Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Considering a Marketing and Communications Approach for an Institutional Repository

Heleen Gierveld proposes a market-oriented approach to increase the rate of deposit to an institutional repository.

Institutional Repositories (IR) are a result of the vision to collect, secure, and provide access to scholarly publications in a novel, digital way, mostly initiated by the institutional library. Various factors have contributed to the emergence of these repositories, including technological innovations which allow a new form of collection management of a university's output, the desire to counteract the 'serials crisis', and the opportunity of promoting wide dissemination and quick access to publications.

The benefits of an IR may be clear to librarians, but IRs have not as yet proven to be particularly attractive to authors. Many IRs face the difficulty of attracting content, which is the critical success factor for any IR.

This article takes a marketing approach towards the IR: The IR as a product that needs to attract a market. In order to do this, a few main marketing and communication principles are presented and translated into an IR setting. The aim of this article is to lay out a marketing and communications perspective, encouraging IR managers to think in marketing terms: to place the target audience and their needs centre-stage, to examine the trends and external factors affecting scientists working in this area, and to translate the librarian's notions of an IR into a product and language fitting the needs of such scientists.

Firstly, this article considers the scientists and places them centre-stage in the development of the IR. Secondly, it presents the elements of a social marketing strategy, suitable for projects that aim to change the behaviour of the target audience for a benefit beyond its direct interest. The rest of the article focuses on two of these elements: product development and the communication strategy necessary for a product for which a change in behaviour is a critical success factor. Only when scientists act and deposit their material, can the IR establish itself as an important tool for the distribution of knowledge.

The Market

Researchers and Scholarly Communication

Scientists want to conduct research. They basically want to spend their time doing research, sharing it, writing and reading about it, and keeping up with their field. Activities that distract from this 'core business' are unpopular and preferably avoided [1]. For an IR this obvious fact would imply that scientists will only use and contribute to the IR when it helps them in their own goals - the conduct of science. The IR is only a tool towards this end, and not an aim in itself.

Scientists are driven to research and publish because of their intrinsic motivation to inquire and to share, but also because of the way the scholarly system is organised: to publish in order to gain recognition, credit, funds and tenure.

Digitisation has an impact on the way science is conducted, allowing new ways of collecting and analysing data, of collaborating and communicating, as well as approaches to publishing and dissemination. For this reason it is important to see publications as an integral part of the scholarly process, preceded by two earlier phases:

  1. gathering data and ideas and communicating this informally with colleagues; and
  2. combining them and shaping them into a preliminary presentation.

The actual publication is thus the third and final phase, which again feeds into the first phase, as the basis for further research [2].


Different disciplines have different ways of working and different attitudes. The target audience is as varied as the number of disciplines, with different motivations, behaviours and working processes. This calls for segmentation of the target audience. Segmentation is a subdivision of the target audience in a homogeneous group for which a specific set of benefits and features can be developed. A second condition for segmentation is that the group can be reached and addressed as such.

Cronin and Thorin [3] describe and explain how the conduct of science differs by discipline, leading to different preferences and ways of working, communicating, sharing, evaluating, appraising, publishing, and collaborating. For example, physicists are keen to share and collaborate (hence the booming success of the ArXives), while chemists prefer an official, peer-reviewed publication track. Information scientists accept open access journals as good publication outlets, while economists value the prestige of an established journal. Computer scientists like to publish through conference proceedings, while historians like to write and publish monographs.

Furthermore, the impact and benefits of digital technology differ by discipline. For archaeologists, digitisation represents the opportunity to bring literature and data to their field location; for linguists, it means, for example, the creation of large, well-structured corpi. For historians, digitisation means quick searches in and easy access to archives; for architects, it provides different ways of presenting and visualising their work; and for musicologists, the digital technique provides new methods of including and comparing sound.

Social Marketing Strategy

An IR is not developed in response to a market demand. Instead, it is a technology-driven product, initiated by librarians who see the long-term benefits: an improved exchange of scholarly communication - one that is faster, more effective and cheaper. Yet, the crucial factor for the success of an IR is whether the scientists will deposit their materials. To summarise the marketing challenge of the IR somewhat controversially: Scientists need to act in order to make the IR 'product' successful, yet it is a product which they did not ask for in the first place.

This need to act is central to social marketing. Social marketing focuses on changing behaviour for the good of society or the target audience concerned. Its strategies are, for example, used in health programmes, education, and environmental management.

Voluntary change of behaviour is best achieved by creating an attractive environment (e.g., easy to use, little effort, clear benefits, various incentives) in which the target audience can easily act and receives the benefits it seeks. Barriers that concern the target audience need to be reduced and positive reinforcement needs to be enacted [4]. In addition, the audience needs to be educated and made aware of the issues involved. This will improve both its motivation and willingness to contribute.

The Marketing Mix in Social Marketing

Marketing a product involves a marketing mix - also known as the four P's: Product, Price, Promotion, and Place. In social marketing, four more P's are added: Public, Partnership, Policy, Purse String [5]. The first four P's provide the environment in which people can act; the last four P's provide the strength and support for the programme to operate in an efficient and effective way.

Space deters me from elaborating on every element and the following table (Table 1) provides a brief overview of these P's in relation to the IR. The rest of this article will concentrate on the first four P's, creating together the environment in which scientists can deposit their material. For an IR, the Price (efforts to be made) and Place (for a virtual product) are inherent to the way the product is designed and for that reason the rest of this article concentrates on the two other P's: the Product and the Promotion, or rather, Communications.

The 8 p'sWhat they meanExamples in an IR setting
ProductThe actual product, providing the desired benefits, features and qualities.The IR with all its facilities--  see next section
PriceThe lower the price or effort, the more likely people will act: or the more the audience is convinced of the benefits / rewards,  the more one is prepared to pay.Price in terms of time or effort spent depositing material.  Low effort / high rewards.
PromotionThe effort and activity to promote the product. How to promote the message and make people use the product.The communication activities undertaken to gain interest / explain the concept / to stimulate the deposit of material / use.
PlaceThe point of access to the product: its accessibility, its user-friendliness, its clear information and contact details.Clear contact details and upload instructions / facilities.
PublicAll stakeholders, internal & external. Each stakeholders group has its own interests in the IR. Each group should be understood and addressed in terms of  its own interests and in its own language.Scientists, students, post-doctoral researchers,  co-operating partners, library staff,  board of management, sponsors, policy makers, politicians.
PartnershipThe parties that co-operate.Joint library initiative; a joint effort  of partners from various industries; cooperation with an established subject archive.
PolicyInclusion and involvement of the policy makers.Including the importance of information dissemination in the overall university policy; support of free dissemination principles by government or funding agencies.
Purse stringFunding for the product, its development and its sustainability in the long run.Lobbying, influencing, and presenting results that fit in with the interests of the subsidising parties.

Table 1: The 8 P's in social marketing and the IR

The IR as a Product

An IR allows the authors of a particular university to store, archive, disseminate or refer to their work and the library facilitates this. The IR in itself is then a service for the benefit of a scholarly community, developed and supported by the library. For example, Lynch [6] defines an IR as a 'set of services that a university offers to members of its community for the management and dissemination of digital materials created by the institution and its community members'. In marketing terms, a service qualifies as an intangible product. And successful products either bring in money or generate usage and provide benefits.

Three Product Levels

In marketing theory, Kotler et al. [7] distinguish between three levels inherent in a product: the core level, the actual level, and the augmented level. This may be characterised as follows:

  1. At its core level, the core product represents the core benefit or the problem-solving service it provides;
  2. At its actual level, the actual product turns the core product into a perceivable set of characteristics; and
  3. At its augmented level, the augmented product provides additional services and benefits to enhance the core and actual product.

The actual level is readily recognisable. A product has features, offers a certain quality, includes a design, sometimes a brand, as well as an image and a label. These are the product characteristics which give the product a tangible identity. It is the product that is actually offered to the market.

The other two levels are more abstract. The core level stands for the main benefit a product delivers and the core function of the product. It represents the essence of the product and can in effect be described in twenty seconds or one sentence. Being able to define the core level demands vision and knowledge of the market: why use this product and what will it do for the target audience.

The augmented level includes facilities that make the product easy to use, lowering possible barriers and guaranteeing customer satisfaction, for example good customer service, clear instructions or preventing long waiting. In the case of the IR, clear copyright information and aids are also an example of the augmented level, as they reduce the barrier to deposit.

With each IR, the core product will depend on the vision of its management as to the function of the IR, as well as on the needs of the scientists. Needless to say, the various choices and product characteristics are inter-dependent.

Three levels of the productWhat they do:Some examples:
Core product The core benefit of the product or the problem-solving service it provides.Archiving, organisation of work (i), preservation, dissemination, visibility.
Actual product

in 5 characteristics
- Product QualityThe qualities of an IR. The choice of these qualities and their level of consistency in maintaining these qualities influence the core product.  They address levels of accuracy, reliability, ease of use, comprehensiveness.Consistent metadata, accurate hyperlinks, implementation of DOI (Digital Object Identifier).
 - FeaturesThe parts and facilities of an IR. They make the IR worthwhile to use and address the direct needs of the community.A search engine; a home page facility (e.g. Rochester (ii), a community space, datasets facilities.
 - Product DesignThe functionality and appearance of the product, contributing to the usefulness and attractiveness of the product.Interface, Web display, navigation, upload facilities, data organisation, choice of metadata inclusion
 - Brand (name, logo, etc) The way an IR or the IR provider is perceived (e.g., prestigious, reliable, relevant, useful, innovative).Cream of Science (iii).

Targeted presentation of parts of the IR via targeted audiences (e.g., a subject- oriented portal, harvesting across various IRs).

MIT two-fold identity (iv).
 - Packaging & LabellingThe information about the product carried on the product itself. Information which increases the attractiveness of the product to potential users.Clear instructions, contact details, attractive Web design, thesaurus or classification scheme.
Augmented product Provides facilities to make the product easy to use and in a satisfactory way, encouraging use and re-use, reducing barriers.  Good customer support, (i.e. helpful, accessible, fast), 'after-care' , easy to find contact details. Copyright aids, Romea/Sherpa database (v).

Table 2: The Three Product Levels and Some Examples for an IR

Notes to Table 2

  1. MIT has defined the core of the IR as preserving and organising the work of faculties in line with perceived demand. [8]
  2. The University of Rochester has translated the institutional goal of the IR (i.e., collecting and organising the output of the whole university) into a direct benefit for the individual researcher: the IR of the University of Rochester provides a personal home page equipped with well-designed upload facilities. This allows researchers to organise and display professionally their own output through easy-to-use and well-designed upload facilities [1]. This home page facility is a feature of the IR.
  3. Cream of Science [9] was an initiative to improve the image of the IR by including the work of prestigious Dutch scientists. The Cream of Science initiative is an example of a branding characteristic.
  4. MIT gave its IR a two-fold identity, distinguishing between the research and the educational material. This distinction is an example of a branding characteristic, made in order to counteract the hesitancy of faculty staff to deposit research material in the same archive as that of unpublished materials [8].
  5. The Sherpa/Romeo database [10] is an aid to help authors overcome their reluctance to deposit because of copyright issues. This qualifies as a facility on the augmented level.

To illustrate the relationship between these three Product levels, the following analogy is offered:

A train is a wagon with wheels, windows and seats. It runs impeccably on time and connects all the towns on its route. It runs on rails; there are stations for passengers to board and alight (all characteristics of an actual product). There are ticket machines, parking lots for cars, customers services and well-posted information, etc. (Augmented level). But at its core, the train provides transport. It conveys people from A to B. With the characteristics of the actual and augmented product, the core of the product becomes apparent, in a way that distinguishes itself from the competition and in such a fashion that customers are satisfied, willing to pay the price and willing to include such train travel in their daily behaviour.

A Four-strand Communication Strategy

A successful IR is a repository that receives content, which above all, requires a change in behaviour on the part of scientists. Developing a good product with good facilities will encourage the depositing rate. But appropriate communication activities are just as indispensable. This section presents a communication strategy that helps instigate change and encourages action for a product that is free but requires effort.

Mee et al. [11] developed a communications strategy for a recycling project, encouraging people to recycle more. Citizens needed to alter actively their usual behaviour. Their strategy provides us with a workable framework for developing a communications strategy to persuade scientists to deposit their work in an IR. It is divided into four strands:

  1. A profiling strategy, branding the programme and raising awareness of the issue(s);
  2. A pull strategy, making the IR attractive to potential depositors.
  3. A push strategy, reinforcing a positive attitude and encouraging conditions that make depositing work in an IR an attractive option; and
  4. A consultation strategy, seeking to establish two-way communication and the involvement of the target audience.

Profiling Strategy

A profiling strategy is about convincing the audience of the benefits of the IR programme and the usefulness of the product. Scientists become aware and adopt a more positive attitude towards it. The use of independent media, public relations (PR), brochures, newsletters and Web sites are all appropriate to this type of strategy.

A profiling strategy may comprise information as to why an IR is useful and on the trends in scholarly communication. Information Web sites like those of the California Digital Library [12] and the Library of North Carolina State University [13] are examples of this.

Pull Strategy

Through a pull strategy, scientists are attracted, rewarded and encouraged to deposit their work in the repository. The strategy encourages their engagement by offering immediate rewards. Examples could be a free gadget or a quid pro quo, e.g. a free service, or even an invitation to lunch, as was done at ETH in 2002. Such 'carrots' are useful for specific initiatives with a clear goal and a specific timeline.

The challenge for this, however, is to find the right sort of incentive that will effectively generate more interest and engagement. Incentives have to reflect the scientists' interests, and fit their work schedules.

Push Strategy

The push strategy reinforces a positive attitude towards the IR and shows the positive effect once the materials have been deposited. This is either done in advance of the action, by informing potential users and thus stimulating them to deposit the material, or it is done afterwards, by giving actual information on the work deposited. In that case the scientist's action is affirmed. Examples of such a push strategy would include communication about the ease of deposit, reports on the current average time it takes people to deposit materials, the number of citations or hits one's work has received after 6 months, the total number of documents in the IR, their quality, or the number of search engines that pick up such resources.

A push strategy can also focus on lowering barriers that are perceived by potential users, such as a poor image of an IR, unclear copyright issues, an unclear location, or unclear or inaccessible instructions. This can be done by effective communication of the benefits and by clear information refuting misperceptions.

Consultation Strategy

Instead of sending one-way messages to scientists, a two-way communication is important. Their feedback will provide the right arguments to send out convincing messages, appealing to their own interests and in their own language [14]. Two-way communication can be achieved through surveys, meetings, informal conversations, by holding panels, and by including scientists in projects and working groups.

Secondly, it is important to encourage scientists to promote the IR to their peers as an effective means of communication, (e.g., testimonials, word-of-mouth, or 'viral marketing' [15). The message will get dispersed more widely and more quickly and will have more impact when spread by colleagues.

The four strands of the communications strategyWhatHowBy means of
Profile strategy

'make the issue important'
Position your IR by profiling the  programme, its rationale and benefits.Inform

Raise awareness


Re-tell success stories
PR, Media

Awareness Web site


Viral Marketing [15]
Pull Strategy

'make the IR an attractive location in which  to deposit'
Create an environment that makes it attractive to deposit.Make it easy

Make it attractive

Offer a bonus for cooperation

Praise, thank


Specific actions

  Inform about the practicalities (where and how)

Send reminders to encourage required action.
Push Strategy

'reinforce a positive attitude or give that little extra push to deposit'
Encourage conditions that make  an IR attractive and that promote the habit of depositing.Involve innovators and opinion leaders

Involve policy makers, administration and  management. Include stakeholders in the communications plan

Provide feedback on usage of IR
Lobby, provide feedback

Encourage incentives from a management level

Provide logfile data

and/or citation data

(through automatically generated messages)
Consultation Strategy

'know your audience well'

'let scientists do part of the promotion'
Seek two-way communication and involve people from the target audience.Talk with them

Seek feedback

Be domain-specific

Look at the digital developments in their field

Mobilise and involve scientists in promoting the IR
Surveys, face-to-face meetings, informal conversations,  working groups, panels.

Scientists' endorsements

Viral Marketing [15]

Table 3 : A Four-fold Communication Strategy for an IR

The Four Strands in Product Development

The reader may have noticed that each of these four strands can also be addressed by product development, and a few examples have already been shown in the previous section. A profiling issue was addressed by the Cream of Science initiative and the two-fold identity of MIT. A pull strategy was followed by the development of the home page facility at the University of Rochester: the home pages themselves provide the direct reward for depositing material. An example of a push strategy would be if the IR provided positive feedback on material deposited, e.g. providing scientists with statistics of the hit rate of their work. And the consultation strategy is just as important for the development of the IR as it is for the communications. The IR is a novel, complex product, still under development and subject to overall changes in the scholarly communication process. For this reason it is also important to consult scientists and if possible, involve them in the development of an IR. After all, only scientists can actually tell what constitutes a real asset to them.


This article takes researchers as the target audience for the IR. Their benefits should be the starting point for developing the product in order to make them deposit their work. The IR should be an aid, helping researchers in exercising their profession. As the communication of results and the implications of digitisation differ per discipline, the needs of scientists and the benefits should not be generalised beforehand, but should be seen in light of these differences between disciplines.

The marketing mix of the IR comprises 8 P's; Four of these P's relate directly to the IR itself: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. The other four P's relate to the strength and support for the IR project to operate efficiently and to be sustained in the long run: Public, Partnership, Policy and Purse String.

Of these eight P's, the Product and the Promotion, or rather Communications, have been highlighted as important parts of IR management, and the article has given a framework for product development and communications strategy.

Developing and managing an IR is a marketing matter. Marketing is an approach and attitude that transpires in the marketing mix. It places its market centre-stage, it knows the audiences, their requirements, market trends and the competition. Communications is part of the marketing mix and specialises in how to tell and sell, presenting the right story, at the right time, within the right context. Good communications attracts attention, informs, explains, repeats, educates, involves, invites, reminds, stimulates, seduces and convinces. Knowledge of the market is indispensable to effective communications. The bottom line, however, is the product itself. Without a good product that meets needs and expectations, even the best communications strategy will, in the end, not pay off.

Applying a marketing approach to institutional repositories may not be easy, nor will it immediately provide answers to complex questions; nonetheless, asking such marketing questions may shed fresh light on how to develop a novel and exciting information tool.


  1. Foster, Nancy Fried and Susan Gibbons (2005), Understanding Faculty to Improve Content Recruitment for Institutional Repositories D-Lib Magazine, January 2005, 12 pages. http://dlib.org/dlib/january05/foster/01foster.html
  2. Thorin, Suzanne E. (2003) Global Changes in Scholarly Communication Paper presented at the e-workshop on Scholarly Communication in the Digital Era, August 2003, Taiwan. http://www.arl.org/scomm/disciplines/Thorin.pdf
  3. Cronin, Blaise (2003) Scholarly Communication and Epistemic Cultures Keynote address Symposium Scholarly Tribes and Tribulations, ARL, October 2003. http://www.arl.org/scomm/disciplines/Cronin.pdf
  4. Rothschild, Michael L. (1999), Carrots, Sticks, and Promises: A Conceptual Framework for the Management of Public Health and Social Issue Behaviors Journal of Marketing, Vol. 63.1, pp. 24-37
  5. Kline Weinreich, Nedra 1999, Hand-On Social Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide, Sage Publications, 1999, 262 p.
  6. Lynch, Clifford A. (2003) Institutional Repositories: Essential Infrastructure for Scholarship in the Digital Age, Newsletter ARL February 2003, 11 pages. http://www.arl.org/newsltr/226/ir.html
  7. Kotler, Philip, Gary Armstrong, John Saunders, Veronica Wong Principles of Marketing: Second European Edition, Prentice Hall, 1999, 1031 p.
  8. Foster, Andrea L. (2004) Online Archives Run by Universities Struggle to Attract Material The Chronicle of Higher Education, Section Information Technology, Vol. 50.42, Page A37
  9. Feijen, Martin and Annemiek van der Kuil (2005) A recipe for Cream of Science: Special Content Recruitment for Dutch Institutional Repositories, Ariadne, Issue 45, October. http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue45/vanderkuil/
  10. SHERPA/RoMEO http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo.php
  11. Mee, Nicky et al. (2004) Effective Implementation of a Marketing Communciations Strategy for Kerbside Recycling: A Case Study from Rushcliffe, UK Resources, Conservation and Recycling, Vol. 42.1, pp 1-26
  12. California Digital Library http://libraries.universityofcalifornia.edu/scholarly/
  13. Library of North Carolina State University http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/scc/
  14. Faculty staff do not always understand the jargon used by librarians. The assurance of their work being found on the Web is better understood than the need for consistent metadata, and an unbreakable link better than a persistent URL. Gibbons also points to this aspect in her presentation. Gibbons, Susan (2005) Institutional Repositories as a Research Tool for Faculty Presentation given at the CNI-JISC-SURF Meeting, May 2005, Amsterdam.
  15. Viral marketing may have connotations of sending unwanted messages i.e. spam. That is not what is meant. It is basically the idea of using the Internet and e-mail for recommendation and promotion among peers. A preferred definition might be a 'marketing phenomenon that facilitates and encourages people to pass along a marketing message' http://www.marketingterms.com/dictionary/viral_marketing/

    For example, a logo or a note on the scientist's home page endorsing the use of the IR; or a message of support at the bottom of the scientist's e-mail.

Further Reading

Author Details

Heleen Gierveld
Publisher / Consultant
Techne Press / Publishing and Visibility

Email: h.gierveld@technepress.nl
Web site: http://www.technepress.nl

Editor's note:

Heleen Gierveld holds a BA in Library Science (1986) and an MA in Information Sciences (2002), in which she focused on the digital developments and changes in the scholarly communication chain. Since 1990 she has been working in academic publishing and her marketing knowledge was built up through a degree in marketing as well as through working experience as a marketing manager and publisher for academic publishing houses. Heleen is the owner of Techne Press, a publishing house dedicated to the dissemination of scholarly work, either in traditional paper format as well as in more innovative ways, even open to open access publication models for institutions. Furthermore, she works as a marketing and promotion consultant for the publishing and dissemination projects of research organisations.

This paper has evolved from material prepared when she gave a workshop to Dutch university librarians, in co-operation with SURF.

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