Sunday, 19 June 2016

Day 8 #blogjune - Brand identification

Today I am actually using my own topic for inspiration.  Brand identification, vendors and electronic resources.

A significant part of my role is the management of print and digital collections across the library service.  Anyone who is involved with electronic resources in any way knows that a) they cost a fortune, b) they are nowhere near as well used as the print collection (especially when you look at them on a cost per use basis) and c) it takes way, way more work in promoting to get the use happening when compared to print collections.

This is frustrating from many viewpoints, but the biggest one for me is the lack of responsibility most vendors feel when it comes to brand identification of their product.  For some reason, they seem to think it is perfectly acceptable to sell a product subscription and then leave the responsibility of generating usage to the library service.  Whilst generating usage is definitely one of the responsibilities of the library service, generating knowledge of the brand definitely isn't.  Have a look at all the electronic resources that your library subscribes to.  How many of the names/logos tell you instantly what they cover? Not many. Yet, somehow, that is the responsibility of the library to overcome.

Many vendors will spend time telling you what you should be doing; having the database more prominent on the library's website, training staff on usage, having flyers in the library, having posters up, talking to customers about the database....all these things reach people who are already, in some way, using the library.  Yes we can definitely make them more aware, but we can't possibly reach all of those who don't use the library and we can't cover brand recognition.

Imagine a vendor actually taking out an ad covering what their electronic resources cover, making them sound exciting and useful for a community member (not just a specialist one, such as a uni student) and then getting them to go to their local library to see if they have a subscription.  The more enquiries a library service gets, the more likely they are to seriously consider that particular resource (if they do not already have it). I know I definitely would.

The other issue, however, is that most vendors just don't seem to be able to grasp this.  I recently had a scheduled phone conversation with one for them to give me hints on how to get more usage (very much a case of telling me how to suck eggs, but I did it anyway).  All of the tips and hints covered the points I gave above and, despite my saying that we were already doing all these things, she kept ploughing ahead with what was very obviously a set list of items to go through.  I then had a follow up call with the client relationship manager, who said that she had been told that the conversation had been extremely negative, as we hadn't taken on board any of the suggestions put forward (no, because we were already doing them all....).  I brought up the brand identification issue and she said that was something that had never come up before.

So here is a question for all my library peeps - why have libraries never brought up the issue of brand identification, and its subsequent responsibility, with vendors? Why do we accept these limitations and keep spending so much money on electronic resources? I am really interested in hearing all your thoughts.


katiedavis said...

This post really resonates for me. My last job in practice was managing online collections and services for a public library service. A significant amount of my time was spent on promotion of electronic collections to both staff and customers, designing and delivering staff training, designing customer programs that surreptitiously exposed them to the online collection (come and we'll help you learn to use your MP3 player! [And we'll also talk to you about our MP3 based products]),and figuring out how to get customers to recognise that we had electronic products at all. Even once they know about the products, it's so hard to push past the brand issue you're talking about.

I did work with one vendor who actually provided funding for marketing and helped us to run a marketing campaign for a product, and that particular vendor is also very good at customising the look and feel of their product for the service.

Which reminds me of another problem... The fact that a majority of database platforms have interfaces that work for an academic audience - ie an audience where people are looking for academic content and they're searching for it. But a lot of public library discovery happens via browsing. Databases aren't geared for this.

I had a meeting with a software adoption specialist at MPOW recently (not a library provider at all), and I had a similar conversation to the one you had which basically involved me saying 'done it, it doesn't work'. At the start of the conversation I could tell the guy just thought I was being negative, but by the end of it, he basically said 'you're right. This product doesn't do what you need it to. Just keep doing what you're doing.' It was refreshing to get that perspective!

Tania said...

So glad that someone else shares my perspective. I've brought this up with others in my position and get blank looks. Either that or there is anger with the product itself.

The particular vendor that I was talking to also expected us to purchase marketing collateral - so add to the tens of thousands of $$ we had paid, we were expected to also spend money on the items they were telling us we needed to promote their product.

And yes, we also run programs that are designed to secretly expose them to what we offer. "Did you get an iPad for Christmas? Come and learn how to use it (and we will push our eBook collections on to you...)

We've just purchased (subscribed?) to a solution from our LMS Vendor that will allow the library to bring resources to the open web and enable geo-locating, so results point directly to the library. Works for the print collection...not so much for electronic (although eBooks in the catalogue should be found this way). Perhaps this is something else to investigate.

Rachel said...

Great topic. Thanks Tania for bringing this up. My experience with electronic resources has been a little bit different as they are (and were) the main component of our collection. But I can definitely agree with you on some products and vendors. We subscribe to their product and don't hear a peep from them until renewal time.

I must say though that in the health and medical resource field things are a little different. We have one vendor (who I won't name) that has created a position specifically for customer engagement and she is going out into the hospitals to promote resources that we have already subscribed to. So she is not there doing a sales pitch but helping clinicians use the resource. It is only early days but this seems to be working well.

For public libraries though I can see how it would be a struggle to get vendors engaged and involved.

Simon Hollway said...

Hey Tania,

Fascinating post! I'm just embarking upon a Diploma in Library and Iinfo Studies hoping to one day work in a library. The main issue or point of contention for me in general, not just library-related, is the whole eBook theme as I am a print luddite sadly. I had no idea that once an e-subscription was acquired it then had to be further promoted to the readers. I assumed acquisition was a response to user on top of acquiring, you also have to promote the things as well! It does seem like jolly hard another incarnation as a magazine publisher, I have no idea how to or who to approach in libraries to sell digital subscriptions to my magazines but I can bet you if I did I would make damn sure I was promoting it and helping out for all I was worth to ensure repeat subscriptions year in, year out!

Tania said...

Hi Rachel. I did have a vendor who offered to come to festivals and other events to work with us on promoting the product, which I thought was pretty good. He has since left though, so that is no longer an option! I do think though, in a more specialised field, things would be different. I am assuming many of your users know of the products you have or know that you have products to support their research/study, so you would need help more on using them than on getting them more widely known. Would this be accurate? I find that we need to get people through the door, then we need to educate them on what we have subscribed to and then show them how it is used. The vendors skip straight to the "we will train your staff on how to use it" part!

Tania said...

Hi Simon, yes you hit the nail on all heads :) We have one vendor who does not require any kind of login or authentication, apart from accessing the database via the library's landing page. This means that anyone, anywhere in the world, can access these subscriptions. Some people think this vendor is crazy; I think he is quite smart. We don't analyse where the usage comes from, we just look at the actual usage. Not many would even know that the subs are being used by people who aren't members. High usage means that we will most likely continue to subscribe, right?