Marketing Your Library’s Brand on a Shoestring Budget

Bethany Messersmith
Information Literacy Librarian/College Liaison
Southwest Baptist University Libraries

Television is fraught with advertising promoting one trademarked brand or another – from insurance commercials by Progressive, GEICO, and State Farm to food commercials for ACTIVIA, Ocean Spray, and Jimmy Dean. These companies spend exorbitant amounts of money annually, in an effort to deliver a brand that is familiar to consumers and instills confidence in purchasing a time-tested product. According to an online survey of academic libraries on outreach efforts a few years ago, survey data revealed that the size of one’s academic library does not necessarily dictate the budget available for outreach (Carter & Seaman 167). Although many libraries do not have the financial means to engage in branding efforts comparable to the for-profit sector, most can capitalize on readily available resources to develop and market a brand that resonates with library users.

In 2012, librarians and staff at Southwest Baptist University Libraries undertook efforts to develop a more consistent brand; this was an initiative inspired by focus group sessions with students during the spring semester. When asked how the University Libraries might serve its primary users better, students indicated that they wanted a multipurpose facility and a collection that met their academic and personal interests. It quickly became apparent that while students were able to identify with the libraries’ current brand, further cultivation was crucial. Without any funds designated to accomplish these strategic initiatives during the 2011-2012 fiscal year, a newly formed library marketing committee looked for opportunities to develop strategic partnerships across campus to enhance students’ brand experience going forward.

There is some ambiguity as to what is meant by the term brand today in comparison to how it has been defined in the past. In his book A New Brand World: 8 Principles for Achieving Brand Leadership in the 21st Century, Scott Bedbury argues that The Random House English Dictionary’s definition of a brand as something tangible, such as a word or image that can be trademarked is not entirely consistent with all that it embodies in the twenty-first century. He writes that while brands embrace some physical qualities manifested by “products, places, and people,” they possess many intangible qualities (11-14). In B2B Brand Management, Philip Kotler and Waldemar Pfoertsch concur with the notion of a brand possessing certain intangible attributes. They write that it is “the totality of perceptions – everything you see, hear, read, know, feel, think, etc. – about a product, service, or business,” maintaining that brands “hold a distinctive position in customer’s [sic] minds based on past experiences, associations and future expectations” (Kotler & Pfoertsch 5).

The first part of the branding remodel at Southwest Baptist University Libraries involved the creation of a new logo. Without any funding for this initiative, the libraries’ marketing committee recruited the assistance of students enrolled in a graphic design class on campus. Students were tasked with developing a logo that they felt best embodied the University Libraries. Upon reviewing the first batch of designs, the committee quickly discovered that many of the logos that were created revolved around books, indicating that students still view libraries as repositories. As a result, a book logo was selected and modified to convey a sense of energy and movement consistent with that of a twenty-first century library.

Due to budgetary concerns, quite a few libraries develop logos in-house or solicit the skill sets of art students enrolled at a local university. In 2009, the New York Public Library decided to design its new logo in-house, so as not to spend taxpayer dollars on the project (Armin Vit). Last year “The San Diego Public Library staff collaborated with San Diego State art students to create a new logo for the library” (“Art Students Design New Public Library Logo”). During the spring 2014 semester, Central Connecticut State University’s Elihu Burritt Library invited all students enrolled at the university to submit potential logo designs, offering a Kindle Fire and a certificate to the artist whose logo design was selected (“Library Logo Contest”).

The second part of the branding phase at Southwest Baptist University Libraries involved the development of logo-consistent advertising. With a new logo in hand, the University Libraries set aside a modest sum of money for the development of two new t-shirt lines in 2013. The first was a polo t-shirt for library faculty and staff, while the second was a t-shirt designed specifically for student giveaways.

1-Student T-Shirt Line

A partnership with the University’s Art Department was forged during the Fall 2013 semester, with the recruitment of an unpaid graphic design intern who agreed to develop advertising for the University Libraries in exchange for the experience. The intern created logo-consistent advertising for student-preferred communication mediums, such as Facebook, posters, website stories, campus monitors, etc. Although the current intern did not develop the libraries’ logo, in a recent e-mail interview she wrote that including it on all advertising mediums “provides more credibility because it gives a more professional feel to the advertising to have each piece branded with the Library logo” (Graphic Design Intern). The intern’s skill sets have made it possible for the University Libraries to do a better job of marketing its brand more uniformly and appealing to library users in the 17 to 20-something age bracket.

2-Logo-Consistent Advertising (2) 4-Logo-Consistent Advertising

A third component of the branding phase, involved the promotion of the library as place. In addition to fostering a quiet study environment, the marketing committee began initiating conversations with staff and students in Student Activities, encouraging them to financially sponsor events in the library. During the spring 2013 semester, Student Activities approached the University Libraries again about hosting finals week festivities—offering to sponsor free popcorn, coffee, and cookies daily, bringing in food from Taco Bell and Chick-fil-A on select evenings. The partnership with Student Activities was a huge success, with foot traffic increasing most significantly from May 2012 to May 2013 (see table 1 below). A comparison between the spring 2012 and fall 2013 semesters still saw a percentage increase in traffic, largely due to the food available to students and a pet therapy event that the University Libraries sponsored.

Semester Comparisons Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
May 2012 vs. May 2013 Foot Traffic % Increase 139% 180% 33% 27% 37%
May 2012 vs. Dec. 2013 Foot Traffic % Increase 2.37% 56% 105% 17% 40%

Foot Traffic at Southwest Baptist University Libraries, table 1.

Finals week activities are becoming increasingly popular at many academic libraries. While many do not share the same tangible logo, they embrace certain intangible brand characteristics, such as diverse study spaces that foster learning. Students inevitably show up in greater numbers at their academic library towards the end of the semester to complete final projects and prepare for final exams, so this is a great way to embrace strong brand characteristics and heighten the student experience simultaneously. The Cushwa-Leighton Library at St. Mary’s College partnered with a massage therapist to offer students massages, while Campus Services sponsored refreshments over finals week (Karle 143). At Cornerstone University’s Miller Library, library staff collaborated with campus and community players to offer a special night of extended hours a few weeks before finals. The staff solicited beverage donations from a coffee shop and Pepsi. Additionally, the staff rounded up gift certificates from businesses in the area that were willing to sponsor giveaways for the evening (Van Den Broek 576-577). This year the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Memorial Library obtained coffee donations “courtesy of Einstein Bros., Espresso Royale, and Starbucks” (“Finals Week Extended Hours and Activities”).

Libraries naturally conjure up images in people’s minds of books, something that the art students at Southwest Baptist University pointed out to library faculty and staff early on in the logo redesign phase. Capitalizing on this perception/thought process, Southwest Baptist University Libraries utilized this natural brand element, marketing it more heavily. A fourth component of the branding process necessitated a monthly schedule of book displays on socially and academically current topics to increase students’ awareness of current holdings. In addition to scheduling monthly book displays, a running feed of new books to the collection was added to the University Libraries’ website. Over the past two years, book displays have led to a greater circulation of the collection. Students and faculty constantly stop to browse featured titles, making suggestions periodically as to additional titles that would enhance current holdings.

3-bestseller display v2

Southwest Baptist University Libraries embraced student-driven initiatives without a dime for marketing initially, because the committee looked for practical ways to build and better market its brand. While money unfortunately does not grow on trees, librarians are innovators and problem-solvers, naturally adept at forming partnerships and tapping resources on their campuses. Developing a brand is often viewed as an abstract concept that is perceived as out-of-reach due to funds, but with a vision and community support, anything is possible.

Works Cited

Armin Vit. “An Iconic Lion for an Iconic Institution.” BRAND NEW. Under Consideration, 16 Nov. 2009. Web. 15 May 2014.

“Art Students Design New Public Library Logo.” The Daily Aztec. San Diego State University, 13 May 2013. Web. 15 May 2014.

Bedbury, Scott. A New Brand World: 8 Principles for Achieving Brand Leadership in the 21st Century. New York: Penguin, 2002. Print.

Carter, Toni M., and Priscilla Seaman. “The Management and Support of Outreach in Academic Libraries.” Reference & User Services Quarterly 51.2 (2011): 73-81. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 May 2014.

“Finals Week Extended Hours and Activities.” University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries. University of Wisconsin-Madison, 9 May 2014. Web. 15 May 2014.

Graphic Design Intern. “Re: Questions For an Article I’m Writing.” Message to the author. 6 May 2014. E-mail.

Karle, Elizabeth M. “Invigorating the Academic Library Experience: Creative Programming Ideas.” College & Research Libraries News 69.3 (2008): 141-144. Education Source. Web. 12 May 2014.

Kotler, Philip., & Pfoertsch, Waldemar. B2B Brand Management. Berlin: Springer, 2006. Print. “Library Logo Contest.” Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University, n.d. Web. 15 May 2014.

Van Den Broek, Rachel. “Late Night at Miller Library: A Success Story.” College & Research Libraries News 65.10 (2004): 576-577. Education Source. Web. 12 May 2014.