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Using email marketing to engage and educate new library patrons

Welcome to episode 005 of Library Figures. In each episode, we interview a new guest and hear about one of their favorite marketing strategies. In this episode, Ken Harvey of Sno-Isle Libraries will be speaking with us about the types of patterns he’s noticed in his email marketing campaigns, some early challenges that arose within email marketing, and his main purpose and goal for their cardholders.

“The more relevant you can make the information to a recipient, the more likely they are to pay attention to it”


Key Takeaways:

  • An innovative approach to onboard new library cardholders;
  • How many emails your onboarding campaign should include;
  • Tools you can use to understand your email marketing data better;
  • What day seems to the best day for open rates;
  • What metrics to track with library email onboarding campaign;
  • Using data to identify challenges.

Download examples of Sno-Isle Library's onboarding emails:

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Don’t worry we won’t sell your information or give it to any third parties. 

Ken serves as Communications Director for Sno-Isle Libraries, an amazing two-county organization which serves residents through 21 community libraries, mobile library services, and online. Sno-Isle Libraries has a great mission empowering hundreds of thousands of library customers to inquire, explore, learn and benefit from ideas, knowledge, and wisdom available to them through their public libraries.

It’s with great pleasure that we that we introduce episode 005 of Library Figures with Ken Harvey.

Library Marketing Expert Ken Harvey
Ken Harvey Library Marketing Director

Read the Episode Below

[00:00:32] Ken Harvey:
Hi, this is Ken Harvey from Sno-Isle Libraries. I’m the communication director and glad to be part of this podcast.

[00:00:40] Tyler Byrd:
Hey Ken, it’s great to have you on the show today. So, for those of our guests that don’t know who you are and haven’t had an opportunity to meet with you as I have in the past, why don’t you introduce yourself and tell them a little bit about your experience and your background?

[00:00:53] Ken Harvey:
Well, I, as the communications director for Sno-Isle Libraries, I’ve been part of this organization for…I’m into my eighth year here. This is actually the second time I’ve worked for a public library. Earlier in my career, I worked for a city-run library, down in Tacoma, Washington. In between, a lot of experience in radio and television and local government, regional transportation, and the private sector.

[00:01:23] Tyler Byrd:
Perfect, thank you. So, over the last year or more, maybe even, you and I have been chatting about marketing and I’ve got to tell you, you’re one of those people that is in the industry that I think is really thinking outside the box and looking at how you can push things forward and how you can do things uniquely. So, getting you on the show today was really one of my big goals. To be honest, it was one of the things that inspired me to want to do this show, was our conversation. I’m really looking forward to working through this today and hearing more about what you’re doing. So, without further ado, why don’t we jump on in and why don’t you tell us what our topic is today and what you’re up to?

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[00:02:02] Ken Harvey:
Well, first of all, I just want to say thank you very much for those really kind words. I remember that conversation that you and I had. I too felt pretty inspired by it. So, today we wanted to just spend a little bit of time talking about an initiative that we have underway, here at Sno-Isle Libraries and our communications team. We’re calling it first-year new customer on-boarding. Essentially, what we’re attempting to do is we’re trying to cultivate the relationship with new customers through the first year by creating a relationship that’s based upon raising their awareness and understanding, or familiarity, with what the library system offers. So, it’s actually based upon a premise, which is the more a customer knows that you can meet their needs, the more likely they are to take advantage of what you offer them. They should, essentially, be a much more active customer.

[00:03:05] Tyler Byrd:
Yeah. So, what does that actually look like in that first year? I mean, are you giving them a phone call? What actually happens there?

[00:03:14] Ken Harvey:
Well, this effort is really kind of based upon our ability to identify who these new customers are. In this case, we would say in the library sector, they are new cardholders, so, individuals who have recently registered for a library card and receive that library card or that card number. Which means they’ve been entered into our system and for the most part, with their contact information, their email address. So, this is a targeted email campaign that revolves around the strategy of delivering deliberate and timed messages to them that we hope leads them to become more active in the system.

[00:04:02] Tyler Byrd:
Okay. I like this idea because I’ve seen this happen a lot when it comes to software companies online these days. So, when you sign up for a piece of software, they start sending you tips over a course of time that teach you how to use the software, hoping that they get better engagement and in doing so, you stay longer. It sounds very similar to that. So, when I come in and I sign up for a new card and you start sending me the emails, how does that work? Is that a manual process or have you automated that? Does that person get an email that single day that they sign up? What happens there?

[00:04:37] Ken Harvey:
Let me just say that for us, this really kind of sprang out of my becoming aware of what the previous, or historical process was that we, as a system, followed with new cardholders. So, that essentially was that someone requested a library card. Their information was entered into the system, either by staff or by themselves and it was submitted into the system. Then the system essentially generates a tracking number that becomes their account number. I then discovered that once that happened, the person typically received a piece of mail, a letter from the library, welcoming them to the business of libraries. “Hey, we’re glad to have you as a card-carrying member of Sno-Isle Libraries and we want to serve you and we hope that you take full advantage of all that we have to offer. Sincerely yours, your librarians.” All good and well, but then I discovered that for whatever reason, that customer typically via snail mail did not hear back from the library until there was a problem. The problem typically came from an overdue item or essentially trying to track down something that the customer might say, “Okay, I returned that, but you’re not seeing it returned. So, there’s an issue we need to work through,” or it’s missing or the dog chewed it up or something. It just seemed to us that there was an opportunity there. There was a gap with opportunity with a capitol O.

[00:06:30] Tyler Byrd:   
Okay, nice. I can definitely see where that would come into place, especially where I’ve heard you say customer instead of patron. I think that’s unique because I think of a patron of someone who is constantly coming back and using a service. But, a customer, that can be someone who uses you once or it could be someone who uses you 100 times. So, I think there’s a big difference in terminology there. It almost feels like those two things are tied hand in hand, and you looking at them as customers is really looking at them as what does that customer journey look like and our relationship with them look like? So, that in itself is really interesting. How many of these emails are you sending out? Is it just the intro email that says, “Welcome to the Library,” or are there more?

[00:07:13] Ken Harvey:
So, I want to just say that the issue of what you noted in terms of patron versus customer, that is something that we look at very seriously because what we discovered and continue to find as a library system, the way that the relationship is different and maybe how you view one another is different when you use those different words. So, with us, very intentional thinking of all of those that we’re serving as customers, either active customers, potential customers, or hopefully not inactive or lapsed customers. In terms of the strategies that we put together, what we looked at doing was moving from snail mail to an email carrier and tool to enable us to systematically lay out and automate a process of sending email messages that are themed with content and graphics that hopefully capture their attention and lead them to take some additional actions. So, specifically, on the question about numbers, we’re sending out approximately 400 to 500 of these emails a week. Each week, there is a new customer group that has just entered into our system. We start them with a welcome email, and then that’s followed up the following week with a second email. Each week for a month there is a different email. So, those emails run through a welcome to the library, here are some things that you should find good to know in terms of how to search for things that you’re interested in. The next email talks about some of the core services that we have available. The fourth week email deals with tons of different events and classes available through the library, here’s how to find those through the library. Then, it goes on from there, the second month, the third month, the fourth month through a 12-month cycle.

[00:09:40] Tyler Byrd:
So, you’re actually emailing them, instead of in the traditional onboarding email system we’ve seen it last six to eight emails. But, this is an entire year long program?

[00:09:52] Ken Harvey:
Absolutely. And, in fact, every week there’s a new customer group. We follow that customer group, or our intention, since we actually just started this effort with the first round of emails at the end of October, first of November 2018 So, we’re relatively early in this process, but we see it actually as likely being a two-year test and essentially a case study that enables us to track new customers through a full-year cycle. For some of those new cardholders and customers, they will be coming on board near the end of the one-year cycle, where the first group of cardholders that started 12 months earlier will have gone through a full 12-month cycle. So, for us, this is really kind of like two one-year cycles to enable all the groups to go through their own full-year cycles. Then, we get to track what happens in terms of whether or not those cardholders actually became active customers or not.

[00:11:07] Tyler Byrd:  
So, within that, you have a new cardholder and every week you start this new, fresh batch of cardholders. Is that the sign-ups from the past week, then, that are just starting off?

[00:11:16] Ken Harvey:

[00:11:17] Tyler Byrd:
What are you using for email?

[00:11:19] Ken Harvey:  
We are currently using OrangeBoy Inc.’s Savannah email tool. Savannah is a service that that company offers that essentially takes most, if not all, of our transactional data and aggregates it together. So, it enables us to see what’s happening with different customer profile groups, in terms of their activity or lack of activity and how that activity is showing up across a system and within those specific profiles.

[00:11:54] Tyler Byrd:
Okay. So within that, is OrangeBoy creating these emails and this content for you or are you doing it internally or do you have someone else that’s doing it for you?

[00:12:02] Ken Harvey:
Well, I would love it if we could just hand this off to OrangeBoy, but this is something that we are doing. They’ve given us the software and some of the tools. We’re creating the content and the messaging strategy. We’re loading those into our system and then setting them up, essentially, almost as templated messages, so that they can be scheduled and then automatically sent based upon the schedule.

[00:12:28] Tyler Byrd:
Got it. Now, within that then, these templated messages, it’s a specific cycle that you’re going through. So, you get email 1, email 2, email 3, regardless of what time of year you start or are they emails that are based on seasons? So, if it’s summer and you start in April, you’re going to jump right into the summer series versus the intro series?

[00:12:52] Ken Harvey: 
The answer is kind of a mixture of the two. As we were initially setting this up, one of the things that is kind of standard marketing wisdom, which is the more relevant you can make the information to a recipient, the more likely they are to pay attention to it. The more it seems like it’s mass mailing or broadcast, but not specifically relevant, the more likely they are to treat it as junk mail or not valuable. So, what we’ve essentially tried to do is for the ease of administering this effort, we’ve tried to create some general templating that allows us to deliberately walk through a series of messages that we think that the customer will find useful, to enable them to be a more active customer. At the same time, we’ve tried to also anticipate that there are certain types of seasonal interests that may come up. We give ourselves the ability to take a template and tweak it so it reflects some of that seasonality. So, libraries are often attuned to summer, the summer season, for summer reading clubs and often some special things around holidays or some special things around winter and trying to keep children and young people really engaged.

[00:14:27] Tyler Byrd:
Yeah. So, within this, are you sending an email every Monday or is it every Tuesday, or is it different depending on the group or what’s that?

[00:14:35] Ken Harvey:
We’re sending them out on Tuesdays. As we go, every Tuesday, there’s another group that is being added. So, the newest group is getting email number one, whereas the first group that we started with may now be on email number 10. So, there may be emails 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 or more in the sequence going out and each group is receiving a different email.

[00:15:07] Tyler Byrd:
Hey everyone, if you’re most like most libraries that I know, you’re pretty unhappy with your existing website. So, we’ve put together a free webinar on the five things that you can do that are going to have a significant impact on not just your success, but on patron engagement. If you’re interested, head on over to and rsvp. We look forward to seeing you there.

[00:15:30] Tyler Byrd:
It would be really interesting to see if you started each group on a different day at the start and to look at over time, which day gets the best opens. I know that historically email marketing, you look at Mondays. People show up, they have all of the email in their inbox from the weekend and then all the email that they get on Monday. Those open rates are just really, really poor. So, there is a lot of data about what the best day is. But, it’s usually industry specific. So, it would be interesting to be able to use this as a test to see how you could increase those open rates and those engagements. Have you looked at that at all?

[00:16:05] Ken Harvey:
Well, that is a great point and in fact, we have looked at that. We’ve been doing targeted emailing using this tool for several years now. What we’ve found is that there are certain days within the week that are better than others or worse than others, and we took that into consideration when we decided that for this particular initiative, Tuesday would likely work out to be the best day.

[00:16:35] Tyler Byrd:
Perfect. So, with that in mind, what other metrics are you looking at then, or what are the metrics you’re looking at for success, and how frequently are you looking at those?

[00:16:43] Ken Harvey:
Well, there are a number of things that with any email campaign, you’re typically looking for. You’re looking at tracking the number of messages that you send per group. You’re looking at the quantity or the size of that group and each message you send to that group and how many or what percentage were opened. Then, you’re taking a look at the difference in terms of the opening rate for those who are sitting at a desktop versus those who might have been more mobile-based, using a smartphone or tablet. Then, you’re also looking at a kind of standard email practice and you’re looking to see how many bounced and how many unsubscribed. So, if they’re bouncing, the contact information is faulty. There’s something wrong there, and that requires going back and checking if that percentage rate gets too high and correcting those, or if it’s relatively low, thinking okay, that’s just the cost of doing business and that’s okay. Unsubscribes is kind of important because what you figure is that if the recipient is just totally disinterested and in fact kind of frustrated or irritated by what they’re receiving from you, they’re going to opt out. You’re definitely looking at those numbers to make sure that you’re not driving customers away from you. If you got call to actions, like we do, in the messages, asking them to click on a link to get additional information, you’re really looking at the click through rate, so that you’re seeing are they moving from this email to this other web address, and then what are they doing once they get to that web address. In our case, we’re looking at what do they do when they get that web address? What are they clicking on there or hopefully clicking on and staying with those web pages as long as we want them to? But then, ultimately, what we’re taking a deeper look at is, are they actually then borrowing and downloading and using library resources as we hope they will or attending library events as we hope they will, or engaging in other activities that we intend them to do?

[00:19:15] Tyler Byrd:
So, that’s a lot of different data points to be tracking. As you’re looking at those right now, are there any that are jumping out to you with your current campaign? I know it’s a little early, but is there anything that is standing out at this point?

[00:19:27] Ken Harvey:
Well, there are some early ahas and I have to tell you there is a book that I have in my collection that’s called, The Logic of Failure, by a guy named Dietrich Dorner, which I have found really valuable. He sometimes talks about that sometimes in trying to solve a problem, we jump in and we oversimplify what the problem actually is, and we do the things that are easy to do to try and address it, only then to discover that it’s actually a little bit more complex or maybe a lot more complex than you thought it is. So, then you have to be willing to rethink it and change your set of actions to be more reflective of or more tied to what you’re actually dealing with. So, for us, some of the early ahas that we’ve had have indicated that yes, in fact, this is more complex, and there maybe is a reason why our early premise which was that new cardholders, and maybe I should say instead of an early premise, but an early challenge that we identified was that new cardholders did not automatically become active customers. So, individuals would sign up for library cards, but that didn’t mean that they actually used them or used them very much or very long. We thought we could change that situation. so, we were trying to develop this campaign so that it would lead to increasing percentages of open rates for the emails. In the early work that we’ve been doing, which included maybe some standard emails covering some areas that we thought would be reflected in a print welcome brochure.

[00:21:24] Tyler Byrd:

[00:21;26] Ken Harvey:
What we were seeing was, by the time the customers were getting to the fourth email, that was completing the full welcome brochure language, their open rates were actually declining. So, for us that’s a problem. It’s an early indicator that something isn’t heading in the right direction. One of the things that we think will change this, and we hope will change it, is that we’ve been using the same graphics on each email. So, a standard branding graphic we think now is making it look like it’s the same information, and so the level of interest goes down because people think, “Oh, it’s nothing new. It’s a repeat email.”

[00:22:11] Tyler Byrd:
Oh, gotcha. So, you’re testing different graphics moving forward in those emails, so they look unique?

[00:22:17] Ken Harvey:
Yes, so that will be one of the things that we’ve determined that we need to change, based upon what we’ve seen happen in the first month or two of the campaign. The second thing, which for me, is just as interesting and actually may even prove to be much more significant, is we had determined that along with general messaging campaign with maybe a little bit of seasonality thrown into it, we were also going to try a parallel emailing effort to these new customers in which we would ask them what type of information they were actually interested in. Then, we would send them information on those kind of high interest areas.

[00:23:06] Tyler Byrd:
Oh, I like that.

[00:23:07] Ken Harvey:
So, that, in fact, we would be creating special interest group emailing campaigns.

[00:23:13] Tyler Byrd:
Yeah, so it’s not based off of actual user behavior. You’re not tracking them as individuals, but you’re letting them self-subscribe to categories of interest or areas of interest. So, you have started that then?

[00:23:23] Ken Harvey: 
We were planning to start that within the second month of this general email series. We would invite them via an email to participate in a survey identifying special interests, and essentially opting into additional communications, specifically around those. In theory, that seemed to make sense to us early on. Given, however, some of the early, actual numbers that we’re seeing in terms of response rates and opens and all, we’re thinking that we need to move that up in the series so that once we send out this invitation to identify special interests, we incorporate that in immediately. Then, we would only rarely use or much less frequently use generalized information. We would be really concentrating on sending out these areas where there’s significant interest.

[00:24:37] Tyler Byrd:  
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It seems like the sooner that you can get to things that they’re specifically interested in, the more likely they are to not only open those emails, the larger group of people you’re going to be talking to overall. I like that. I’m really curious to see what your numbers end up looking like here in the next couple of months with that kind of program.

[00:24:58] Ken Harvey:
We’re really interested to see what the numbers look like, as well. The thing that I think helps me and will help our team as we kind of move through this is where we can essentially set ego aside and set a need to credentialize ourselves or make ourselves look good or overly intelligent, as if we know it all, as we go through the process. We are trying to enthuse our team with a sense of we’re in this to be smarter marketers, smarter communicators, so that we can just really be in a continuous learning mode. In some ways, there are so many different variables happening in the lives that may be affecting customer behavior, and maybe affecting their choices, especially when it comes around to how they decide to use the library. So, we want to take into consideration that there’s likely a number of things that we’re going to discover and even if we discover that we were wrong, in some ways, in terms of our initial premise or even premises that come, that we switch to or we refine, we know that we’re going to be smarter as we go along.

[00:26:28] Tyler Byrd:
I really like that philosophy. I think that the best marketers don’t think of themselves as experts. They think of themselves as students. In doing so, it allows you to stay on top of all the trends and all the changes in technology, and everything else that’s happening, and really become the best you possibly can be at this skill set. Otherwise, I see a lot of people who think of it as, “I’m the expert here,” are the ones that really get stuck in how they do things and don’t evolve with the community, with the times. I just love that philosophy, Ken. That’s a great philosophy. Ken, would you mind sharing some of those emails that you’re sending out? Can we get some copies of those to share with our guests?

[00:27:10] Ken Harvey:
Absolutely. We would be glad to share that.

[00:27:13] Tyler Byrd:
Awesome. We’ll take some screen shots of those if you can send them over and we’ll upload them to the site through the blog post with this podcast. So, anyone who’s listening, if you want to see some of the email examples that Ken’s sending out with Sno-Isle, we will get those copies up on the site with this blogpost, so you can check them out. This brings us to the end of the show. So, I’ve got a couple speed round questions for you. Are you ready?

[00:27:13] Ken Harvey:
I’m ready.

[00:27:35] Tyler Byrd:
Alright, these are going to be on the spot, and you haven’t seen them before. We’ll see how this goes. What’s your favorite source for staying up to date with new marketing ideas and strategies?

[00:27:43] Ken Harvey:
I’d have to say right now my favorite source is…I’ve got two favorite sources. One is Pinterest, because I’m very visual and Pinterest allows me the ability to actually do visual discovery. I find myself searching a lot for how other companies are putting their information out online. So, Pinterest is one. The other one is, I use my iPhone’s news application a lot. There are different marketing publications that come up through that that I’ve pre-selected. Oftentimes, first thing in the morning I will turn that on and take a look and see essentially what’s trending through those magazines.

[00:28:38] Tyler Byrd:
Interesting. I haven’t used that. I’m going to have to give it a shot. I like that. How about, what’s a book you haven’t read yet, but you want to?

[00:28:45] Ken Harvey:
I’ve got so many books on my shelf that are just waiting for me to spend some time with them. One of them is called Wait, that’s the headline. The subhead is called The Art and Science of Delay.

[00:29:03] Tyler Byrd:
Okay. I’m going to have to go look that one up. That sounds good. Digital or print? Which do you prefer digital content or print content?

[00:29:10] Ken Harvey:
I still read books primarily in print, but I also consume a lot of digital content every day. I think that when I’m reading to inform myself, I’m going digital. When I’m reading to enjoy myself, I’m going print.

[00:29:33] Tyler Byrd:
Huh, alright, good answer. What’s your favorite library service?

[00:29:37] Ken Harvey:
One that I really, really enjoy that I know that we offer is called Biblio Files, which is part of a partnership that we have with BiblioCommons. But, the Biblio Files are blogs that our librarians put out and provide opportunities for our readers to also rate and recommend things that they’re reading that they’ve enjoyed.

[00:30:10] Tyler Byrd:
I have not seen that yet. I’m going to have to check it out. Last question, is there someone you know and that you appreciate that you’d like to see on this show, that you think would be a good guest to talk to?

[00:30:21] Ken Harvey:
Yes, absolutely. Two individuals who work together, Mark Hughes and Jeannie Allen over at Kitsap Regional Library. They are doing some really amazing things over there and I think that the listeners would be fascinated to pick up some tips from them and some insights into what they’re learning about their communities and customers.

[00:30:47] Tyler Byrd:
Awesome. Ken, thank you very much for that. I appreciate it. If some of our listeners, if they want to reach out to you because they have some more questions, what would be the best way to get ahold of you?

[00:30:56] Ken Harvey:
Well, they can certainly come to the Sno-Isle Library’s website, and through the Contact Us feature, they could ask a question. They could ask for me by name or by title, Ken Harvey communications director of Sno-Isle Libraries. That would be forwarded to me, or they can simply contact me through my email address which is

[00:31:24] Tyler Byrd:
Alright, we’ll put that in the show notes for anyone who wants to reach out. Ken, thank you so much for taking the time today. I know how crazy busy you are, and I just want to say I very much appreciate it. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the results that you’re getting with this campaign. I think it will be exciting.

[00:31:37] Ken Harvey:
Well, Tyler I’m really excited to be part of this show and very excited about your podcast. I think it’s going to provide a great service to the community, to the marketer community. I appreciate your work.

[00:31:50] Tyler Byrd:
Thank you. Alright, before we head out, just a couple more quick things. If you know somebody that you think would be a great guest on this podcast and you’d like to hear us interview them, I’d love the opportunity. Send me their name and their contact information at I’ll do all the hard work of reaching out and getting them scheduled so that all of our listeners will have the opportunity to learn more from them about the great marketing strategies that they might be using. We’re constantly looking for new guests and great guests on the show, and I would really appreciate the opportunity to meet with your connections and get them up here to learn more.

Second, if you’re enjoying the podcast episodes and so far, you like what you hear on Library Figures and the content, head over to iTunes. You can subscribe to the podcast and get future episodes and while you’re there, if you could give us a five-star rating, that would go a long way in letting us know that you like the content and you like the show and we should continue doing it. Until next time, I look forward to being on there again and the next great interview we’ll have up. Take care. We’ll see you next time.

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