Barnes & Noble College’s Plan To Study Student Shoppers

The chain is tying its expanded research platform to its existing marketing program to help the university bookstore chain’s brand partners.

Barnes & Noble College is expanding its market research platform in a bid to help the company’s brand partners better understand the shopping behavior of college students, a crucial part of the powerful Millennial demographic.

But today’s research is only the beginning, says Lisa Malat, VP operations and CMO at Barnes & Noble College. The multi-purpose university bookstore is already tying the research platform to its existing marketing program — and looking ahead to the rise of Generation Z.

GeoMarketing: What is the goal Barnes & Noble College — both short and long term — in expanding the research platform?

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Lisa Malat

Lisa Malat: We’re in a very unique position — we essentially live with our consumer because we’re directly on college campuses. We’ve been able to tap them for insights for the last four or five years that have really helped us identify their characteristics, execute our strategy to really cement relationships, build loyalty, and ultimately drive the business.

Because of the success that we’ve had, we’re now taking this opportunity to expand the reach of this platform out to our college and university partners and out to our brand partners. [Our goal is] to provide them with that same kind of critical insight and immersive experience that we’ve been so successful with thus far.

What kind of insights are B&N College’s brand partners most interested in? What are they looking for in terms of understanding the college consumer, and how does that tie in to the marketing program that B&N already offers its partners?

Marie Policastro, director, brand partnerships and market research: It really varies. Based on the category of the brand, in a lot of cases they’re really just interested in learning about the millennial market. Maybe they have a new product introduction. Maybe there’s a new product launch that they’re going to have in the marketplace and they want to understand the audience a little bit better. They want to conduct some customized research, just get some framework on the Millennial audience. There’s that type of research, that’s category number one.

Marie Policastro

I think number two is when they run a marketing program with us, we have an entire marketing platform where brands can be present in our stores. They can do events in our stores and on our campuses. We have e-commerce sites where there is digital marketing, and social media marketing.

When they engage in those marketing programs with us, there’s research that can be combined with that marketing program where they can see the return on their investment. First, there’s a pre-study that’s done before the marketing program kicks off to get some understanding of the student’s perception of the brand, and their existing attitude towards the brand.

Then we’ll kick off the marketing program in our stores or online, and then conduct a post study and get a broader understanding to see whether there was a lift in sales, a lift in engagement, a lift in awareness. The brands like to see that as part of their marketing program.

When you take our marketing platform and you take our research platform, and you marry the two together, and you add in our access to this audience — there’s really nobody that can do what we do for brand.

To switch gears a bit, how do you approach B&N College’s marketing strategy? Do you take an omnichannel approach?

Malat: Yes. Well, to back up, in terms of what you would think of as a retail mission, of course we’re looking to drive sales at the bookstore. But we also really look at ourselves as a complete support system to the students, to their parents, to alumni, and to the college, and universities we serve.

Really, our approach is to build these very credible, lasting, trusting, and enduring relationships with the students who are coming on to our campus. We do that very early on in the process. We do that by partnering with our schools as soon as the acceptance letters hit the mailboxes, and we start getting access to the incoming students so we can really jump ahead of the competition and start to educate and communicate about all that the bookstore has to offer, about all the ways you can buy your course materials, your affordability options, everything we offer in apparel and technology, and supplies. We do it in very much an educational way. We’re really looking to address their concerns and be that ally during the process.

In terms of our channel marketing, we come from a digital marketing perspective. We have an active community of over 5 million students, parents, and faculty that we communicate to. We have really robust e-commerce sites that drive a significant amount of traffic for us, which gives us another way to engage; we also have our mobile strategies.

We recently launched a mobile app, which is just launching now in our stores to all of our incoming students, which is really exceeding expectations right now. We’re super excited about that. Of course, we’re out there in page search and all the other channels to really grab that market share as well. [It’s about] being consistent throughout all those channels — digital and in-store — that our students are using.

Any plans for the near future that you can share? Any long-term goals for the research platform?

We’re going to continue to build out the platform we have. For example, we have our student POV panel, which is our influencer panel. We have 6,500 active students, 1,500 just graduated. We’re going to be converting that into a graduating senior and alumni platform. We’ll be kicking off a parent POV platform as well. We’re going to be able get broader access and reach. That we’re super excited about. We’re in the middle of doing some of what we think’s pretty ground-breaking research on Gen-Z.

Everyone’s been talking about the Millennials, but the next generation behind them, who is in middle school and high school right now, entering college next year, is Gen-Z. Our initial peek behind the curtain at some of the research results is showing some very interesting differences between the two generations which we feel is going to be very important to marketers as they put together their plans.

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.