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Generating close to $2 billion in sales from 770 campus bookstores, Barnes & Noble College is the largest subsidiary of Barnes & Noble Education, a public company that is a separate entity from Barnes & Noble Booksellers.

Acknowledging competition from online sources and other competitors, Barnes & Noble College recently expanded its national and generational research initiatives by launching a detailed research strategy, called Project 770, to better understand each specific target audience for every one of the 770 stores. In total, Project 770 generated responses from 176,000 students. And as a follow up to the research findings, local store managers are empowered to implement the best strategies they see fit for their target customers in keeping with the company’s almost 50-year culture.

In this exclusive Q&A, Lisa Malat, VP and CMO, Barnes & Noble College shares details into the hyper-local retail strategy and advice for other retailers. Malat has worked at the company for the past 20 years and began her retail career at Macy’s, 13 years prior.

Retail TouchPoints (RTP): How was the Project 770 approach conceived?

Lisa Malat: We had been doing other research, including generational studies around Millennials and Gen Z, as well as non-traditional older students. We also looked at 2- and 4-year school populations differently. And we have communicated with Freshmen differently than Seniors. We always listened and acted on that data. So, understanding what is influencing our customers’ behaviors and purchase decisions has always been baked into our strategies. But we realized we needed to do more than that and look at the individuality of each campus even more deeply. Each one has a unique culture and demographic. We needed to drill in on that and come up with much more targeted and focused strategies.

For example, with our nearly 100 café stores we learned that there was a lack of awareness on campuses with the students, faculty and administration about our offerings. So, we developed messaging and campaigns designed to promote our offerings — and we saw an increase in traffic and sales as a result.

RTP: How did you put together the questions for the research?

Malat: We have a dedicated research department that was established 6 years ago – Barnes & Noble College Insights. We had used outside survey partners, but we wanted to develop our own community to reach out to. We established a student Point Of View (POV) committee comprised of approximately 10,000 students that we reach out to all year. We execute large and small research studies with our community, as well as quick polls to stay on the pulse of the market. For project 770, we tapped into the community to look at past research and provide suggestions for new research questions. We have established close to 30 different demographic and sociographic segments so we can slice and dice our target audience to be most meaningful. This has not only been critical to our core business, but we work with brand partners to help gather intelligence about this market and their own products and services.

POV Committee participants receive points for their participation, which turn into $10 Barnes & Noble gift cards. It’s not very much of a monetary incentive, but we also learned that this generation of students really want to tell us how they feel and share their opinions. They also…