By: Ashley Layne
May 8, 2007
Table of Contents
“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 Some dictionaries may offer a flat, outdated sense of the word.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)
“Think different” –Apple
Clearly branding is an
important concept for organizations participating
in the profit-centered marketplace where the bottom-line and company
depend upon consumers purchasing a specific brand. Many libraries,
operate in the non-profit sector free from the worries of bottom-line
expectations. Libraries enjoy the luxury of a non-competitive
existing to serve a higher-purpose, assisting patrons in their
needs without the confines of for-profit realities. Think again! While
libraries are inherently valued as part of the community or
which they operate, the reality is that many libraries are facing
some are even being closed because of bottom-line concerns. Published
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.
“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
strategy for the organization. With more than 12,000 members, the
“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)
“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.
“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
“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.
“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.
“The ultimate driving machine” –BMW
According to law librarian Susan Fowler, a strong brand
must be “distinctive, relevant and consistent.” (Fowler, 11) While
aspects of distinction and consistency have been previously addressed,
interest is the concept of relevance. After identifying and developing
brand through brand identity, brand strategies, differentiating
target market research, the brand must be maintained and nurtured to
relevant. Several examples in the literature share initiatives aimed at
updating various library branding programs to remain relevant and
the communities or organizations served. The National Institutes of
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.
“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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*Note—Advertising slogans included were obtained from http://www.adslogans.co.uk/hof/index.html.