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Benefits Not Features: Think Like a Copywriter

I was at the reference desk when this fellow came over and said someone had told him he could get access to Lexis/Nexis through the university library. Turns out he was one of our adjunct faculty members in the college of business. He had both a personal and educational interest in learning more about the databases he could access through the library. Sounds pretty normal, right? But here’s the shocker.

He told me he had been teaching at my institution for eleven years. Afterwards I thought, how is it possible this instructor could be here all that time and be completely unaware of all the business information databases we offered. He had no knowledge of any of them – even the most basic EBSCO and PROQUEST products – and we have many business databases beyond that. How could this be the first time he was hearing about the library’s e-resources?

You would think that he’d hear about them from another faculty member – or even a student in one of his classes. It seems likely that at least once in all those years he’d visit the library website and get exposed to the database resources. Here’s the really scary thought though. How many other faculty, adjuncts or otherwise – and students – are just like this average community member?

What could explain it? Whatever it might be, let’s avoid blaming the user for their lack of awareness – even the case of an educator who should perhaps know better. If any of our community members lack exposure to the library experience the most likely explanation is our failure to do a better job of selling that experience? What works when it comes to selling things to people may or may not be of much use to librarians who want their community members to know about all the great services that are part of the library experience. Outreach and marketing are legitimate librarian activities. Sales – not so much.

Perhaps we can borrow some sales techniques without selling out. Copywriting is one skill set that may be of value. Copywriters prepare text, whether for an advertisement or a website, that is designed to influence the thinking of the potential customer. While librarians offer community members free goods and services, it’s still in our best interest to grasp better techniques to influence how they think about our resources. Too frequently we hear our community members tell us they wish they knew about those resources when they really needed them – not when they finally get around to discovering them…too late.

Several good tips about copywriting – and not all of them are applicable to library environments – are shared in a post titled “Five Copywriting Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your UX“. Most of the advice addresses the website and how to craft text that focuses on the user in order to influence or change his or her thinking to make a sale. It really comes down to the choice of words and how those words are presented.

For example, notice the difference between “click here to learn more” and “as a member of our library community, learn how to get instant access to great services”. Perhaps just a tad more interest on the part of the community member if the emphasis is on getting those services. Copywriters know that features don’t sell. What sells is giving people the ability to understand why they should use what the library has to offer: What’s In It For Them.

Apply that philosophy to a typical library research database. Instead of focusing the attention on the number of publications covered, the amount of full-text content or the ability to create citations in multiple formats – all features – put the attention on the benefits that community members will derive from the database. For a student that might be time saved or a superior way to access scholarly content. For a faculty member the big benefit could be improved student research papers or better class discussions. Ask yourself how a copywriter would tackle the best way to convince or influence the community member to prefer library research resources over other options.

Granted, a few tips won’t turn librarians into skilled copywriters. But these five copywriting tips do offer a good introduction to help us be more intentional about the words we choose and understanding what we want to accomplish as we write our next blurb about the latest library resource service, as we add content to our websites or as we get a few moments to tell a faculty member about library resources he or she is asking about for the first time.

Start by copywriting your description of the optimal experience your library offers. What are the benefits it provides. Internalize it. Develop the ability to articulate those benefits as a message you can deliver on the spot and apply to any number of situations where you’ll want to sell someone on why the library experience delivers great value to the community. Remember to focus on the benefits. Done right, in time, they’ll discover all the great features.

Comments

Comment from Garrett
Posted: December 12, 2013 at 6:09 pm

An exquisitely framed approach to a common problem. Brilliant. As opposed to “you can do this” or “you can use this resource for this,” everything except why. Thank you.

Pingback from Designing Better Libraries » Benefits Not Features: Think Like a Copywriter | Libraries are for Use
Posted: December 14, 2013 at 6:11 pm

[…] Designing Better Libraries » Benefits Not Features: Think Like a Copywriter. […]

Comment from Richard
Posted: December 15, 2013 at 8:26 pm

It’s more worrying to me that there are professors at all our institutions who are teaching students without any suggestion that they should use peer-reviewed journals within their discipline. I don’t think that any amount of copy editing on the website will help that because getting them to look at those pages is the primary challenge. I guess that it may be different in business schools, where much of the content is based on hype and chutzpah.

Comment from StevenB
Posted: December 16, 2013 at 12:58 am

The challenge of which you speak is, I expect, a challenge beyond what might be accomplished with a change in our strategies for creating awareness about library resources. Collaborating with faculty on research assignments that develop better research skills is going to take more of a personal touch and relationship building – or greater integration of the library into the academic department and curriculum planning. Then again, looking at the problem from the perspective of a copywriter may offer some new insights into how we could encourage faculty to take a different approach to how they think about their relationship with us.

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