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Barnes & Noble College To Brands: Let Us Teach You How To Market To Gen-Z

"Students overwhelmingly (89 percent) prefer to shop in-store for the ability to see and experience the products in person, which makes omnichannel more important than ever," says Barnes & Nobile College CMO Lisa Malat.

Just as marketers believe (hope?) they have a handle on appealing to Millennials, that cohort’s younger siblings are emerging as another force to be analyzed in even more subtle ways.

Given Barnes & Noble College primarily caters to Gen-Z, the company’s CMO Lisa Malat has some advice for brands. The independently-operated campus bookseller (its parent B&N Education was spun off from the main B&N chain in 2015 ) has over 800 on campus locations that serve more than 6.5 million students and faculty. So it has a direct line to Gen-Z that are currently moving through higher education.

“From selfie sticks to personalized Coca-Cola bottles, brands have mastered the art of capturing the Millennial market,” a Barnes & Noble College rep says. “However, Gen-Z’s, with nearly $143 billion in spending power (according to a report by Millennial Marketing) might be a trickier crowd to crack. What do brands need to do to connect with a generation numb to traditional marketing and advertising tactics, who aren’t afraid to vocally destroy a company/product they no longer trust?”

We checked in with Malat to get the answer.

GeoMarketing: Does this survey show any particular differences between Millennials and Gen-Z from a marketing perspective?

Lisa Malat: We surveyed 1,500 Gen-Z college students and what was so very clear was that the demand for equality, justice and freedom have never been stronger. It’s never been more important for brands to deliver inclusive messaging that authentically conveys acceptance and respect for all. Those that do will garner lasting loyalty from the coveted consumers expected to make up a third of the U.S. population by 2020.

“84 percent revealed that they try to make choices that balance what benefits them personally and what’s good for others,” says Malat, citing the company’s survey.

Marketers must heed that insight. And, they need to understand that 47 percent claim their generation is more likely to feel personal responsibility to create positive change in the world while 93 percent say they believe in standing up and helping others.

Activism is rooted in their generational DNA. Whether fighting for LGBTQ or women’s rights, racial equality, against gun violence or immigration laws, they have become agents of change. Gen Z refuses to be passive bystanders. They are active members in society with tremendous power to organize and influence. As they feed off each other on social media and can slam a brand with a simple click, the importance of brands pledging allegiance to the world Gen Zers want to create is essential.

What are the main challenges in marketing to Gen-Z that brands should be aware of? Is there anything that makes it easier to market to Gen-Z compared to other demos?

Students overwhelmingly (89 percent) prefer to shop in-store for the ability to see and experience the products in person, which makes omnichannel more important than ever.

Gen Z prefers retailers that have actual, physical stores versus retailers that operate on a strictly digital basis. Plus 80 percent say that their purchases are influenced by social media making retailer’s buying decisions critically important – affordable, authentic, natural/organic, and tied to a charitable cause are important to the Gen-Z consumer.

Among the topline findings in the Barnes & Noble College survey’s show:

  • 93 percent believe in standing up for and helping others
  • 46 percent say social media has helped form and shape their opinions and what matters to them
  • 68 percent believe that their generation is willing to embrace their own individualism more than older generations
  • 53 percent consider themselves open minded
  • 41 percent consider themselves passionate
  • 93 percent believe in standing up for and helping others
  • 88 percent believe in their individual ability to be, do, and achieve anything
  • 80 percent have a lot of empathy for the issues and problems faced by others
  • 91 percent believe that all people are equal that they deserve to be treated as such
  • 86 percent believe they should have the freedom to be whatever or whoever they want to be
  • 57 percent say social media has helped them to learn from and be exposed so different kinds of people
  • 46 percent say social media has helped form and shape their opinions and what matters to them
  • 44 percent say social media has deepened their relationship connection with friends and peers
  • 68 percent believe that their generation is willing to embrace their own individualism more than older generations.
  • 80 percent say they have a lot of empathy for the issues and problems faced by others
  • 76 percent say they are aware of current and world events and issues
  • 64 percent credit social media with helping them become more knowledgeable about current and world events and issues
  • 39 percent say social media has made them more empathetic towards the issues and problems faces by others.
About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.