Library Branding and the Research Marketplace

by Kate Lara, Head of Market Research
Publishers Communication Group
Library Bulletin, Winter 2015

The digital marketplace has grown exponentially over the past decade – and in this environment, so has the need for strong branding. Libraries are not above the law when it comes to maintaining a particularly powerful presence on-campus and more recently, online.

In many ways, from a strictly fiscal standpoint, universities function like most typical, profit-seeking organizations; not a penny is spent without keeping in mind the bottom line. Scaling back expenses is often an obvious first-step towards increasing profit margins, so how can libraries protect their missions from well-meaning university administration when it comes time to trim the fat? In order to receive funding, academic libraries must quantify their value to university administration, which is an endlessly complicated task for any organization. One major problem that a library faces when it comes to proving its ROI is being able to gauge user perception of its usefulness. Oftentimes, surveys are administered to researchers and students, and those individuals are asked how often they use a library resource or how important it is to their daily work. The issue with these types of surveys is that they are no longer as effective in evaluating today’s research and study habits as they once were in the pre-Google environment.

Electronic resources are not as obviously sourced, as say, a book pulled straight from a library shelf – people aren’t as aware of where information comes from as they were in the past. Seamless IP access for research can generate the misconception that the website or database is open to the public, rather than through a subscription or purchase for which the library has paid.

Libraries are beginning to employ traditional marketing and business techniques to better brand themselves and justify the spending of their host institution. According to a study about the usefulness of a library at the University of West Indies, faculty members were aware of only 47% of all the library services available to them. This lack of information often creates a false perception of the library’s usefulness, which is why libraries should put a greater emphasis on promoting themselves as well as their services.

Successful branding is also an easy way to help students and researchers differentiate a library resource from one that is available to the general public. Simply adding university and library logos to the top of a page provides a visual cue to the reader that suggests the content is value-added, and also denotes a sense of exclusivity. From the symbols and logos a library uses to market their products or services, to maintaining a consistent design across all publications; branding will help libraries establish their identity and will in turn create instant recognition for its users.

Libraries are continuing to shift their services online, so a stronger presence within that space as a general rule should be reflected as well.Typically the library’s primary website promotes all of the other products and services that library has to offer. But library blogs, catalog integration for seamless access, and providing RSS feeds with consistent branding are some ways that libraries can make strides towards better executed marketing. Incorporating multimedia such as videos or podcasts wherever possible creates a more engaging experience for users as well.

Publishers who both provide and highlight these branding opportunities serve to better the position of the libraries they support. Efforts like these can enhance the way university populations perceive the usefulness of their libraries and will help them justify future spending, which benefits publishers in the academic library market by eliminating uncertainty.

Not all libraries enforce these types of branding policies on their own, so it’s even more important that publishers are aware of how useful branding can be to the success of modern research libraries around the world.

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