In a former career, I was an outdoor/environmental education teacher. Many of the kids I got to interact with were from the inner city, and our program was likely the first time they had ever been in the woods. Many were leery, some were scared. Many of them had big issues to contend with back home. Convincing these students that nature was cool was sometimes an uphill climb.
My job was not only to convince them that nature was interesting; it was to convince them that nature was relevant. How do you do that, when the majority of the group has little to no exposure to this type of environment and probably won’t when they return home? How do you connect them, on a personal level, to something that may simply not matter in their day-to-day lives?
For me, I found one of the most effective ways was to talk about turkey vultures.
If you’re not familiar with these raptors, they are inherently fascinating to kids. Why? Because they’re gross, that’s why. They eat dead stuff, they throw up on their enemies and poop on their own feet to cool off. Sure, not the most inspiring bird, but that’s where the appeal lies. Just telling these things to a group of students was guaranteed to get a reaction…and their attention. They might never see one again, but they’d always remember that these birds can voluntarily regurgitate (and now you probably will, also!). I made them relevant to those kids, because they could connect to how disgusting some of their habits are.
“But, Laura…what do gross raptors have to do with library marketing?”
Turkey vultures were virtually guaranteed to get a response out of the intended audience. That’s what good marketing does: it looks to get some kind of response. In marketing, it’s typically called a “call to action,” but the idea is the same. You want the selected audience to get the message and then do something with it. You want them to attend a program, reserve materials, or use a service. You do that by making the message relevant to the recipient.
What’s actually relevant to a library patron? Things that are relevant to them. Will they finally get how to use Excel? Can they get a better job? Will their child gain important literacy skills? Can they more easily reserve a quiet study room? Will that new database create the citations for them? Will their house sell faster, or for more money? If it’s relevant to the person receiving the message, it’s going to catch their attention and, hopefully, elicit a response.
Without personal relevance, nobody cares. As a marketer, our job is to make people care about what the library does. Just telling people about your stuff isn’t enough.