marketing Tool: Four Case Studies. Marketing of Library and Information Services, Library Trends, January, 1995, Vol. 43; No. 3; Pg. 450.

Weingand, Darlene E.,
Preparing For The Millennium: The Case For Using Marketing Strategies. Marketing of Library and Information Services, Library Trends, January, 1995, Vol. 43; No. 3; Pg. 295.

Wolpert, Ann.
Services to Remote Users. Marketing The Library's Role: Academic Libraries Can Benefit From Distance Learning Via Computer. Library Trends, June 22, 1998, Vol. 47; No. 1; Pg. 21.

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