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Magazines > Marketing Library Services > September/October 2018

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MLS - Marketing Library Services
Vol. 32 No. 5 — Sep/Oct 2018
Narrower Target Markets = More Effective Messaging
by Kathy Dempsey

One of the first things you usually learn when you begin to study marketing is the concept of “target markets” or “target audiences.” The act of slicing and dicing large numbers of people into groups that share common denominators is known as “segmenting” or “segmentation.” The point of segmenting groups of people is to help ensure that they actually get, listen to, and retain your messages. This concept is fairly simple, but in practice, librarians often barely scratch the surface of segmentation. So in this article, I’m going to discuss narrowing your target audiences to make your messaging more effective.

Why Do Segmentation?

Since segmentation is a basic tenet of marketing, I thought most of us in the field understood the task and did it as a matter of course. Recently, however, working and talking with numerous librarians and information professionals taught me that people could use more help in this regard.

So let’s start with the reason why market segmentation matters. I already mentioned that it enables messages to be more effective, but how?

Think about yourself for a moment. Do you feel as if you’re always busy? Do you get lots of email? Are you on social platforms, where new posts flood your feed like water streaming from a fire hose? Assuming that you answer “yes” to at least one of these questions, stop to think: How do you decide which message to look at? What catches your eye as you skim over incoming emails and posts? Are there key words that make you click to see more? Are there words that make you automatically skip or ignore the new content?

Whether you make conscious decisions as you skim or scroll, or whether you wing it, there are surely cues or triggers that affect your decisions to click or to move on. They might be subconscious, but they’re there. Certain words, topics, or images that appeal to you affect your decisions. Conversely, if the few words you skim over relate to a topic that doesn’t matter to you, you’ll just keep moving on. Studying the psychology of influence helps us understand what gets attention, and professional marketers for big brands use that knowledge to their advantage.

Pretty obvious, right?

And yet, look at the messages that come out of your library. Are they generic? Do they invite “everyone” to participate? Now think about yourself again: Are you more likely to click on a message that’s for everyone or a message that’s for you?

And you wonder why people don’t open your library’s emails …

The point is, in today’s busier-than-ever lives, people barely have time to engage with what they do care about, let alone what they might care about if they read more about it. So to get people to pay attention to your message among the hundreds they see each day, you need to appeal directly to their interests. You need to be specific, not vague. You need to write your headings, subject lines, posts, and headlines very carefully, using the right key words for the right people.

Customization Is Key

Even if an event or a class that you’re promoting would appeal to numerous sorts of folks, you’re more likely to get people’s attention by sending different sets of messages to different target audiences. Sometimes you can use the same message with a different subject line or heading.

Here’s a quick example: Let’s say your university library is having an early-autumn reception that’s open to all faculty members. Sending an invitation that says “all faculty” may not be that appealing when factions can differ so much or perhaps

even regard other professors as “lesser than” themselves. Maybe tenured, long-term faculty members might not feel it’s worth their time to mix with part-time or short-term teachers.

So instead of sending email with a subject line of “All Faculty Are Invited to …” you could use more-targeted subject lines for different market segments: “New Faculty Are Invited to …” and “Tenured Faculty Are Invited to …” and “Sociology Faculty Are Invited to …”

The body of your email could be exactly the same, and it could mention that this is a reception for everyone. People might still decide not to attend. However, you’ve gotten them to open and read your email by customizing the subject line, so you’ve gotten over the first hurdle. This isn’t about misleading people; it’s about getting their attention so they’ll even open your message. (Even then, they may only skim the message for 10 seconds, but getting them to open it is the first hurdle.)

This is why market segmentation is so vital.

Now that I’ve detailed the concept, let me show you various ways to segment your target audiences more narrowly. Because the more customized and personalized your messages are, the better they’ll work.

Starting to Sort Into Segments

Let’s start with colleges and universities. Many people who work in that arena see three basic market segments: faculty, students, and staff. But each of those groups can be broken down further.

I’ll continue with the example of faculty members. I’ve spoken to many people who say their marketing and promotion are targeting “faculty.” When I ask which faculty, they look slightly bewildered or answer “all of them.” As

you saw in the example above, even when you’re trying to reach them all, you shouldn’t treat them as a single target audience.

One of the most common ways to sort people is by demographic differences. You can group people by age, gender, status, departments, cultures, etc. (Please note that this is not the same as racial or gender-based profiling. It’s unfortunate that common marketing terms such as “targeting” and “profiling” now have negative connotations due to hate crimes and other terrible actions.)

So, thinking about professors in basic terms, you could group them in many ways:

  • By years of experience
  • By department
  • Resident or visiting professor
  • Male or female or other identities
  • Tenured, non-tenured, or non-tenure-track
  • Native or non-native English speakers
  • Full-time or part-time
  • Research faculty or teaching faculty
  • Library user/supporter or not

What about college and university students? There are many ways to divide this audience (and some are similar to those for faculty):

  • By year of study (freshmen, etc.)
  • By department or major
  • Graduate or undergraduate
  • Full-time or part-time
  • Resident or commuter
  • Male or female or other identities
  • Native or non-native English speakers
  • Library user/supporter or not

Getting More Specialized

Special librarians need to consider segmentation as well. Those who work in large companies already see obvious divisions via corporate structure, from owners and administrators to the proverbial mailroom staff. There would also be preset departments or specialties.

Here are other categories of employees that special librarians should consider:

  • On-site or off-site
  • Full-time or part-time
  • High or low information literacy
  • Old-timers or new hires
  • Which office/city/country they’re in
  • Which project they work on

Segmenting the General Public

When you’re serving the general public, anything can (and often does) happen. This group is obviously the most diverse, with the most potential for segmentation. Luckily, there are some guides in place to help.

Public libraries’ collections already demonstrate segmentation: Most have separate departments that serve children, teens/YA, adults, and seniors. Many have physical areas (and staffers) for business reference, local info, archives, and different languages. Do your marketing messages reflect these diverse groups?

The other great guide for thinking about different market segments is census data. Since, in the U.S., you can freely access that data and sort it in many ways, much of the work is already done for you. Via www.census.gov, you can look at the information for your whole state, county, or city—you can even get more granular, looking at blocks and streets. By studying your physical service area, you can learn how many potential patrons fall into various segments.

Demographics are the most obvious way to segment:

  • By income level
  • By education level
  • By age
  • By gender
  • By languages spoken
  • By race
  • By ethnic heritage
  • By parental status
  • By marital status

Outside of basic demographics, there are countless groups that deserve customized outreach attention: active military and veterans, the disabled, marginalized people, immigrants, and others.

Think for a moment: If you’re designing services or events geared toward veterans, which communication strategy do you think would be more effective—sending a message to everyone via newspapers and social media or sending a message to a list you’ve gotten through your local Veterans Affairs office and posting on specific social sites?

I’ve heard lots of library promoters admit that their messaging strategy is often to “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks,” but that’s ill-advised.

This Applies to ‘Everyone’

One major divide that deserves extra attention is that of users and nonusers. You should always send different messages to those two groups. Your regular customers shouldn’t need super-detailed explanations and shouldn’t require as much convincing to attend an event or use a service. Nonusers, however, would need to have things explained more fully. What’s even more important than the explanation, though, is the invitation.

People who don’t have library habits might feel unwelcome. They’re even more likely to feel overwhelmed by a large, busy space or by rows of computers that display unfamiliar terms. It’s also true that many folks shy away from asking for help for various reasons. And while libraries are the perfect places for people with low information literacy, that same trait can make them feel as if libraries are only for literate people.

It may seem impossible to change your workflows to incorporate this information, but you can do it bit by bit. While more-narrow segmentation can mean more research, writing, and messaging, that time can be offset by eliminating extra messaging that’s unnecessary and ineffective. When you measure your outcomes before and after segmentation, you can clearly see that it’s worthwhile.

Kathy Dempsey is a marketing consultant at Libraries Are Essential (www.LibrariesAreEssential.com) and the author of The Accidental Library Marketer. She’s been the editor of MLS for 24 years. Her email address is kdempsey@infotoday.com.
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