Thursday, May 08, 2008

The 3rd LAS conference, (or "Does the Singapore Public Library have a National Marketing Strategy?") - Part 1

[Views expressed in this post are strictly my own and do not represent the official stand of my employer. This is also a long, rambling post. Consider yourself warned! :) ]

Today was Day One of the 3rd Library Association of Singapore (LAS) conference (8 - 9 May 2008).

3rd Library Association of Singapore (LAS) Conference

I'd planned to blog its highlights from the keynote speech and papers.

But a chance encounter with a Question changed all that (as you will learn soon enough).

The way I answered the Question nagged at me; a mental itch that I have to scratch away.

I decided to blog about it as catharsis.

But instead, I ended up with an idea for next year's conference theme.


The Question
During one particular Q&A segment, an overseas delegate asked the panel, "Is there a National Marketing Strategy for Singapore's public library services?"

I wasn't in the panel, you see.

I was standing way back in the room. Wasn't even listening to the question, to be honest.

The current LAS president, Ms. Ngian Lek Choh, who's also the Director of the National Library and the Deputy Chief Executive of the NLB, took the microphone.

I heard her say something about asking someone from the public library services.

Then I heard my name being called: "Where's Ivan Chew?"


Me? I'm not on the panel.

What was the question?

(I guess my other senior colleagues from PLS weren't at the conference, so I was next in line to answer the question).

So I pretended to be cool and walked the 30-metres to the front.

Oh boy.

Took the microphone.

Whispered to Ngian, "What was the question again?"

She told me.

I faced the delegate who asked the question.

"Don't ramble," I mentally instructed myself.

My Answer
"We don't have one," I said, in essence.

We have marketing activities but not a marketing strategy.

Mentioned three points: that individual branches may carry out publicity acitivites like branch anniversary celebrations, and that the respective Children's Services and the Adult & Young People's Services may have their own promotional activities. But no grand National level marketing strategy.

OK, I didn't ramble (which was good).

But I felt I didn't fully explained why I said "No" (which is not good).

My delivery was terrible, I think.

During the break that followed, I was swarmed by colleagues who, not unkindly, suggested I should've answered, "Yes". They felt our public library carried out marketing activities and equated that with a Marketing Strategy.

But I still argued we didn't have a Marketing Strategy by definition.

What's 'Marketing' and What's Not?
Many people tend to understand "Marketing" as being equal to promotional activities like loan promotions, publicity posters, marquee etc.

A "Marketing Strategy" IS NOT merely "marketing-related activities".

That's what I understand from the Marketing courses from my Business diploma, and my Management degree programmes.

Let's take a look at definitions.

Here's one from
Written plan (usually a part of the overall corporate plan) which combines product development, promotion, distribution, and pricing approach, identifies the firm's marketing goals, and explains how they will be achieved within a stated timeframe. Marketing strategy determines the choice of target market segment, positioning, marketing mix, and allocation of resources. See also strategic plan.

The Wikipedia entry is also quite comprehensive (as per the Marketing textbooks I've come across). Look at this extract from the "General Corporate Strategy":
1) Target Audience 2) Proposition/Key Element 3) Call to Action

I explained to my colleagues I was aware how we had marketing-related activities.

But activities like "Promotions", "Publicity" and "Public Relations" are really just elements in a Marketing Mix.

Those we certainly do it all the time in the Singapore Public Library context. Some of them are effective. But they don't necessarily make up a Marketing Strategy.

The 4-Ps alone do not make a Marketing Strategy.

Anyway, all that discussion got me thinking: What does a National Marketing Strategy for public libraries look like?

Examples of National Marketing Strategies for Public Libraries?
When I have that mental itch, I just have to get it resolved.

The conference venue had no free WIFI access, so I called up the Public Library's ASK! Service (what else?! heh).

Asked my colleague if he could help me find examples of national marketing strategies for public libraries in other countries.

He sent me these links (thanks, Soon Huat):

I think the UK example is the clearest example of a Marketing Strategy. It has both a Marketing Strategy and a Marketing Plan.

In their Marketing Strategy document, they attempt to answer these key questions:
  • What makes libraries special
  • What role we want them to play
  • How we want people to think and feel about public libraries
  • The most important messages we need to communicate
  • What kind of culture they should reflect
  • Our vision for the future of public libraries
They've also articulated the aims and goals of the marketing and communication activities. They outline different emphasis (and approaches) for different target segments.

Then the Marketing Plan provides another level of details on "how to act" and "what to do" to achieve the outcomes stated in the Marketing Strategy:
"It takes the research, analysis and creative thought and identifies a practical programme of activity that will deliver against the marketing objectives." (page 3, Marketing Plan)

A "Marketing Strategy" Theme for the next LAS conference?
This year's LAS conference is themed "Innovate to Serve!"

The programme line-up, while interesting and relevant to current themes (especially the Web 2.0 stuff), doesn't include Marketing.

Maybe next year's theme could be on Marketing Strategy at these two levels:
  • Sector-levels (Academic libraries, the Public library, the National Library, School libraries, Corporate/ Special libraries, and Government libraries)
  • National level

The question I had to answer this afternoon asked if the Singapore Public Library had a National Marketing Strategy.

In writing this post, I've realised that we should think about a Marketing Strategy for all libraries and librarians in Singapore, at the National level.

Singapore is a small country.

Something like this can be done. We can present and showcase to the world an integrated, complimentary and cooperative Marketing Strategy for libraries and librarians, as a country.

A National Marketing Strategy for libraries and librarians in the broadest sense.

The Singapore Library Week would be the perfect launch event.

I'd imagine workshops and symposiums to be held before the main conference. These workshop sessions would be intensive ones, where participants would be guided and be able to develop a reasonable draft of their Marketing Strategies at their Sector levels, and National level.

Then at the main LAS conference, these ideas and proposals could be presented for discussion and debate.

The ideal case would be for delegates to agree to the implementation of those plans (including endorsements and in-principle budgetary commitments) over a stated period.

Some of those proposals could be tabled at government and Ministerial levels.

Or presented at a press conference as a statement of intent; of the Singapore libraries and librarians' commitment to serve our users and customers.

OK, while I'm excited about the whole idea at this point, I'm aware that the reality may be just "all talk and no action". I mean, the papers could be presented but no resulting actions due to differences or difficulties in implementation.

But I don't see that as a bad thing.

Because at the very least, through such an exercise, participants would have gained an awareness and understanding of how to develop or implement Marketing Strategies and Plans, at least for their own libraries.

And if the Library Association of Singapore is able to pull off such an exercise -- to reach a stage where ideas and draft proposals for a National level Marketing Strategy for Libraries in Singapore -- I say the association would have (further) proved its relevance as a professional organisation.

[Next: Part 2]


  1. You the man!

    This wasn't a ramble either, nice!

  2. Hi Ivan

    I've uploaded the photos from the conference here:

    Morning session


    Afternoon session

    See if you can spot yours. :-)

  3. Interesting post. A useful approach in developing a marketing strategy would take the following flow:
    1) Analysing your markets, customers, competitors, organisation and environment
    2) Boiling it all down into a SWOT chart
    3) Identifying who your targeted groups are. A useful acronym is STP, ie Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning
    4) Creating a desired position (ie end result)
    5) Looking at the ways to get there. They can be through the 4Ps (or 5Ps, 7Ps, even 8Ps)
    6) Developing timelines and budgets
    7) Implementation

    If you ask me, effective implementation is probably the most important aspect of marketing, ie where the rubber hits the road. Honestly, I don't see a need for NLB to have a marketing strategy, since demand is already so overwhelming with 40 million library visitors a year?

  4. Thanks for the concise outline, Cool Insider! (btw, he should know his stuff, since Cool Insider, i.e. Walter, is the guy behind Yesterday.SG and various marketing initiatives for the museums in Singapore).

    Walter, it's interesting that you don't see a need for a marketing strategy for NLB. Maybe that explains why NLB doesn't have that written strategy, since it doesn't have that overwhelming need. Still, I'm advocating a National-level marketing strategy for libraries and librarians. Even NLB's National Library and Public Library would benefit, because the positioning may not be about loans and visitors. Could be something else. Which we won't know until we embark on the marketing strategy! :)

  5. Anonymous10:39 pm

    In a broad sense, marketing is a form of communication. And I think effective marketing has the ability to create a tipping point in getting people to buy-in to an idea, lifestyle, policy, product or service.
    So, does NLB have a national marketing strategy? I think NLB does hope to make reading ubiquituous throughout Singapore.

  6. Hi Ivan,

    If you don't have a marketing strategy, it's the right thing to say it straight rather than rationalise that you have marketing activities. So kudos to you!

    Even though NLB has so many customers, (and I'm one of them! I even generate fines (and pay them, if I remember) when I inevitably fail to finish reading my books in time, oops) I agree with gh that there might be a need for marketing, not merely to increase your customer base, but to convey a certain message about the NLB, reading, or the role of librarians, among other things.

  7. I live in the USA and have been waiting for Library Week over here for several months. I am excited to see the new platform libraries will take on in the future. I am a writer with and we are essentially a librarian for the Web, brining the best information forward in a concise, intuitive and comprehensive way. I love this blog...keep the posts coming!


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