Youtility: A Great Marketing Strategy for Libraries

What is ‘Youtility’?

First of all, it’s a book by Jay Baer, full title Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help Not HypeSecondly, as Baer puts it, “it’s a marketing strategy for the age of information overload.” Thirdly, I think it’s a brilliant marketing strategy for libraries.

Libraries are not exactly known for being awesome at marketing, though I think there are some libraries (esp. public libraries) that do a pretty good job of it. The problem I see is that libraries too often focus on place and product in their campaigns. The library is a great place…to study…to collaborate…to hang out…to inspire creativity. Or the the library has great resources (i.e. products)…e-books…databases…games…movies…bestsellers.

What about people? How often do libraries market their knowledgeable staff, their greatest asset? Not often enough in my opinion. And that’s what Youtility is all about.

My favorite example from the book is the story of the Geek Squad. Here’s a quote from the founder Robert Stephens when asked why he makes hundreds of self-help videos available to the public for free:

“Well, the reality is that our best customers are the people that think they can do it themselves. And the other thing you have to realize is that eventually everybody is going to be out of their depth. …whom are they going to call? Somebody randomly out of a phone book, or are they going to call Geek Squad, whose videos they’ve been watching over and over for six, eight, ten, twelve minutes with our logo in the corner?”

– taken from prologue, Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help Not Hype by Jay Baer

I love that kind of thinking. Of course, the nerdy uniforms and cars help too.

Baer identifies three elements that make Youtility successful. And libraries are capable of implementing of all three:

  1. Self-Serve Information. Baer believes that the age of self-serve information has fundamentally changed the way companies market their products. They can no longer build loyalty through personal relationships. They have to build it through information. And information seeking behaviors are driving the need for companies to be available at that “zero moment of truth,” which Baer describes as the instant where you pick up the closest device near to you to look something up. What does zero moment of truth mean for libraries? While libraries are already providers of self-service information, ease of access to that information is of the utmost importance. If someone is grabbing their smartphone to look something up, they need information that is mobile friendly. So libraries need mobile friendly web sites that link to mobile friendly information. Even better yet, a good library app. (I love Northwestern University Library’s app). Finally, patrons need to be made aware that the library is available for that zero moment of truth.
  2. Radical Transparency. Baer believes that there is no such thing as too much information, as long as it’s well-organized and easy to find (which prevents cognitive overload). And radical transparency means laying it all out there. That’s what the Geek Squad does with their large library of self-help videos. Libraries should be doing the same. LibGuides are one avenue for that, but when designed purely in the format of pathfinders, I don’t think they necessarily convey the kind of expertise that how-to videos do. For librarians to get radically transparent, they need to build a how-to video library like the Geek Squad. And those videos will need to showcase librarians’ expertise beyond just the library sources. Throw in a logo or some other indicator of the provenance of the video, and you are on your way to Youtility.
  3. Real-Time Relevancy. As Baer puts it, Youtility today won’t necessarily be Youtility tomorrow. This means keeping atop user trends. Awareness of social media trends is particularly important for real-time relevancy. And for libraries, that means continuously reassessing your own patrons’ information seeking behaviors, and making yourself available at point of service.

The idea behind Youtility is in marketing people, not just place and product. For libraries, that means putting library staff expertise at the center of any marketing campaign. It means making your patrons aware of who you are, what you can do and how you can help them. It means making your library Youtilitarian.


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