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Customer Behavior Research and Segmentation

Columbus Metro Library

Problem Statement

At Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML), OH, we developed a robust plan to counter the eroding market share of libraries. Not just a feel good, the plan was a critical business decision to articulate the unmistakable value of libraries. With ten years of flat funding, a struggling economic climate, and a pending levy in 2010, we knew we had to focus our resources to make the greatest impact. We could still be “open to all,” but we couldn't spread our resources to serve all equally. All marketing begins with knowing your customers. Not just their demographic profiles but how they behave. So, we created a plan that declared loud and clear the value of libraries and library staff.


So what’s the big deal about this plan? Unlike most libraries, our plan is a result of extensive customer research. We are strong adherents to the value of customer segmentation, and our research identified 15 or so types of customer behaviors – not demographics. This is true marketing, and a leap away from the traditional library planning frameworks of “service response” or age and economic demographics. We drive our service through a keen understanding of customer behavior – how customers behave when they come to the library. Through a rigorous process, our executive leadership ranked those 15 categories into a manageable and prioritized list of three, which stands today as our Strategic Plan: Young Minds, Virtual Users, Power Users. To that list we added two internal strategies: Expand Our Capacity and Engage Our Team.


This Strategic Plan, whose foundation sits upon a marketing framework, guides all of our decisions: how we staff, where we invest, how we approach donors. And when we had to decide which hours to close, we turned to our top priority – Young Minds – to make sure we were open hours that spanned Storytimes through Homework Help Centers. Importantly this plan has full organizational support at all levels, from front-line staff to finance teams to custodians. With relentless adherence to these five strategies we’ve made them real to staff through training, actions and consistency. It’s been a long journey to transition staff from an old model – where all customers are equal – to an understanding that we can’t be all things to all people.