Branding, Marketing and PR

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It’s a noisy, competitive marketplace for libraries. They are vying for the time, attention and loyalty of customers and prospective customers in an environment of sizeable marketing budgets.  Trustees may be reluctant to allocate funds for branding and marketing initiatives because the prevailing wisdom is that people will always use and value their libraries. The truth is that libraries compete with the Internet, social media, Google, Netflix,, and Barnes and Noble, in addition to sports, youth organizations, movie theaters, and other organizations that entertain and inform.

To start, trustees must understand the differences between branding, marketing, advertising and public relations and how they work in the library world. Branding comprises the promises a library makes to customers. What do libraries promise?  Quality collections, accurate information, good value, privacy, professionalism, best use of resources, equitable and unbiased assistance, a safe and secure environment, service “with a smile”, and a well-maintained facility. If the customer’s actual experiences in a library do not measure up to its promises, the brand is damaged.

The core attributes of a brand are conveyed via a combination of words and visual imagery: “the brandmark”. The brandmark includes the library’s name in a visual environment that gives character and texture to the institution.  A successful brandmark projects a library’s mission, ethos and culture.

Branding and marketing are intrinsically linked, not synonymous. Marketing is the research, strategies, initiatives, and customer service attributes that support the brand promise. Marketing is the sum total of communications, outreach, and advertising that libraries employ to educate current customers about their services and programs and to reach out to new customers. Library marketing incorporates special events, websites, social media, signage, and print materials such as flyers, brochures, and newsletters.

Advertising specifically refers to the use of paid media—ads in magazines and newspapers, radio spots, e-promotions, and promotional items for which the library pays.  Although advertising has the advantage of being predictable and measurable, it is used only infrequently by libraries because it is often cost-prohibitive.

Public relations (“earned media” coverage) is useful not only for publicizing good news, accolades, and achievements but also for managing crises that may damage the brand reputation. A public relations program includes:

  • Press releases
  • Press conferences
  • Public speaking appearances
  • One-on-one conversations with and story “pitches” to reporters, editors, and media representatives.

Trustees are responsible for “riding the brand”—always putting the best foot forward on behalf of the library. They are responsible for developing brand strategy and allocating the necessary funds to create, manage, and promote the brand. Ultimately, trustee decisions are the critical factors that ensure customers have experiences that live up to the promise their library has made to its community.


  • Research what your community members want and how best to communicate with them.
  • Develop a marketing plan to ensure that the library delivers timely and consistent messages.
  • Make marketing a line item in the budget.
  • When selecting a brandmark, avoid designs which suggest that the library is only about books.
  • Track the response to marketing activities to learn what works for the library and what doesn’t.
  • If your library cannot employ a person with marketing experience, recruit a marketing professional for the Board or identify an individual in the community willing to share expertise and pro bono consultation.
  • Make the best possible use of electronic marketing to connect with teens and young professionals.
  • In culturally diverse areas, library materials should be produced in translation.
  • Only do what you can do well. Materials that are unprofessional do not advance the library’s mission.


Aaker, David.  Building Strong Brands.  The Free Press, 1996.

Asacker, Tom.  A Clear Eye for Branding.  Ithaca, New York, Paramount Marketing Publishing, 2005.

Beckwith, Harry.  Selling the Invisible.  NY, Warner, 1997.

Davis, Melissa and Jonathan Baldwin.  More Than a Name:  An Introduction to Branding.  AVA Publishing, 2006.  240 pp.

Doucett, Elisabeth.  Creating your Library Brand: Communicating your Relevance and Value to your Patrons.  American  Library Association. 2008.  124pp.

Dowd, Nancy and Mary Evangeliste and Jonathan Silberman. Bite-Sized Marketing:  Realistic Solutions for the Overworked Librarian.  Chicago, American Library Association, 2010

Fog, Klaus and Christian Budtz and Barris Yakaboylu.  Storytelling:  Branding in Practice.  Springer, 2005.  238 pp.

Holland, D. K.  Branding for Nonprofits.    Allworth Press, 2006.  208 pp.

Johnson, Marilyn.  This Book is Overdue:  How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.  New York:  Harper, 2010.