Who Are We? Defining the Public Library Brand

Branding isn’t relevant only in the corporate world. Even the smallest public library can benefit from a clearly defined brand. 

Branding helps people understand what you do, why you do it, how your “customers” benefit, and what sets you apart from your competition. Who you are – your identity – is rooted in the answers to these questions. It becomes the umbrella under which all your marketing campaigns are developed. 

But how can a public library define a strong brand? Gather your team and work together to answer the following questions.  

1. What is Our Mission? 

While largely aspirational, missions encapsulate the end goal of an organization. For example, Charity Water’s purpose is to bring clean and safe water to people in developing nations. An example of a public library mission might be “to educate our community.” Another option: Make technology freely accessible to every member of the community.  

2. What Is Our Promise to Library Users?  

Before customers interact with a business, they need to understand what’s in it for them (otherwise known in marketing circles as “WIIFM” – what’s in it for me). Essentially, it’s how a customer benefits. Insurance company Geico, for example, promises customers “15 minutes or less can save you 15% or more on car insurance.” Similarly, a public library could promise to be the “hub of our community.”  

3. What Kind of Customer Experience Do We Want to Provide? 

The customer experience is the embodiment of its promise. Many businesses distinguish themselves by the experiences they deliver their customers. Think about the way Apple describes its products compared to how Microsoft describes its services, or how different the IKEA shopping experience is from shopping at Nordstrom’s. For a public library, this means developing programming and resources that support your promise.    

4. What Do Users Expect from Our Public Library?  

What do you want your customers to believe about you? Fans of Pixar, the animation company, have come to expect only original stories from this studio, and that’s the reason they flock to theaters with every new release. One of the challenges for today’s public libraries is that customer perceptions of the library are rooted in old ideas: for example, the library is a place to borrow books. Yet, we know our libraries offer so much more. It’s such an incredible disconnect. Today’s library brands should aim to change this perception.  

Once you have a clear idea of what your brand is, the next step is to infuse it throughout your library: 

  • Educate your staff about how the brand aligns with the type of visitor experience you want to achieve. 
  • Encapsulate the idea into a tagline.  
  • Draft talking points they can use in discussion with visitors, donors and advocates.  

 5. What Makes Our Library Distinctive? 

One of the biggest challenges for any business is standing out in its industry. With more hundreds of community-focused organizations in New Jersey, how will your library be distinctive?  

A distinctive brand results from the combination of the factors described above: mission, promise, customer experience, and expectations. For many brands, this distinction is revealed through logos and taglines. Coca-Cola’s is a recognizable, world-wide brand because of its logo. Work with a designer to incorporate your brand concept into a distinctive library logo and implement this look across all of your marketing materials. 

A clearly defined and articulated brand will make it easier to raise awareness about events and activities as your community comes to associate your brand with your services. This instant recognition increases the likelihood they’ll open your emails, read your social posts, and attend your events. Branding may feel like a big project when you start it, but it’s one that will continue to pay off for many years. 

About Tiffany McClary

Tiffany McClary is the Director of Communications, Marketing & Outreach for the New Jersey State Library. She coordinates marketing and public relations initiatives in order to enhance the reputation of the State Library, and promote the value of NJ libraries and the services and programs that they provide to residents.