Beyond Brochures — A Few Thoughts about Marketing

The Archives Hub is headed for a bit of a makeover this autumn, and lately my head has been spinning with buzzwords like ‘brand identity,’ ‘brand values, “strategic marketing” and ”USPs,” (Unique Selling Points — for those who don’t know…I didn’t). For someone like me who’s been in the HE sector for many a year, these terms lift me out of my comfort zone — from academia, where we like to be low-key about these matters (or at least act that way) to the business world, where we suddenly asked to think about our users and stakeholders as ‘customers.’

On the other hand, the process is an exciting one, and I am learning to rethink my view of ‘Marketing’ as something much more than advertising and spin. An excellent book I can recommend to anyone in our sector who is undertaking marketing or promotional activities is Developing Strategic Marketing Plans That Really Work: A Toolkit for Public Libraries by Terry Kendrick. (Incidentally, I learned from Kendrick that Marketing and Promotions are certainly not the same thing — more on that below). Obviously, we’re not a public library, but Kendrick’s points are very applicable to those who are running library or archival services that are funded by public money. Significant amounts of this money are devoted to services like ours, and maximising value from this expenditure requires that we communicate effectively with our users. We need to demonstrate value to “meet, and hopefully exceed, government standards and performance targets” (2).

Kendrick points out that marketing as a concept is often misunderstood — it is not synonymous with advertising and promotions, which is just one facet of marketing. Instead,

“Marketing is a dialogue over time. In other words, it is a two-way process which is not simply the sending out of messages from the library to users or non-users. In our everyday lives all of us are bombarded with advertising messages and slogans, many of which completely wash over us… For libraries this suggests that the most effective marketing is based upon an ongoing conversation with users and non-users and not simply upon slogan-based marketing campaigns.”

This approach to marketing appeals because this is something that many of us in this profession strive for — understanding and responding to user’s needs. I realise that a great deal of the planning and engagement we undertake at the Hub could fall under the umbrella of ‘marketing activity.’ This doesn’t mean that all we are is ‘marketers,’ but it does highlight that user-engagement is central to what we do, and that engagement comes in many forms (whether via a usability test or the Hub’s interface, or a meeting with our colleagues at The National Archives and other archival networks to discuss where we are headed as a collective). What we need to be clearer about is our mission, our values, and where we want to be headed.

Thankfully, our central mission is coming into sharper focus, and this autumn, in addition to a surface makeover, we’re looking forward to creating a marketing strategy that achieves a more effective dialogue with our users.