Marketing on a tight budget
One of the findings of the Rowley Report on JISC User Behaviour  was that subject gateways, although providing very useful services, are underused by academics. Using a variety of methods to gather information, including interviews and questionnaires, the research which led to the Report found that relatively few students and staff in UK higher education were aware of the existence of gateways as Internet retrieval tools. The Report concluded that gateway marketing had been deficient.
As one of the Resource Discover Network (RDN) Hubs, EEVL's main remit is to create a subject gateway for engineering, mathematics and computing. The subject of engineering has been covered by EEVL since 1996, and in the summer of 2001 a new service will be launched which will also cover mathematics and computing. Over the past few years, extensive efforts have been made to promote EEVL, and these have met with some success as is shown from current statistics of use. EEVL receives over 35,000 visitors each month, who generate about 250,000 page views. However, the potential market for EEVL is much larger. There are about 210,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students currently studying engineering, mathematics and computing at UK universities (over 11% of the total student population) , an unknown number of students in further education studying the same, or related, subjects, and several thousand more potential users amongst academic members of staff. In addition, EEVL's market includes library and information professionals, a large number of practicing professionals working in the engineering and computing industries, plus members of the public who want to locate quality-assured Internet resources in the subject covered by the Hub. The findings of the Rowley Report on use and awareness would appear, therefore, to be applicable to EEVL.
With such a large target community, an appropriate marketing strategy with an adequate budget is essential for ensuring that potential users are aware of the EEVL service. For a number of reasons, stemming largely from the fact that EEVL started life as a research project which subsequently turned into a service, and also because it is funded out of the public purse, resources available for promotional purposes have always been limited. It has been possible to allocate about three per cent of the budget to marketing, which is much less than many commercial companies would expect to spend on promotion. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that much of EEVL's promotional work has had to be fairly imaginative in order to make up for financial restrictions.
A variety of low cost 'Guerrilla marketing' techniques have been used to promote the service (guerrilla marketing means achieving conventional marketing goals with unconventional methods, especially in terms of investing time and energy instead of money). These have included manual submission of the site to numerous search engines, occasional press release postings sent to newsgroups and mailing lists, requests for links from other sites and suggesting to webmasters of sites included in EEVL that they create links to the service. Other promotional activities have included writing online articles for LIS and engineering publications, press releases sent to relevant publications, and the distribution of attractive, but flimsy A5 fliers to university libraries and academic departments. Efforts have also included more traditional, and relatively expensive, methods such as the distribution of promotional calendars, pens, post-it notes, and stickers to intermediaries such as LIS professionals and departmental heads of department, seminars and demonstrations, and the occasional presentation at a conference. 
Another way to promote a service, if funds are limited, is to get someone else to pay for it. EEVL has had two promotional campaigns that have been supported by third parties - the 'EEVL Challenge', which was held towards the end of 1999, and the '£5,000 worth of free engineering books' promotion, which is running at the time of writing. Of course, in order to leverage external financial assistance, something must be offered in return. With 35,000 visitors producing 250,000 page views each month, EEVL is able to offer a relatively wide user base and considerable exposure within a focused subject community to organisations wishing to participate in joint promotional efforts.
The EEVL Challenge promotion was reasonably successful. It involved the distribution of a large number of fliers advertising a competition based at the EEVL Web site. Entrants were invited to answer a series of online questions based around the services offered by the sponsoring organisations. The prizes, consisting of three Palm Pilots, £500 worth of books, a free Web site design, sweatshirts and posters, were quite desirable. Contributing to the promotion were rswww.com, the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE), Software Echo (a publication of Scottish Enterprise which has since ceased), TWI, Edina and the Federation of Master Builders (FMB). Some of the contributors sponsored prizes, and others distributed fliers. The promotion generated a large number of hits to the competition Web site, and thereby helped to raise awareness of the EEVL service and the services of the contributors. However only about 1,000 entrants completed the set of questions. On reflection, it is obvious that the promotion was rather complex and required too much effort on the part of entrants.
The current free book promotion is much simpler and has already attracted far more entrants. How does it work? Each of the four participating publishers, Kluwer, Palgrave, Academic Press and Springer, has donated a retail value of £1,250 worth of books, plus a sum to cover administration costs which include Web page design and flier production. Engineering magazine and E2 magazine have distributed fliers (shown above) advertising the promotion as inserts in their monthly publications, and EEVL has also sent quantities of fliers to University Science and Technology Librarians Group (USTLG) members, engineering departments, and other parties such as relevant Learning and Technology Subject Network (LTSN) Centres. Visitors to the competition pages are invited to select, via hypertext links to the publishers' Web sites, a book title of their choice, and, on returning to the EEVL site enter brief details and their e-mail address. Selections are automatically emailed to the relevant publisher, and all entrants receive an acknowledgement by email. At the end of the promotion, the publishers will pick winners at random, and then send the winners a copy of their chosen book, until the accumulated cost reaches £5,000. For those entrants who have selected a book title but who have not been chosen, EEVL is encouraging the publishers to offer the title at a much discounted price.
The direct cost of the free book promotion to EEVL has been minimal. Through it, EEVL has raised its profile within its target community, and several hundred entrants will receive free books.. But what have the participating publishers received for their money and effort? They have gained exposure via their their logos on 70,000 fliers which have been distributed widely throughout the academic and trade communities. Their logos have also featured on the competition Web site, which has received many thousands of hits. The exercise has associated them with both a highly regarded non-profit academic service and two popular engineering trade magazines, and they have also been seen as a facilitator of books for their prime customer community of academics, students, and engineers. Visitors to their Web sites, and in particular their book catalogues, will have increased. They will be able to glean data as to which are their most desirable book titles, and they will also be able to compile a contact database of email addresses of consenting participants. In addition, their names have been mentioned in email messages sent by EEVL advertising the competition to various lists and newsgroups, and in press releases featured in publications such as Information World Review and the Library Association Record. The trade magazines Engineering and E2 have gained similar benefits, and their publisher will also receive a copy of the email contact database.
Shoestring marketing has low direct costs, but it is expensive in terms of staff time and effort. Both the EEVL Challenge, and the free book promotion have, for example, required more effort than originally anticipated. For educational services with tight budgets, shoestring marketing can be an effective method of profile-raising, and it can also encourage and strengthen links with the commercial world, however it is not a proper alternative for an adequately funded marketing strategy. Perhaps one of the outcomes of the Rowley Report will be that more resources are provided for such a purpose.
- 1. Rowley, Jennifer JISC User Behaviour Monitoring and Evaluation Framework First Annual Report, August 2000 http://www.jisc.ac.uk/pub00/m&e_rep1.html
- 2. Students in Higher Education 1998/99.
- 3. MacLeod, Roddy EEVL "not a success" Ariadne, issue 21, Septamber 1999. http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue21/eevl/
|Roddy MacLeod |
Heriot-Watt University Library