Learning Center
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out

RTF - Welcome to SCONUL


									Developing a marketing orientation
at the British Library
Jill Finney
Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications
The British Library
Tel: 020 7412 785

Gary Warnaby
Senior Lecturer
School of Management,
University of Salford
Tel: 0161 295 3654

Like all libraries, the British Library operates in an increasingly complex, dynamic and at times, possibly
even hostile environment. We argue that if the British Library (BL) is to maintain its position in such
circumstances, then it needs to understand its users’ needs and wants, and satisfy them – in other words,
becoming more marketing-oriented. The marketing concept proposes that corporate goals are achieved
through meeting and exceeding customer needs better than the competition. Three key components of a
marketing orientation have been identified as follows: 1

Customer orientation: the organisation’s activities are focused on providing customer satisfaction
Integrated effort: all staff accepting responsibility for creating customer satisfaction
Goal achievement: the belief that the organisation’s goals can be achieved through customer satisfaction.

In this article we outline the process by which the British Library has started to develop a marketing
orientation, and whilst the scope and scale of the BL’s operations are different to most other libraries, there
are more general lessons that can be applied.

Previous promotional activity
Until recently the BL’s activities could be more accurately described as ‘promotion’ rather than
‘marketing’. Commercial activities such as the document supply business were promoted through
attendance at various UK and international trade exhibitions, but this activity was sales-oriented with little
account management structure or awareness of margins. Individual subject collections had their own
separate communications activities organised by their curators. However, much of this activity could be
regarded as product-oriented, being aimed at subject specialists who already had a detailed knowledge of
the area. Moreover, there was no uniformity of style. The only common communication theme was a
logo (which itself was used only in the St Pancras building – the document supply business in Boston Spa
had its own logo, and there were also a plethora of sub-brands). Whilst there did exist a small press/PR
department which dealt with communication to external stakeholders more generally, there was a
perception that the organisation’s identity and promotional activity needed to be drastically improved and
coordinated if the BL was to realise many aspects of its mission and objectives.

Towards a marketing orientation
In 2001, five different market sectors for the BL were identified:

Business users
Education (schools)
The general public
And the UK library network (both public and higher education libraries).

A head of marketing for each sector was appointed, reporting to the director of strategic marketing &
communication. In addition, a marketing support services department was created. Management of
exhibitions, the BL bookshop, publications, development fund raising and developing a web presence for
the BL was also part of the remit. The kind of activities aimed at the five market sectors, which give a
flavour of the scope of the BL’s activities, are shown overleaf:


                                                                  Reading rooms
                                                                  Bespoke services
Researchers            Scholars
                       Lifelong learners
                                                                  Document supply
                       Commercial researchers
                                                                  Bibliographic services

                       High research & development oriented       Research services
                       industries                                 Bespoke services
                       Professional services                      Document supply
                       Creative industries                        Reprographics
                       Publishing industries                      Business & Intellectual Property Centre
                       SMEs                                       Resource discovery

                                                                  On-site visits
                                                                  School tours
Education              Students (11-18 years old)
                       School libraries
                                                                  Web learning

                                                                  Exhibitions (physical & virtual)
Public                                                            Tours (e.g. travelling exhibitions of
                       Lifelong learners

                                                                  Document supply
Libraries                                                         Resource discovery
                        Public libraries
(acting as a channel to                                           Training
                        Higher education libraries
the public)                                                       Inter library lending
                                                                  Bibliographic services

A new identity
At the end of 2001 it was decided that this adoption of a more marketing-oriented approach to the BL’s
activities would be facilitated by the development of a consistent, unifying new brand identity. The
brand consultancy Interbrand was commissioned, and implemented an extensive research programme on
perceptions of the BL among both internal and external stakeholders. Resulting from this, the mission of
the BL was articulated in terms of helping people advance knowledge to enrich lives. This mission
incorporated three key values – innovation, relevance and pride – this last value building on the key strength
of a committed and professional workforce, many of whom are world experts in their fields. Senior
management engaged in an extensive internal communications effort (including small group workshops
and briefings etc.) to share the new mission and values in order to get staff to ‘buy-in’ to the process (and
its results). Indeed, five ‘core competences’ of the BL were identified by which this mission was to be

Open, consultative management
Staff who feel valued and recognised
An empowered, flexible and diverse workforce
Non-hierarchical, agile decision making
Strong performance measurement

Thus the strategy for the British Library became more ‘demand driven’, focusing on the targeted market
sectors identified above, and with awareness of the BL improved by the adoption of a single coherent
brand identity. The distinctive features of the BL – particularly its world class collections, and the
value-added services it could offer through the skills and expertise of its staff – would arguably guarantee
customer satisfaction in these targeted sectors. Indeed, interfacing with users – by the BL’s staff and via
electronic communications – is a key element of the strategy. Thus, the BL website offers online
catalogues, information and exhibitions, and changes to the document supply service at Boston Spa have
enabled digital delivery of research material on a far greater scale. However, a key marketing role in
relation to the internet is managing customer expectations – digitisation of the BL collection to make it
available on the world wide web is a massive (and extremely costly) undertaking which cannot be
accomplished overnight. In addition, partnerships with appropriate commercial partners are being
developed in certain areas.

Measuring value
In order to develop consistency of approach, the theme of advancing knowledge became the focus for
external communications. Marketing communications aimed at each of the targeted market sectors focus
on case studies of how the BL has helped organisations and individuals advance their own knowledge in
order to achieve their business and/or personal aims and objectives, through the resulting enhanced
individual development and effectiveness or improved business performance. Thus, the marketing
communications activity explicitly highlights the contribution of the BL in the cycle of the production and
dissemination of knowledge.

One key theme underlying all this communication is the role played by the BL in terms of adding value
through the performance of the whole range of its activities. This applies not only to those individuals
and organisations that comprise the various targeted market sectors, but also, as a consequence, to the
nation as a whole, in line with its remit as a national library. Indeed, central government and other
funding stakeholders are also an important target for marketing communications activity, and here the
need to highlight the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the BL is paramount. This focus on outcomes and
how the BL provides value-added, has been reinforced by an independent study of the economic impact of
the organisation titled Measuring our value. Using contingent valuation methodology, the study concludes
that for the £83million of public funding the BL receives annually, the total value produced totals
£363million - a benefit cost ratio of 4.4:1. Thus for every £1 of public funding the BL receives annually,
£4.40 is generated for the UK economy, again emphasising the value of its role in knowledge creation and
dissemination, in addition to its cultural role.

Some general lessons
The underlying principles of developing a marketing orientation – understanding who your customers are
and identifying their needs, integrating the internal activities of the organisation to ensure that all staff are
geared to satisfying these needs, and being goal-oriented – are equally applicable to all libraries,
irrespective of size and available resources.

The BL has become more marketing oriented by researching its customer needs and positioning the
organisation in order to be able to satisfy these needs. Here it is important for the organisation to be clear
and consistent about how and what it communicates – the development of a new brand identity for the BL
is part of that process.

Obviously with any service organisation, customer satisfaction is inevitably delivered via its staff, and
keeping them informed of, and supportive towards, changes is crucial. Thus, the BL engaged in an
extensive process of internal marketing to get staff ‘on board’.

Finally, focusing on the achievement of clear goals will highlight successes where they occur and will
communicate progress made, not only to customers, but also to wider (funding and other) stakeholders.
The BL’s communication focus on demonstrating the contribution it makes to advancing the nation’s
knowledge is an element of this.

We would argue that customer orientation, integrated effort and goal achievement - the three elements of
marketing orientation mentioned at the beginning of the article – are relevant to all libraries if they are to
be successful in the future.


1   D. Jobber, Principles and practice of marketing (3rd edition), London: McGraw Hill, 2001

To top