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How to Develop a Marketing Plan for Your Public Library

Marketing plans are the first step toward creating effective promotions. Understanding your goals and your audience is critical to determining what activities you should undertake.

Here are the key elements of an effective marketing plan…

Goals and Objectives

Determine first what you want to achieve. A goal might be to develop awareness among local entrepreneurs of the electronic databases available to them for market research.

Remember that an objective must be SMART (http://youtu.be/uThBb3kGf4k) – Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound. Thus, an objective that corresponds to this goal might be: Increase usage of the market research databases by 25% within 12 months.

Market and Competition

In this section, define your market and benchmark against your competitors. A SWOT analysis is particularly helpful. This helps you identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Think broadly about your competition, especially in today’s environment, where technology is such a disruptive force. Think of ways to incorporate e-readers, cable TV, and the Internet into your plans, all of which could be looked at as potentials threats if not harnessed.

Here are some great resources to reference:

Target Audiences by Segment

At the start of planning, it’s easy to think broadly about the type of person you want to reach with your services. In fact, it’s really easy to say “Everyone!” However, marketing is most effective when it targets specific types of people and their needs.

Understand what each of your audiences needs to know about your library. For example, boomers are looking for classes to learn new skills. Parents are interested in reading groups. Local government officials need to understand the financial benefit to the community.

Budget and Resources

This comes down to money and people. How much is your budget? How many staff members can support marketing activities? How can volunteers help? What tools will you need?

Consider whether you might need to bring in outside expertise. New marketing tactics, such as digital marketing, are rapidly evolving, especially in Web development, search engine optimization, and social media. Marketing interns can provide invaluable insight into best practices, and can do so for school credit and at no cost to your library.


This section outlines your overall marketing approach and sets your priorities, taking into consideration your goals, challenges, budget and resources. 

It’s not possible to focus on “everyone.” In fact, it’s much better to choose one or two target audiences and create a strong marketing program that gets results with these groups. It’s much better to do one or two things well, than do too many things at once, which reduces effectiveness.


This is the fun part. Determine programs that will best reach your target audiences. Boomers may respond best to an email campaign, while teenagers might learn more about the library from your Facebook page.

For all the talk about social media, don’t overlook in-person activities. Exhibiting at your town’s annual “Town Day” is a great way to educate the community.

There are many samples and how-to books about writing marketing plans. Here are some good resources:

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.