Project 770: Real Conversations from New Data

July 05, 2017





There has always been some division in the way we consider research. As modern society has become more complex, we’ve developed an increasing thirst to better understand the world we live in, believing generating more data could be the cure for all our ills — if we could only decipher it. In the world of higher education, that schism is particularly prominent. Despite an increase in the amount of information gathered from college enrollment applications, student academics, and online learning platforms, analyzing that data to provide improved college experiences has still proved tricky.


But data collected through campus capture points can be used to build more personal experiences and help create more meaningful outcomes, which is the thinking behind a new research initiative from Barnes & Noble College Insightssm. Referring to the current number of Barnes & Noble College managed stores nationwide, Project 770 was designed and launched this spring to generate data to optimize the bookstores’ performance and to focus more on the modest goal of simply starting a conversation.


Data Used Differently

Although the findings of Project 770 research were themselves important, Barnes & Noble College’s Director of Partnership Marketing Marie Policastro sees an even more valuable role for the data in creating an opportunity for dialogue. “As a research project, this is different — very different — because although we’re collecting massive amounts of data, that’s only a secondary objective,” she says. “Primarily, this is an invitation for our customers to actively respond with their opinions to help bring the power of the Student POV — the power of insight — directly to our store managers and let each campus benefit from that process.”


Project 770 is the latest initiative from the Barnes & Noble College Insights research platform, which builds on the company’s Listen, Learn and Act philosophy. The project takes research from each store, on a single day, asking a wide breadth of questions about store operations, learning materials, feedback from faculty and how respondents felt about the campus and their experiences.


Policastro points out that unlike many research projects, 770 hasn’t been generated from a home office looking to justify a corporate strategy, but rather as a grass roots initiative, looking for trends and experiences unique to that campus. “Because the idea is more about partnership than just data, we wanted our campus partners to understand why we did it and what it means to their campus,” she explains. Rather than have store managers talk through facts and figures with their school partners, a key component of the project was how the findings would be presented. Project 770 was created with the help of research partners Vision Critical and Rocket Wagon, and the data was then creatively incorporated into an easily understood four-page presentation that store managers could walk college administration partners through. “The amount of information could seem intimidating, but in practice, it works really well,” says Store Manager, Jaime Hillman.


One of the questions Hillman received on her Radford University store’s 770 report concerned the kinds of events or offerings that would make the campus want to visit their store more frequently. Seventy-three percent responded with ‘free samples,’ with 58 percent stating a preference for more ‘promotional events and sales.’ Pointing to a schedule of store events and a 25-percent off store coupon program, Hillman found the findings precisely confirmed her store’s operation. “Project 770 is very relevant and all of it is very actionable,” she says. “The research allowed us to demonstrate, very graphically, that this is exactly the need the store is meeting, with our customers telling us exactly what they want.”


It’s the kind of response Policastro was hoping for. “When you’re presenting so much data, we worried our partners might be overwhelmed, so we wanted to offer it in a way that was not just easy to read and understand, but for it to also seem familiar,” she says. Policastro points to the collegiate ‘grade’ every store receives on the report, and while overall the stores average an A-, she says the high grade isn’t always the point. “In many ways Project 770 becomes even more relevant if a store were to receive a C+ grade,” she says. “There’s value in showing our campus partners that we also know that sometimes there’s room for improvement — and show that we have both the willingness and the knowledge of how to improve the experience,” she says.


Asking the Questions

Generating over 176,000 responses with 12 months’ worth of highly relevant, hyper-local content data, Barnes & Noble College regional and store managers are spending the summer using and learning from their Project 770 data in countless conversations with their campuses — with the immediate aim of making this year’s rush as successful as possible. At Radford University, where Hillman is building a positive rapport on campus after the previous bookstore’s operator had a more passive relationship with faculty, 770 is helping her to engage with professors who previously recommended off-campus retailers to students for their course materials. “Project 770 is a great way to introduce some of the ways we can help and spread awareness for all of our great affordability programs like Price Match,” she says.


The future possibilities for the 770 research are endless. “For us, it always comes back to engaging people and supporting student success,” says Policastro. “For years, store managers and clients alike have talked about what students are thinking based on assumptions they’ve made. With Project 770, we let students speak for themselves.”



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