Branding @ Your Library





By: Ashley Layne

May 8, 2007




Table of Contents



·        Branding and Libraries

·        Branding and Special libraries

·        Brand Identity

·        Brand Aspiration

·        Brand Strategy

·        Brand focus

·        Living Brands


·        Conclusion




Introduction to Branding

“Make it real” –Coke


          Consider Coke. What comes to mind? This one word probably elicits any number of thoughts, feelings and automatic responses. Introduced in 1886, Coke represents the power of a strong brand that has withstood the test of time. Why has Coke prospered while others have failed? One might assume that it is the best tasting soft drink. Of course the results of many taste tests would suggest otherwise. So if not taste, then what? Coke has maintained a leadership position in the soft drink industry in part due to excellent branding strategies.


            To best understand branding, the multi-dimensional aspects of the process must be considered. Not to be confused with the broader category of marketing, branding is one important component of the marketing initiative. The brand is not simply the logo or trademark, the slogan, and the overall look of a product or service. While an important part of the brand process, these elements are representative of the physical presence of the brand. Beyond physical branding considerations are the emotional responses to the brand. How do consumers feel about a brand? Good brands go beyond the physical to evoke emotional responses from consumers. So while Coke may not actually be the best tasting soft drink on the market, this brand has come to mean more to consumers than just something to drink. The Coke brand has succeeded in creating a positive brand relationship with its customers.


            Many definitions attempt to capture the essence of branding. Some dictionaries may offer a flat, outdated sense of the word. The American Heritage Dictionary defines brand as “a trademark or distinctive name identifying a product or a manufacturer.” (204) Others characterize the brand as the “top of the mind” reaction to products or services. (McCaughan, 179) While still others suggest that a brand is a person’s “gut feeling about a product, service, or company.” (Neumeier, 2) For a more comprehensive understanding of the brand, consider this definition offered in A New Brand World:


A Brand is the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the off-strategy. It is defined by your best product as well as your worst product. It is defined by award-winning advertising as well as by the god-awful ads that somehow slipped through the cracks, got approved, and, not surprisingly, sank into oblivion. It is defined by the accomplishments of your best employee—the shining star in the company who can do no wrong—as well as by the mishaps of the worst hire that you ever made. It is also defined by your receptionist and the music your customers are subjected to when placed on hold. For every grand and finely worded public statement by the CEO, the brand is also defined by derisory consumer comments overheard in the hallway or in a chat room on the Internet. Brands are sponges for content, for images, for fleeting feelings. They become psychological concepts held in the minds of the public, where they may stay forever. As such you can’t entirely control a brand. At best you only guide and influence it. (Bedbury, 15)


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Branding and Libraries

“Think different” –Apple


            Clearly branding is an important concept for organizations participating in the profit-centered marketplace where the bottom-line and company viability depend upon consumers purchasing a specific brand. Many libraries, however, operate in the non-profit sector free from the worries of bottom-line expectations. Libraries enjoy the luxury of a non-competitive environment existing to serve a higher-purpose, assisting patrons in their information needs without the confines of for-profit realities. Think again! While some libraries are inherently valued as part of the community or organization in which they operate, the reality is that many libraries are facing cutbacks and some are even being closed because of bottom-line concerns. Published by the SLA, “Think Like a Business, Act Like a Library,” reports, “Libraries are vital only if the community perceives them as vital.” (Stuhlman, 41)


            The business of information is unquestionably growing increasingly competitive. Libraries face increasing competition in the information marketplace. Many users perceive the internet as providing everything they need online. Information brokers offer companies information services for a bargain. (Osif, 39) The perception exists in the mind of many consumers that information, whether quality information or not, may be obtained more affordably or more easily from other sources than the library. An effective tool in recreating the library image in the mind of the consumer can be quality branding initiatives.


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Branding and special libraries

“Don’t leave home without it” –American Express


            Much consideration has been given recently to branding as it relates specifically to the special library. As the name underscores, special libraries are special or unique in some ways. Often, the collections and services provided by special libraries are smaller and highly specialized to match the needs of the parent organization. Managers in these parent organizations often characterize the library as an overhead expense—a cost center which does not directly contribute to a profitable bottom-line. Understandably, during economic downturns managers may feel that cutting the library budget or even closing the special library is a viable option. According to The Bottom Line—Determining and Communicating the Value of the Special Library, “A 1990 survey of senior managers in large U.S. Corporations revealed that more than 60 percent could not give a specific value of the library in their organization.” (Matthews, xiv) This vague perception of the value of the library by these senior managers suggests an opportunity for special libraries to pursue branding initiatives to raise awareness and demonstrate the value of the library brand. 


            Of note, in July of 2003 the Special Libraries Association (SLA) introduced an ongoing initiative to implement a new branding strategy for the organization. With more than 12,000 members, the SLA acts as an advocate for information professionals internationally serving to empower its members with information and networking opportunities. (“Inside SLA”) With a goal to change the public perceptions about the organization, the branding program is linking a new logo and image components with consistent messages about the organization. While this is just step one of the process, a brand team has been created to manage the initial steps of the branding process and ultimately nurture and grow the brand. Furthermore, a column entitled “Brand Talk” has become a regular feature within the organization’s publication, Information Outlook, advising members and the public alike on ongoing association branding activities. (Olsen, July 2003) Representing special librarians everywhere, the SLA has recognized the importance of branding in the ongoing efforts to communicate the value of the work of special librarians by enhancing public perception through well-managed branding strategies. These initiatives not only effectively promote the larger brand of special libraries in general, but they also offer superb models for individual special libraries to emulate within their own organizations.


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Brand Identity

“Just do it” –Nike


            A first step in the branding process for a special library is to determine the existing brand identity of the library. What does the library mean to its customers? (Dempsey, 32) What have customers come to expect from the library? Try seeing the library through the eyes of the patron.


            Start with the physical components of the library. Consider the space itself and what the layout, design and cleanliness reveal about the brand. Next, view any tangible components representing the library such as stationery, flyers or other marketing pieces. Upon seeing a library product, customers should immediately recognize the source of the work—the library. The logo should be used consistently on all marketing pieces. The color and design of the work should also differentiate the piece as library material. All of these physical representations of the library should consistently reinforce the identity and brand of the library. (Fullner, 32)


            Next, consider the intangible, the experiences of those using the library. How does the atmosphere reinforce the identity of the brand? Do customers feel welcomed by staff? Do staff members provide customer service which goes beyond expectations? Are e-mails answered promptly with quality feedback? Every interaction should clearly indicate to the customer that he is important and the first priority of the library. While these details may seem straightforward and self-evident, a fresh look at the library through the eyes and experiences of a user may provide some surprising revelations about the true identity of the special library brand. (Fullner, 33)


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Brand Aspiration

“We try harder” –Avis


            In building powerful, effective brands, libraries must think outside the box and consider what could be done for user groups beyond what has come to be expected. After realistically evaluating the true nature of the brand image of the library, the next step in the branding process is to use this information to determine the brand aspiration for the library—what the library brand could mean to the customers. (Dempsey, 32) Perhaps some of the results of the brand identification process were surprising or disappointing. One suggested approach for generating a visual component to compliment the process of understanding the current state of the brand, ongoing issues with the brand, and ways to improve the brand is to construct a SWOT matrix. (Claggett, 15) By organizing the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of the organization as determined in the brand identity process, librarians may then work to highlight the strengths of the organization and take advantage of opportunities while working to minimize the weaknesses and avoid potential pitfalls of suggested threats in the initial creation of strategies for creating a stronger, more valued library brand.


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Brand Strategy

“Expect more, pay less” –Target 


            After determining the brand aspiration for the library, the desired sense and meaning of the library for its users, a strategy for raising the value of the brand in the minds of the customer must be considered. In her analysis of the Target brand, Dempsey cites the effectiveness of Target’s strategy in developing and maintaining brand excellence. Target strategically marketed to a unique niche (upscale discount), introduced a valuable promise to this niche (Expect more, pay less) and followed through by focusing on that promise in every interaction with the customer (excellent customer service). (Dempsey, 33) Once again, the special library may look to effective business strategies for improving its own branding initiatives.


            Christine Olson, the coordinator for the branding initiative for the SLA, suggests a “360-degree branding strategy that includes the brand name, personality, position, and credibility.” (Olson, Nov. 2002) Again, look to Target for examples of ways to incorporate these concepts into an effective strategic plan. The Target brand name and red, bulls eye logo are used consistently in written marketing pieces, employee wardrobes, television commercials, and even on the vehicles seen nationwide transporting Target’s merchandise. The personality or flavor of Target’s chic, cool attitude is evident in fun merchandise, merchandising, and advertising—all working together to consistently build the brand. Regarding positioning, as indicated, Target has effectively carved out a niche in the upscale discount market and enhanced their credibility by consistently providing innovative product designs without the high prices. Credibility is further enhanced by the consistent attention to excellent customer service. Obviously, a key concept in the brand strategy is consistency. Whatever the name, niche, personality and promise of the library, consistency in the elements of the plan both in message and execution is important in an effective branding strategy.


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Brand Focus

“Have it your way” –Burger King


            After determining the special library niche, a differential that makes the library unique, focus. According to The Brand Gap, the three most critical words to successful branding are: “focus, focus, focus.” (Neumeier, 44) Ironically, a primary danger to the brand is trying to do too much for too many. Examples of brands overextending themselves into areas outside their core roles illustrate the dangers of watering down the brand message. One example of note is Volvo. The Volvo brand of functional, boxy vehicles has always been known for its safety. More recently, Volvo has created a new line of more stylish, sleek vehicles. Although it is too soon to tell, these mixed messages may very well weaken the brand. (Neumeier, 45) By staying focused on the special library niche, the library is better able to differentiate itself as an expert in that niche, and as such, prove a valuable, indispensable asset to the organization. 


            While focusing on the selected niche, the special library necessarily must also focus on meeting the needs of the target market for which the niche was created. In a special library setting, perhaps the R&D department represents the 20% of the patron population using the library resources 80% of the time. The special library should focus market research initiatives into better understanding and accommodating the information needs of this group. According to The Brand Gap, marketing initiatives should be focused on identifying the reasons consumers would want to buy a product or consumer centric marketing. (Neumeier, 38)  To do this, special librarians must know the target audience, focus on and speak to their needs. By aligning library services with the needs of an identified user base, special libraries most effectively focus resources for the most value-added outcomes for the organization while presenting a clear picture of the library brand.


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Living Brands

“Share a moment, share a life” –Kodak


            When identifying powerful brands, often it is the personality, the intangible something extra, that sets the best brands apart. The special library is in a perfect position to capitalize on the personality of the brand, librarians, to differentiate library products and services and maximize brand appeal. In “The Library’s Living Brand,” Fisher indicates that “the library staff could be thought of as a living brand because it is our personalized attention to information education that makes our service unique.” (Fisher, 16) In the face of so many other information options for users including the internet and/or databases accommodating end-user searching, the competitive advantage offered by librarians is “a living human being who has dedicated his or her education and career to help them develop and conduct their research and other information needs.” (16) The living aspect of the special library’s brand can be a powerful component in the brand initiative which can help differentiate the library with its professional, personalized, and interactive information services.


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Brand maintenance

“The ultimate driving machine” –BMW


            According to law librarian Susan Fowler, a strong brand must be “distinctive, relevant and consistent.” (Fowler, 11) While various aspects of distinction and consistency have been previously addressed, of interest is the concept of relevance. After identifying and developing a valued brand through brand identity, brand strategies, differentiating factors, and target market research, the brand must be maintained and nurtured to stay relevant. Several examples in the literature share initiatives aimed at updating various library branding programs to remain relevant and pertinent to the communities or organizations served. The National Institutes of Health Library in Bethesda, Maryland recently revamped their brand with a new logo and slogan to advertise an up-to-date brand in hopes of differentiating itself from the other library on campus, the National Library of Medicine. (Clark, 17) Coinciding with the renovation of its headquarters library, The Saint Paul Minnesota Public Library also redesigned the existing logo, image package, and website to reflect a relevant, growing library system. (Yun, 19)  As previously mentioned, even the SLA is actively creating updated brand initiatives.


            While these examples reflect some of the more visible activities involved in strategically maintaining the brand, the intangible elements of the brand must receive ongoing consideration and be revised accordingly. The personality and the relationship factor of consumer to library must always reflect the brand promise which itself will likely evolve with the changing information needs of the target demographic. New employees, too, must be immersed in the brand philosophy to insure that every encounter with every patron is a reflection of the special library brand.


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“When you care enough to send the very best” –Hallmark


            Whether the special library is purposely branding or not, it is nonetheless branding. For better or worse, library users develop lasting perceptions of the library from the tangible impressions of the library to the intangible sense of the library and experiences within the library.  Will the special library brand realistically be perfectly represented on every level? No. To be a real entity, a real living brand, the library brand will be imperfect. “Let the brand live, breathe, make mistakes, be human. Instead of trying to present a Teflon-smooth surface, project a three-dimensional personality, inconsistencies and all. Brands can afford to be inconsistent—as long as they don’t abandon their defining attributes.” (Neumeier,133) Most importantly, define the special library attributes, identify and live the brand.


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


Berube, Margery S., ed. The American Heritage Dictionary. 2nd College Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1985.


Claggett, Laura. "Identify Your Brand, Before You Market." Information Outlook 6.11 (Nov 2002): 12(4). Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. University of South Carolina Libraries. 26 Apr. 2007



Clark, Cindy. "Revitalizing a Brand: The NIH Library Story; Addressing the Problem Meant Change Needed to Occur.” (National Institutes of Health library)(Cover story)." Information Outlook 10.11 (Nov 2006): 17(4). Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. University of South Carolina Libraries. 26 Apr. 2007



Dempsey, Beth. “Target Your Brand.” Library Journal 129.13 (August 2004): 32-5. Library Literature & Information. Wilson Web. University of South Carolina Libraries. 26 April 2007 <>.


Fisher, Charles. “The Library's Living Brand.”  AALL Spectrum 11.3 (December 2006) 16-18, 19. Library Literature & Information. Wilson Web. University of South Carolina Libraries. 26 April 2007 <>.


Fowler, Susan. “Even Law Libraries Need a Brand.” AALL Spectrum 10.4  (February 2006) 10-11. Library Literature & Information. Wilson Web. University of South Carolina Libraries. 26 April 2007 <>.


Fullner, S. K. “Is Your Fish Dead? Create Your Library Brand.” Library Media Connection 25.6 (March 2007): 32-3. Library Literature & Information. Wilson Web. University of South Carolina Libraries. 26 April 2007 <>.


“Inside SLA.” (2006) World Wide Web. Special Libraries Association. 26 Apr. 2007. <>.


Matthews, Joseph R. The Bottom Line: Determining and Communicating the Value of the Special Library. Westport, Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited, 2002.


McCaughan, Dave. "Brand Strategies and Libraries. (Part 1; Elements of Branding Process and How Process Can Create More Loyal Users)(Special Issue: Public Relations in Special Libraries)." Special Libraries 82.3 (Summer 1991): 178(5). InfoTrac OneFile. Thomson Gale. University of South Carolina Libraries. 27 April. 2007



Neumeier, Marty. The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design. Berkeley, C.A.: New Riders, 2006.


Olson, Chris. "Introducing the Branding Initiative. (Brand Talk)." Information Outlook 7.7 (July 2003): 32(1). Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. University of South Carolina Libraries. 4 May 2007



Olson, Christine A. "What's In It for Them? Communicating the Value of Information Services." Information Outlook 6.11 (Nov 2002): 18(6). Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. University of South Carolina Libraries. 4 May 2007



Osif, Bonnie A. “Branding, Marketing, and Fund-raising.” Library Administration & Management 20.1 (Wint 2006): 39-43.  Library Literature & Information. Wilson Web. University of South Carolina Libraries. 26 April 2007 <>.


Stuhlman, Daniel. "Think Like a Business Act Like a Library: Library Public Relations." Information Outlook 7.9 (Sept 2003): 10(4). Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. University of South Carolina Libraries. 7 May 2007



Yun, Sejan. “Branding Helped To Promote Our Library and Its Technology.” Computers in Libraries 24.5 (May 2004) 18-20, 22-3. Library Literature & Information. Wilson Web. University of South Carolina Libraries. 26 April 2007 <>.


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*Note—Advertising slogans included were obtained from


This page created May 8, 2007 by Ashley Layne.