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Barnes and Noble College Makes Students Feel at Home

Barnes and Noble, once (and still) a purveyor of books and magazines that has faced significant financial setbacks in the digital age, seems to have tapped into a market that is strong and growing—college students. Barnes and Noble College is a franchise of bookstores in college bookstores, which seems to have paid off because of their omnichannel and brick-and-mortar strategy.

College is up by all accounts: tuition is up, enrollment is up, and spirits are (generally) up. I spoke with Ken Winkco, VP of Marketing of Barnes and Noble College, and here’s what he told me about generation Z. Spoiler alert: because of generation Z, brick-and-mortar is making a comeback. Here are some aspects of generation Z that makes them unique as a demographic.

They’re idealistic

Per the research that Barnes and Noble did, generation Z want to make their voices heard in a positive way. This insight isn’t gleaned from a SurveyMonkey survey with 200 respondents. Barnes and Noble College has a panel of 15,000 students that are polled frequently, about once a week. In addition, they have annual student pulse research survey conducted every spring. Both aspects of the research do a deep dive into the wants and needs to students around the country.

Pairing this with the analytics that arise from data, Barnes and Noble College is able to get a 360 degree view. “They really have a value system where they want to help change the world,” Winkco told me. “They want to make an impact. If they see an opportunity to make a difference, they will engage.” This eagerness translated into high participation rates which led to clear marketing insights.

They’re attached to experiences

One thing that Wincko noticed in their research was a resurgence in interest of in-store experiences, moving away from digital stores. Now eCommerce is just part of an omnichannel strategy.

Generation Z, it turns out, is deeply attached to experiences, especially the experience of place.

“They way we think about it is in terms of a journey,” Wincko said. “How do we support them through that [academic] journey?” The solution, Ken told me was to “create academic and social hubs” because a large proportion of generation Z—88 percent—shops in-store.

Place is personal, and a store is a likely extension of the places you’re most familiar with: home, your best friend’s house, or your favorite restaurant. So if place is special, it must have aspects of your life that you connect to. Meaning, the place must be customizable to make you feel like you’re at home.

They want customization

A few decades ago, marketing campaigns created a standard that consumers tried to emulate. That’s completely turned on its head. Generation Z has made it loud and clear: they want to be able to have the experience resonate with them. This knowledge fueled Barnes and Noble College’s idea of the “concept shop”: themes in the store that correlate to the academic calendar and events on campus.

Wincko make it clear Barnes and Noble’s goal is to create connected and individualized experiences, not just omnichannel access. Barnes and Noble College has 777  on-campus locations, and an additional 714 online stores nationwide, and each one is unique. There are over 3,000 programs every year, ranging from de-stress events, gift-wrapping for the holidays, and everything in between.

Relevance is extremely important to these college students, and it’s becoming more and more relevant to consumers in general. If it’s not relevant, it won’t resonate, and customers will opt out. Fortunately for Barnes and Noble College, they have found a large niche and are responding to their students in real time.

How are you adjusting your marketing strategy to address the needs of your consumer?

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