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Magazines > Marketing Library Services > January/February 2004
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Information Today
Vol. 18 No. 1 — Jan/Feb 2004
Customer-Based Marketing

The Marketing Mix: The 4-P Recipe for Customer Satisfaction
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 market—books 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 topic—the 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 His job was to increase distribution of wild burros in the Southeast. Using marketing research and GIS (geographic information system) software, he identified locations of 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, he had successfully developed a marketing mix strategy (4 P's) using tried-and-true marketing principles.

Here's the point: Is the product wild burros or virtual reference? Children's books or dresses? Any of them can be marketed—once 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 12.

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 show.

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 goods—things you run in and out for—as 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 format.

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 uneven—what 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 ( 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 is

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