marketing transliteracy & coca-cola

Re: TED talk by Melinda Gates

…innovators come from every single sector.

This morning, I watched a TED Talk given by Melinda Gates, and I think that it’s a great primer in marketing and branding. It is a subject that I have studied at length, and I’d like to take those lessons and apply it to my work.

She begins by discussing her experiences traveling. While touring impoverished countries, she notices that Coca-Cola is more easily accessed than electricity or running water. Many organizations try to provide more essential supplies that can help save lives, yet can’t compare to the reach of that bottled, carbonated drink.

At this point, she asks the question of what makes Coca-Cola successful, and I think she’s gone the right direction here. The reasons why Coca-Cola is able to do what it can do lies in the practices that it’s adopted. Melinda states that there are three things that she personally learned from examining the company:

  1. Real time data is fed back into the product
  2. Able to leverage local entrepreneurs
  3. “Incredible” marketing

While she expanded on all of these “lessons” at length, I’d like to focus on her discussion of marketing. Coca-Cola has had, of course, a century to develop its brand, and their message is a very clear one. There’s prestige and values associated with drinking Coke. Their slogan is “Open Happiness.” Powerful.

She refers to their message as ‘aspirational’, that is, consuming their product puts you on your way to ‘happiness’ or a satisfactory life. This is contrasted with health organizations and other groups, which are based on avoidance,  conveying messages like washing one’s hands in order not to get diarrhea, or using a toilet instead of openly defecating. People will agree to that if you educate them, but she suggests that it needs to be taken one step further.

…position it as a modern, trendy convenience.

Right now, organizations like libraries have a problem. Their brand is not of happiness (arguably), but lies more along the lines of physical books, and maybe literacy as well. What’s more is that most people who don’t use the library (and in the U.S., I would claim that most voters don’t) probably aren’t aware of all the services librarians are able to provide. Librarians sometimes seem confused about their identity. And outside of education, how many people know or understand what ‘transliteracy’ is?

Also, in a time of budget cuts and re-evaluation, there are a lot of “Save Libraries” campaigns. What kind of message is that sending to the community? Not a good one. When I was in DC, my friend wearing a “Save Libraries” shirt was approached by a man in a suit who made a sarcastic argument about libraries getting use. He referred to his politics as “normative” since coming to DC, and scoffed at the use of libraries “in this day and age.” He wasn’t crazy—in fact, he sounded like my own father, who lives on the opposite coast.

I’m going to make a bold statement here: It doesn’t matter what services you offer or what people necessarily need. People are sold things all the time that they don’t need. They buy those things because they’re desirable, provide instant gratification, or required for basic survival. You just need something that people will have the ability to feel good doing. It’s why people purchase Starbucks when they could make it at home. I could go on, but you get the point.

I think the same applies to libraries. It doesn’t matter how much cool stuff we do, or how invaluable our services are. If the message isn’t being communicated, then we’re at risk for losing money and subsequently jobs. I actually doubt we’ll lose libraries entirely like some doom-sayers predict; but despite the cynics who make it sound like library institutions are already on their way to extinction, we still have a lot to lose–and a lot to gain.

To conclude—instead of providing a list of recommendations or actual lessons (sorry to disappoint)—I’d like to ask some questions for people to mull over instead, with the first playing off my last example:

  • Why use Internet at the library when it can be accessed from home?
  • What kind of message does joining a library’s Facebook group convey to the friends of those who join? Is it hip?
  • Do you get nostalgic when you think of your experiences with libraries? Is this good or bad?
  • When you think of a librarian, what do you imagine?
  • What would our collective slogan be?

What can you do to take it one step further? Comments welcome.

6 thoughts on “marketing transliteracy & coca-cola

  1. Kiyomi says:

    How about something like:

    Libraries: Creating a Better Future Through Green Practices, Personal Enrichment, and Sharing of Vital Knowledge

    (But shorter!)

    1. admin says:

      Shorter? That’s easy! We just turn it into an acronym: LCBFTGPPESVK. It’ll be the most epic one in the information field!

      1. Kiyomi says:

        Hahaha! I would love to see someone try and remember what all those letters stand for ::insert evil grin:: Although generally I think acronyms are of the FAIL because so many acronyms have the same letters but different meanings 😉

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