What libraries can learn from Brown (UPS not the Brown Bears from Providence)

July 31, 2007, 12:02 pm

I was impressed with a presentation given by Betsy Wilson, Global Marketing and Advertising Media Manager for UPS. It was another great AIMA session. (Others I’ve posted about: FaceBook , MySpace & MTV , TIVO/YouTUBE/Cox )

Betsy talked about the desire for UPS to create online advertising. They wanted to enter the digital media environment, but also maintain a multiplatform approach including TV and print.

The UPS website is a utility tool, rather than a social space. She reported that they receive more than 2 million unique visitors per day, and that over 10 million tracking records are viewed daily. So how do you integrate advertising so that it doesn’t interfere with the function of the site? They didn’t want to annoy customers or diminish the transactional process. Yet at the same time, digital advertising needs to be interesting, useful, and entertaining.

So how do you get people interested in shipping? It’s not sexy, how can it be engaging? The majority of their customers are commercial businesses, not individuals, so they had to keep that in mind. They also wanted the ads to be in-line with the sales team—something useful in the field that would explain the products.

And that was really the driving need—they wanted a web channel that would expand perceptions about the UPS brand. They wanted to express that they were more than just packages, but rather, a business solutions provider. They actually offer 107 products and services—things like warehousing, banking, and airlines. So when they ask: what can Brown do for you? What they are really asking is: do you know about all this stuff we offer?

The Brown campaign was a little abstract—although they were highly satisfied because people remembered it. But they wanted to expand the Brown message and focus on what they actually do. They wanted it to be bite sized pieces and targeted for certain needs or customer types. It also had to be visual, something that could play online, but also work on TV and Print. They wanted it to be entertaining, but also stress the benefit to the customer. And as for a spokesperson, they wanted someone who you would want to listen too, but who was not too distracting or too good looking. Not someone famous.

This is what they came up with: The UPS Whiteboard



The Whiteboard is an “invitation” to customers to learn more. Essentially it is a guy who draws on a white board, illustrating (literally) the different services they offer. It feels to me like a cross between Demetri Martin and the Mac vs. PC guys , but overall I like the concept and the presentation.

It starts with a menu asking what you want to learn and it drills down to the solution or information that you need. Products are also linked to case studies . The sales department likes these because they are fun and easy to use, and have resulted in increased awareness, especially in the area of international shipping services. UPS feels that the ads make them seem more innovative. And as a viral element, they also allow users to create personalized whiteboard messages to send to friends.

Betsy’s overall message was: Use traditional media to build awareness, but online media drives business; the web is for reach.

Lessons for Libraries?

  • The whole Brown concept reminds me of the message I talk a lot about in that “it’s more than you imagine.” I’ve been talking with numerous incoming freshmen and the reoccurring perception of the libraries is books and quiet space. My push is to get beyond that (sure we send packages and we’re good at it, but we do all this other stuff too) sure we have a great collection of books and journals, and some quiet space too, but we also have live events, groups space, 40+ pieces of software, wacom tablets, laptops, video cameras, people who can help you via IM, and so on. I’m sure you’ve all heard a patron say something like “oh, I didn’t you guys did that”—and that’s how I feel we need to approach it. I’m sure someone out there will rip off their line and ask “what can the library do for you?” (that might actually work with faculty)
  • I also advocate the “show people using the stuff” tactic, rather than the we’re so great, we’re superstar librarians, you should be using the right journals not google, you need us/we’ll save you type of advertising that is so rampant in academic libraries. Show how the library fits within the lifestyle of the user.
  • I also felt a parallel in website function. Our sites are very transaction based; people go there to get articles or book information. How do we avoid cluttering our homepage? (We don’t!) Why are library sites so confusing? Why don’t we just give people want they want? Perhaps people disagree with me, but when you go to a commercial site, it’s geared toward buying stuff— I think that library sites should work the same way. The number one objective is getting them to the resources and customer service functions (my account) and everything else is secondary. All that stuff about the library, the hours, the mission, directions, etc—that’s all second tier and should unfold nicely in the background.
  • Lastly, what can we learn in terms of instruction? Bite sized pieces. Targeted. Entertaining yet functional. This is the opposite of just about every library online tutorial I have seen. The UPS message has style (and also a multimillion dollar budget) – I actually want to watch the UPS clips, even though I have no interest or need for the products/services they offer. Why can’t we do something like that for our content: So you’re looking for journals? And drill down from there. Walk people through the different products and services that they want. Don’t force them into this gigantic info lit series of modules, make each piece stand alone. And move beyond just books and journals and reference, but think more holistically about the library. Sometimes you need to show people those nooks and crannies.

Also see: My Library Menu Concept for more about the library as product.

Oh and Tay Zonday is a bigger star than anyone who has even been on or will be on American Idol. The dude speaks to me. He’s owned my ipod for the past week.

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