Beginning with her first retail job in high school, Sherry Fang discovered how the right marketing campaign, and paying attention to the details, can positively affect customer engagement. In her role as Consumer Marketing Specialist for Barnes & Noble College, Sherry provides marketing support to over 770 campus bookstore managers nationwide. We take five minutes to speak with Sherry and hear how marketing has changed in recent years, why the brick-and-mortar bookstore and face-to-face interactions are more important than ever, and how she plans to travel and discover the world — one Instagram picture at a time.
How would you describe your current role at Barnes & Noble College?
My role focuses mainly on providing marketing support for store managers at the local level. That could mean creating a flyer or conceptualizing a marketing initiative on a particular campus. Our store managers do so much to connect with students, faculty, parents and alumni on their campuses, so it’s my job to make their lives a little easier by providing the resources and support they need.
What was your first job?
My first job was in high school when I began working at Victoria’s Secret. It was my first taste of retail. I really enjoyed interacting with the customers, but my favorite part of the job was setting up the floor sets for new merchandise. I would often stay overnight to swap out entire rooms and window displays. Sometimes I would finish up just as the store was reopening the next day. It was exciting to see customers’ reactions when they walked into a completely new and transformed store. It’s funny that I work so much with creating signage for our stores now. I get to see the other side — what goes into creating signage and window displays — the very things I would work all night to put up.
How has marketing and connecting to students, parents and alumni changed over the past few years?
I think we definitely have a larger digital presence than ever before and we’ve become more tactical with our marketing. A big focus has been to hyper target our marketing content to make sure we’re always sending the most relevant content to our different customer groups. For example, we’re developing a program for international students, a group that we had not targeted in the past — and that program will be specifically targeted to their very unique needs.
We’re also connecting in a new way with our customers through the bookstore app. Students can track their textbook orders, get their rental reminders and receive special promotions — and now the app also gives our customers the ability to provide feedback in real-time about their shopping experience. That’s not only important for our customers, but it’s important for us to be able to hear and act on what our customers want and need.
But as much as things have changed, I think it’s important to note that one thing that hasn’t changed is our physical presence on campus, and how our stores connect to our students, every single day, by being there for them throughout their entire student journey — from buying their first spirit tee to ordering their cap & gown for graduation.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve been working on a strategy to better connect and support our international students. We were first approached by Boston University, two years ago, to find new ways to help support their international students. They wanted us to reach out more often and earlier — and really tailor our messaging to be relevant to this student population. We also surveyed a group of international students and asked our store managers what sort of questions they were getting from international students on their campuses, which provided very helpful feedback for us.
When you think of a first-year student coming to college for the first time, they may feel nervous about their first few weeks of campus. It can be a scary time in their lives. Now think of the international student, and multiply that feeling tenfold, because they will be attending school and living in a foreign country for the next two to four years. So our goal is to make this student population feel more comfortable in this new environment and to show them, through our messaging and special International Student VIP events, that the bookstore can be that support system for them — that home away from home.
Can you give us an example of a successful event and the positive outcome that resulted because of it?
The Washington College Bookstore hosted a special welcome event for international students for the first time this year. The store manager worked with a faculty member who helped translate during the event, which was super helpful. They also had coloring tables, snacks and fun activities. It was a great icebreaker for the students to have everyone together in one place. Overall, the event was a huge success because it really made the students feel more comfortable with the bookstore, knowing that we are here to help them with this transition.
Why do you think bookstore events are important to students and to the campus?
With the growth of social media and digital communication, it’s so important to connect with our campuses through face-to-face interactions. It’s really how we prove that we’re more than just a bookstore. We’re a social hub where students can relax, study, get help and socialize.
What would you be doing if you weren’t in your current role?
I would be traveling the world and posting my pictures to Instagram. I love to travel.
What is the biggest challenge facing higher education today?
Student burnout. Students are stressed out about studying for exams, getting internships or landing that first job. They have so much on their minds, so we want to provide a place for students to relax and take a breather for a moment.
That’s why we host De-Stress Fest events in our bookstores during finals or reading days, where students are invited to play with therapy dogs, create crafts, color in coloring books, play games, listen to live acoustic music or watch a movie. The idea has really caught on. We’ve been getting feedback from a lot of schools that have expanded this type of program on their campuses.
What is your favorite book or book you are currently reading?
Does listening to audio books count as reading? I’ve been listening to the Harry Potter series during my commute into work. I’ve read all the books and saw all of the movies — it’s been years — but I thought why not give it another shot. I’m really enjoying it the second time around because I’m not binge reading the entire book in one sitting. This time, I’m taking in all of the details.
What is your proudest accomplishment at Barnes & Noble College?
My proudest accomplishment is streamlining the way that we promote our social hub events. I worked with Staples to create a custom document platform where stores can choose from a variety of templates and customize marketing assets to use on our campuses. It’s a great tool for our store managers to use when promoting events on campus. It’s made this process easier for our team and for store managers who can quickly create something they need.
We also send surveys to our store managers so they can provide the details of their events, which we can then promote via email. We used to collect this information by phone, but now we can capture all of that digitally. With over 350 unique events for VIP Nights alone, it can be a little overwhelming to collect all of the event details and information, but we make it happen!
Best day at Barnes & Noble College?
I can’t really pinpoint just one day. I’m really grateful that I work with such a talented group of people and that our team works so well together. We’re always laughing and shouting random things over our cubes. We’re really committed to our work, but we always make it fun. It feels like family.