Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians sponsored by
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#249, May 20, 2005

SUBJECT INDEX to Past Issues

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Neat New Stuff I Found This Week

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My resume
Or why you might want to hire me for speaking engagements or workshops. To see outlines for previous presentations I've done, click on Handouts

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My Writings
A bibliography of my published articles and columns, with links to those available online.

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Order My Books

Net Effects: How Librarians Can Manage the Unintended Consequences of the Internet, and The Quintessential Searcher: the Wit and Wisdom of Barbara Quint.

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What IS Ex Libris?

The purpose and intended scope of this e-zine

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E-Mail Subscription?

For a combined subscription to Neat New Stuff and ExLibris, please click HERE, complete the form, and click on "subscribe." To unsubscribe, use the same form but click on "unsubscribe." To change addresses for an existing subscription, unsubscribe from that form and return to the page to enter the new address.

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Highlights from Previous Issues:

My Rules of Information

  1. Go where it is
  2. Corollary: Who Cares?
  3. The answer depends on the question
  4. Research is a multi-stage process
  5. Ask a Librarian
  6. Information is meaningless until queried by human intelligence
  7. Information can be true and still wrong
  8. Pay attention to the jokes

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Guru Interviews

  1. Tara Calishain
  2. Jenny Levine, part I
  3. Jenny Levine, Part II
  4. Reva Basch
  5. Sue Feldman
  6. Jessamyn West
  7. Debbie Abilock
  8. Kathy Schrock
  9. Greg Notess
  10. William Hann
  11. Chris Sherman
  12. Gary Price
  13. Barbara Quint
  14. Rory Litwin
  15. John Guscott
  16. Brian Smith
  17. Darlene Fichter
  18. Brenda Bailey-Hainer
  19. Walt Crawford
  20. Molly Williams
  21. Genie Tyburski
  22. Patrice McDermott
  23. Carrie Bickner
  24. Karen G. Schneider
  25. Roddy MacLeod, Part I
  26. Roddy MacLeod, Part II
  27. John Hubbard
  28. Micki McIntyre
  29. Péter Jacsó

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Cool Quotes

The collected quotes from all previous issues are at

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When and How To Search the Net

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Wanna See Your Name in Lights?

Or at least on this page, anyway? I'd like to print here your contributions as well as mine. As you've noticed, articles are brief, somewhere between 750 and 1000 words -- something to jog people's minds and get their own good ideas flowing. I'd also be happy to run other people's contributions to the regular features like Favorite Sites on _____. I'll pay you the same rate I pay me: nothing.

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Drop me a Line

Want to comment, ask questions, submit articles, or invite me to speak or do some training? Write me at: marylaine at

Visit My Other Sites

My page on all things book-related.

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How To Find Out of Print Books
Suggested strategies, resources, and finding tools.

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Best Information on the Net
bestinfo/default.htmThe directory I built for O'Keefe Library, St. Ambrose University, still my favorite pit stop on the information highway.

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My Word's Worth
an occasional column on books, words, libraries, American culture, and whatever happens to interest me.

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Book Proposal

Land of Why Not: an Appreciation of America. Proposal for an anthology of some of my best writing. An outline and sample columns are available here.

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My personal page


by Tia Dobi

"What makes you unique makes you successful." - William Arruda, CEO of Reach, a recognized global leader in branding organizations and the people who belong to them.

I'm a copywriter. And this is my confession: You gotta bulletproof your business.

Don't believe me? Then try these latest library mottos on for size, look and feel:

Karrmann Library, University of Wisconsin, Platteville - "Your Passport to the World"
University of Hawaii at Manoa - "Ideas flow @ your library"
Old Dominion University Libraries - "Supporting the quest for knowledge"
Managerial Technologies Corp. Library - "We search the net so that you don't have to."
Somerset County (MD) Library - "Expand your mind: Explore your library"
Saxon B. Little Free Library (CT) - "Be a reader. Be informed."
New Jersey Library Association:

No Boundary
No Limits
Know your library

Now staff may write a tagline. But to bulletproof a business means to have a place of your own. That, no matter what, on a clear sunny day, or even while in a purple haze, your customer says "I'm not even sure why. I just KNOW I want THAT PRODUCT." And to be that product of choice, you must promise big, bold benefits that no one else offers. And which no prospect can resist. That can only mean one thing. Differentiation.


Like all businesses, you want a steadier stream of customers, better cash funding flow and more profits (to buy more books and neat cool stuff) but you know that even if you service your customers better than your competition, if you don't get your message out there you won't be first choice. The problem is, no one is hearing your message as is, and it might not be the right one in the first place. You need a way to come up with the optimal message that will maximize your library's presence.

You need a way to claim "top of the mind" awareness for all those potential customers out there, because you want them to think of you FIRST. You need a way that you become KNOWN as the only logical, rational, viable choice for supplying your type of goods and services. You need some way that gets you more library users while competing against more user choices in the marketplace. You need a way to get customers EXCITED about relating to you and forgetful of your competition. Something that will weld them to you with a loyalty that cannot be broken.

What you need, my friend, is a UNIQUE SELLING PROPOSITION, a USP.


A USP is a marketing concept invented by Rosser Reeves in the 1960's. Reeves, who wrote Reality in Advertising, came to the conclusion that the only way to make customers come to you was to create an advertising message about your product that contained the following three characteristics:

1. Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer. Not just words, not just product puffery, not just show-window advertising. Each advertisement must say to each reader: "Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit."

2. The proposition must be one that the competitor either cannot, or does not offer. It must be unique--either a uniqueness of the brand or a claim not otherwise made in that particular field of advertising.

3. The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions, i.e. pull over new customers to your product.

Reeves used this idea to create unique selling propositions for many consumer products such as Anacin ("The pain reliever doctors recommend most"), M&M candies ("They melt in your mouth, not in your hands"), Colgate ("Cleans your breath while it cleans your teeth"), and Wonder Bread ("Helps build bodies in eight ways"). With the USP, he built those products and companies into billion dollar giants.

The strategy of creating and then sticking to a USP is as powerful today as it was then, and is still used by savvy marketers to build million dollar and billion dollar firms. [Think: # of library patrons.] If you have the right type of USP for your product or service, that type of outcome is not out of reach.


Since that time, the idea of the USP, also known as a unique buying advantage, has slowly expanded beyond its original bounds.

I spoke with branding strategist William Arruda. Who defines today's successful USPs in this way:

"A personal brand statement [William's unique version of the USP] is a brief description that includes: Uniqueness. It's evaluate is only available from you. A promise. Something you commit to. No matter what. And value. To those people who make you successful." William further explains:

"A USP differs from a slogan in that a slogan is exclusively external. You develop a slogan to make a statement to the marketplace. It's generally more acceptable to be witty and punchy. Your USP is your guiding post. One that's used by every employee to make decisions internally. It can also be used outwardly in the marketplace of course. However, it stems from your brand core values. Those come from introspection [see article #3, Dec. 2004 in this series]. Every time you have to make a decision, bump it up against your USP to see if it's on brand for you.

The use of a USP, then, is much bigger than a tagline. [Also slogan, motto.] USP's are what makes your business amazing and successful - which is inherent to both your employees and your customers. If a company allows employees to have individual USP's - to uncover about themselves what makes each of them unique and amazing - then engages their people at that level, you've got super-duper performance in the workplace. Really understanding how much value every employee has to contribute. Which makes the entire organization outstanding. Which means they move up to a whole new level in the marketplace. That alone makes customers want to frequent your business more. What corporation wouldn't want super engaged and super motivated employees with the permission to be at their best?

By understanding your individual brand and how you can deliver on the promise of the organization, the library's promise in this case…how you could deliver in a way that's effective for you… that's the double entendre [the best form of copywriting] potential of a USP. An employee using her or his USP to deliver on the library's USP.

Nordstrom's does this. They give extra value through super customer service. Say they have two sales people in men's suits. One's gregarious, just loves people and is very friendly, the other an introspective, thoughtful creative. How can both of them deliver on the company's USP? Easy. The first would have a party in the department when a new line of suits arrives. If you try to squelch that, he'd be miserable. If you forced salesrep #2 to have parties, she'd quit. Instead, she's allowed to take photos of the new suits and mails them to her customers with a note 'thought you'd like this'.

Now, we don't know these individuals' personal USP's. But what we do know is that they're both married to customer service. By individualizing their USPs with the company's, both employees get the benefits of confidence. Which equals self-motivation. Your USP does the same in the minds of your customers. And new prospects. Confidence stated propels motivation incites action. Everybody loves you when you have a USP. Your company attracts better employees. Who love their jobs. And they nave no reason to leave. The same goes for your customers."


A Big, Overt Promise of BENEFITS for customers who buy the product or service. A REAL REASON to BELIEVE that the benefits claim is credible and that customers can TRUST that those promised benefits will actually be delivered. A DRAMATIC DIFFERENCE to those promised benefits that makes the offering unique and distinguishes the product or service apart from its competitors. The USP should be an ECONOMICALLY FEASIBLE idea that can sustain a business for at least 5 years or more. It should be short, simple, memorable, attention getting, persuasive, motivating and compelling just by its WORDING alone.

You could spend thousands of dollars in advertising (or no dollars in the case of PR) and have extremely low or no results because of your poor planned copy.

It's a fact of copywriting life. So here's a secret to crafting your USP - or any good copy. Promote your best and strong benefit at first, not last. That's how you are going to create interest and then desire.

Federal Express created one of the most famous USPs of all times when it said: "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight." When Fred Smith founded Federal Express, there was no such thing as an airfreight package delivery service that could reliably deliver packages overnight in a consistent fashion. Everyone knows FedEx now, but the business of Federal Express is not so much the package delivery business as it is the business of delivering peace of mind. FedEx's customers fear late delivery, so FedEx composed a unique selling proposition that focused on delivering the peace of mind that the package would get there on time.

FedEx grew into the international, multibillion dollar giant it is today because of both its business design and its simple USP that it trumpeted over and over again in its advertising: "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight." FedEx so organized its business structure and strategies, hiring, training, tracking capabilities, management rewards, uniforms, corporate communications, delivery methods and facilities ALL around the single promise of making overnight deliveries without fail. FedEx became focused on delivering upon that USP that they had determined was the most attractive one for the package delivery market. FedEx is organized (aligned) around that promised benefit.

Anyone can readily recognize that this USP promises the benefit of overnight delivery for customers. But the real genius of this USP escapes most people, which is the fact that it subtly offers a real credibility for that promise through the words, "positively, absolutely." Without those words, Federal Express's service promise would lose its singularity and believability. Those two words telegraph that this company means what it says … it means business … you WILL get your package delivered tomorrow.

Domino's Pizza, on the other hand, also grew into a super successful national franchise -- despite having literally thousands of local competitors all across the country - largely because of a simple business model and a simple USP that also greatly differentiated it from all its competitors. Domino's promised the pizza customer an experience that was rare in the pizza home delivery market. Its USP was "Hot, fresh pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed." Let's say that one again: "Hot, fresh pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed."

Before Dominos Pizza, your chances of ordering and then promptly receiving a "fresh and hot" pizza were "slim to none" since it usually arrived cold, late, and sticking to the top of its box. Definitely there was room for better pizza service. Dominos knew this, so they came out with their famous unique selling proposition - a true customer buying advantage - and they went national by sticking to their word. If you didn't get your hot pizza on time, you didn't have to pay and so the company organized itself around the promise of fast delivery.

Because most people already knew what pizza tasted like, Dominos didn't promise a tasty pizza or lots of tomato sauce or extra toppings. Dominos stuck to impressing you with one major promise … fast, reliable delivery of a hot pizza.

What was the believability factor to get over the pizza credibility hump? To make its USP believable and entice customers to give them a try, Dominos offered a guarantee. They promised that if your pizza didn't arrive at your door within 30 minutes, you'd get it for free. That one factor differentiated it from everyone else and enabled it to cream all its competition. Other pizza companies now focus on different USPs (Papa John's trumpets, "Better ingredients, better pizza) while Little Caesars promises two pizzas for the price of one), but you can see how powerful a simple idea can be in creating billion dollar businesses. Yes, USPs can take your library to the top, if you hit it right!


Plaster this USP all over the place. "Free books. All the time." Or, write your own USP and test it in all the places your name is in print. Can your competitor say the same thing? Or is it bulletproof?

Let me know how it grows.

Tia Dobi is a copywriter and library fanatic living in Los Angeles. Reach her now at [email protected]

Previous articles in the series:

  • Part 1
  • Part 2
  • Part 3
  • Part 4
  • Part 5

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    I'd written the following some 10 years earlier, on the acknowledgements page of Wag the Dog," thanking my local librarians: We get most of our information in shallow, predigested sound bites and headlines. Whenever we want, or need, to look a little deeper, to think a little more seriously, our libraries are our most effective resource. Frequently, our only resource. Certainly, for the average person, the only affordable one.

    Larry Beinhart (author of The Librarian), 'Narrating through the non-fiction.' AlterNet,December 3, 2004

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    Copyright, Marylaine Block, 1999-2005.

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