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Marketing in information work
by Gladys ADDA
'Information is a perishable product which can be costed and marketed.
It can be bought, sold, produces a yield and is subject to economic laws.'
The concept of marketing is relatively new. In former times of scarcity, firms were chiefly concerned with improving production techniques and solving supply problems. In today's society of plenty, the vital concern is demand, the consumer, the final user.
Marketing covers a wider field than market research, with which it is often confused.
There is however nothing extraordinary about it; the caravan route traders and Venetian merchants of the thirteenth century had an instinctive sense of marketing, for which our contemporaries have provided a theoretical basis.
1. THE MARKETING FUNCTION IN AN INFORMATION AND DOCUMENTATION SERVICE
The purpose of a SID is to manufacture products and/or create services designed for a given user population.
The marketing function of a SID is in fact its commercial function. It is not enough to manufacture products; they must also find a buyer, and to do this they must satisfy an expressed or latent need.
In this respect professional documentalists, librarians and archivists have developed on the same lines as business managers. Preoccupied, not to say obsessed, by technological progress, they have lost sight of the user; yet it is the user who is the raison d'être of documentation services, libraries and archives. The result, even in countries with limited resources, is the paradoxical situation that despite the existence of expensive and often sophisticated facilities, users' needs are far from being met.
It is a dialogue of the deaf.
During the past few years there has thus been increasingly acute awareness of the need to maximize the return on the investments required for the creation, expansion and operation of a SID, in other words:
1.1 Optimal efficiency.
1.2 High use and consultation rates.
1.3 The highest possible rate of user satisfaction.
Well-planned marketing can contribute to some extent to the attainment of these three vital goals.
2. THE SCOPE OF A SID'S MARKETING FUNCTION
2.1 In advance of production:
2.1.1 The fullest possible knowledge of the parent institution (ministry, firm, research department, research centre, university, etc.). The data concerning the institution should be constantly updated (nature of activity, objectives, structure, staffing, budget, etc.). Using all the information gathered, an initial outline can be made of the documentary field to be covered.
2.1.2 Knowledge of the user population to be served and their needs.
This involves analysing needs, both quantitatively - how many? and qualitatively - who? (situation, function) - what? (focus of interest, form) when? (frequency) - where? (in the case of decentralized institutions). Needs should be analysed with respect not only to individuals but also, above all, to groups (decision-makers, specialized departments, research teams, students, teachers, etc.). Account should be taken of both expressed and latent, both present and potential needs. Demand should be anticipated, and forward plans made for the future service to be provided.
TABLE: USERS Quantitative and qualitative analysis of their needs
A knowledge of users also implies knowledge of their behaviour in respect of information, documentalists, and generally speaking, the SID in question:
- How do they gain information?
- Do they know that the SID exists and are they aware of the services it can make available to them?
The capacity to absorb information is limited, and varies from individual to individual (depending for example on the level of education, situation, and type of occupation). A knowledge of users will help to achieve a clearer definition and better demarcation of the documentary field. It will condition the establishment of interest profiles which will guide the activity of the documentalist at all levels of the documentary chain (acquisitions, abstracts, indexing, etc.). Profiles should, however, never be permanent, especially in countries where the mobility of executive staff brings about changes in their focus of interest, hence in their information needs.
Profiles should therefore be constantly updated. This will only be possible with the introduction of a continuing dialogue between documentalists and users, which will bring the former out from their ivory tower and end the latters' lack of confidence and misgivings in respect of documentation services, creating new habits and behaviour which will be irreversible.
ANALYSIS OF THEIR NEEDS
|Present (r) Potential|
ANALYSIS OF THEIR BEHAVIOUR
2.1.3 A knowledge of the documentary environment, whether at the sectoral, national, regional or international level.
This means knowing who does what, how and at what cost. This will reveal what part of the documentary field is already covered elsewhere.
This approach will make it possible to define a policy of co-operation and exchange with other SIDs: nothing should be done which is being done, and better done, elsewhere. It will also govern any decision to become part of a network at any level.
2.2 After production.
2.2.1 Promotion of the SID by a publicity campaign:
Countless documentation services are unknown to the public or even to colleagues working in the same institution. Documentalists should have no false modesty. If they are confined to a 'ghetto' because others fail to appreciate their activity, it is for them to break out of the ghetto. They should seize every opportunity to make themselves known and publicize the services they can render. They must advertise their services, and do it in an intelligent way to create a user-friendly image of their activity.
Publicity may take the form of brochures, notices placed where they will be seen by the most people, personalized letters, specially organized meetings between documentalists and users, and so on.
2.2.2 Selling the product. As noted above, it is not enough to manufacture products or create services; they must also be 'sold' to the consumer.
The analyses described above have as their first objective that of producing the goods and creating the services which meet the needs of the SID's 'customers'.
The second objective is to establish distribution procedures which are adapted to these customers:
What will be for general distribution? For distribution by profile?
Will the service be open to the public or reserve to particular customers? In the latter case, which customers? Will it be paid for or free? What will be the rules of access, for loans?, etc.
The answers to all these questions come under the marketing function.
3. INVESTIGATION METHODS
In the analysis of needs different techniques can be used.
3.1 Questionnaires may be sent to users (actual or potential), but it is preferable to proceed by interview and direct contact, with a questionnaire used as background material for discussion.
3.2 Through the activity of the service.
The statistics collected are merely an indication, as they reflect only the demand which has been expressed, and only that expressed by the users of the service. Moreover, they do not reveal the degree to which the need is satisfied.
3.3 Through a dialogue between the SID and the users, which should be a continuing one.
The documentalist should seize every opportunity for dialogue, for example when a request is made for documentation, a new periodical published or new material launched.
While it is important to 'produce' in response to a need, the cost is also important. Even if services are free, the cost of operating them, and their cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit must be a constant concern of documentalists, in both private and public institutions.
It will thus be seen that the marketing function is far from being a minor or easy one. On the contrary, it is a complex function in that it simultaneously takes into account factors which are endogenous to the institution for which the documentalists work and factors which are exogenous to it. It is multidisciplinary, involving psychology, sociology, and economics and so on.
We cannot conclude this paper without warning documentalists of the dangers inherent in some forms of market research. Their findings may be frustrating in cases where they reveal needs which cannot possibly be satisfied for lack of human and/or financial resources.
Yet these findings will provide sound arguments for stating one's case, negotiating, and obtaining the desired resources. The problem for any official responsible for a SID is how to strike the right balance between needs and resources.
We hope we have convinced documentalists of the importance of the marketing function. Even if they lack the means of carrying out or commissioning market research, in the true sense of the term, they should instinctively have 'marketing reflexes' if they are to perform their work satisfactorily, and they should be able to review the situation continually in the light of changing environmental or user trends.
COMPILED BY JALILA AYARI
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