Shouting into the void: When your marketing efforts just aren’t working

Recently I put together a survey for our subscribers to get a better idea of which services are being most utilized and which could use a little more promotion. Within this survey, I included several questions intended to gauge how well my own marketing campaigns were working. How many people knew which services they could access and which they couldn’t? I was completely dismayed to discover that the vast majority (95%) of the people who took my survey told me they didn’t have access to an essential service that they do, in fact, have access to.

How on earth could this be? I write blog posts every week talking about the services that our subscribers can access. I send out mailers and emails. I make pretty slides for our digital display with funny pictures and witty puns. I tweet. I Instagram. I dress up our statues in silly costumes for crying out loud!! What on earth was I doing wrong?

Whether you’re a library, a business or a solo or small firm attorney, figuring out how to best promote your services can be your biggest hurdle but will yield your strongest return on investment if you’re willing to dedicate the resources it needs. Now I don’t presume to be a marketing guru. I’m a librarian. Marketing is one of those “other duties as assigned” that we’re all so fond of. But I’ve been working in marketing in one way or another for over 5 years now and I’ve picked up a thing or two along the way.

Below you will find the outline of my thoughts for dealing with the above-mentioned marketing issue. Hopefully in reading my process, you’ll see a possible solution to your own marketing conundrum.

Problem: a large number of library users are not aware of the full spectrum of services we offer.

Solutions we have attempted: regular blog posts, tweets, informative emails, presentations at local professional meetings, advertisements in pertinent legal publications, classes on the services offered, signage around the library and on our digital display, and information in our monthly newsletter.

Complicating factors: budget, location (the Law Library is on the top floor of the Courthouse in downtown Cincinnati, so it’s not exactly convenient to pop in unless you’re already in the Courthouse), age range of library users, confusion among tiers of library subscribers.

Analysis: Why previous solutions have not worked (probably).

  • Due to the varying age and technical ability of our subscribers, our blog tends to get very light traffic. The same is true of our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts and, to a certain extent, our emails. And while we can attempt to remedy this on our end with changes to formatting and topics, this isn’t something we can entirely fix. We will continue to utilize these digital tools, but with the understanding that we are reaching a limited audience.
  • The problem with presenting at local professional meetings and teaching classes on the services you offer is that people, attorneys especially, are extremely busy and do not always have the time to attend. We have begun to record many of these sessions to make available on our Youtube channel, in the hopes of reaching both the online and in-person audience.
  • Our newsletter is an excellent avenue for imparting information because we do both print and electronic versions. However, since the majority of the people who take the time to read the newsletter are active members of the library already, we wind up preaching to the choir. The same is true of signage around the Law Library.

Tackling each complicating factor:

  • Budget. We’re a county Law Library. Budget has always been and always will be a complicating factor. We simply do not have the funds for massive marketing campaigns. That leaves us with the free digital materials we can create in-house and 3-4 direct mailers per year. I have some (admittedly rather basic) skill with the free design program Canva ( and some of the printing can be done in-house to save money. We have already discussed issues with our digital efforts. Normally direct mailers are intended to bring new subscribers in to the Law Library but this year at least one will have to be dedicated toward communicating our offerings to those who already subscribe.
  • Location. There’s not a whole lot I can do about this one. If my subscribers don’t come into the Law Library and they don’t regularly congregate anywhere else, then attempting to market in a physical location (with signage, brochures, tables or other in-person marketing) is not really a possibility. This means all marketing will have to be done either through the mail or digitally.
  • Age range of library users. Our clientele varies so widely in age that no one marketing method will reach them all. Our older subscribers prefer everything to come in the mail. Our younger subscribers immediately throw out anything that comes in the mail as being “spam” and likewise ignore most of our emails. So what do we do? Aside from what I have already mentioned, I intend to put some of my goofiness to work. I have spent the past year building up a bit of a following for some of my “silly” posts – pictures of silly things happening around the library that have no real marketing purpose other than to increase our visibility online. I will begin taking a few of these and turning them into actual marketing opportunities through memes and digital photo manipulation (photoshop) so that they are both cute and informative.
  • Confusion among tiers of library subscribers. We are a subscription library, which brings its own set of difficulties in marketing because people tend to think of libraries as being free. We have some services that are free and available to the public. We have some services that are available to all of our subscribers and then we have some services that are only available to certain groups of subscribers (solos and 100% subscribing firms). This is extremely confusing. In the past, we’ve focused our marketing on what you get if you are a solo or if 100% of your firm subscribes because we tend to be the most useful to solo and small firm attorneys. This has been our downfall. By focusing on the enhanced services only available to certain subscribers, we have neglected to adequately inform all of our subscribers of what is available to them all. With this in mind, marketing campaigns in the future will need to be re-tailored to decrease confusion.

Marketing can be like IT support: the cost and demand for resources can be annoying, bewildering and hard to justify, but if you invest both time and a little money in it, it’ll pay off in the end.