08 Feb 2023

Barnes & Noble Brand Makeover: The Ad Agency Take 

Ad AgencyThe Ad Agency Take: Barnes & Noble has long been known as one of the corporate giants threatening mom and pop book shops, but with the rise of Amazon, Barnes & Noble has had to rethink their brand strategy to try to compete with the new market leader and has become the underdog of the book selling industry as a result. They have already pivoted their priorities from e-books and technology to their physical product offerings and are undergoing store remodels with a new design. But how can anyone even begin to compete with Amazon and what else can the brand do for long-term sustainability? Well here’s what we would do if we were the Barnes & Noble brand team.


Influencer Marketing

There are a plethora of influencers with both large and small followings that focus their content on books and reading, many of which favor supporting Amazon competitors. Currently, Barnes & Noble’s marketing efforts involve word of mouth and location marketing, but they could and should be taking advantage of these influencers whose audiences are exactly Barnes and Noble’s target market. Influencer marketing has been justifiably proven to be successful for companies when done right, especially those trying to move into the modern era, stay relevant, or increase brand awareness in determined segments.

With influencer marketing’s powerful audience loyalty and engagement, it is the ideal activity for Barnes & Noble to reach their goals. The only downside is the higher costs than what B&N is usually used to, but if they really plan on competing with Amazon, they are going to need to make some investments and influencer marketing should be a priority. 

Ambience/Mood/Brand Strategy

At present, walking into a Barnes & Noble location feels like taking a time machine back to a 2000’s public school library. With their dreary colors, utilitarian carpet, and generic shelves, their stores are an unwelcome blast from the past, holding no real feel or identity. Mood is a key element in the appeal of any physical location today, and it’s why so many people flock to coffee shops to get work done – it’s all about the experience: smelling the coffee, hearing the machines and the baristas chatting, having a clean and comfortable spot to sit. In the same sense, Barnes & Noble has to reinvent their space to capture a designated ambience that people want to come back and experience again and again.

Some relevant moods for them to consider are: Cozy, giving customers the comfortable sensation reminiscent to sitting by a fire, wrapped up in a fluffy blanket to read a book; Academia, where shoppers get to live out their fantasy of perusing the shelves of a vintage bookstore in a school uniform; or Romantic, capturing the same look and feel as the grand marble libraries in Europe. When people can order books online in the comfort of their own home, it isn’t enough anymore to just have a space to display products, people need a reason to actually go somewhere to buy a book, and an intentional ambience could be Barnes and Noble’s selling point. 

Experiment With New Streams: Trust us, we’re an Ad Agency

For some more innovative ideas, Barnes & Noble could experiment with new offerings including a library model or subscription box service. They already have a return policy in place, and thus have a stocked inventory of returned and used books, some of which they aren’t able to sell as new. B&N have the opportunity to turn those losses into opportunity by repurposing those books into a membership funded library venture by sectioning off a part of their stores as the library accessible to those who purchase a library membership. Members can browse the selection and read the books at one of the ‘reading nooks’ dispersed around the store or check out books they want to take home with them for a set time period. Those that fail to return those books would be charged a small fee, similar to how public libraries operate. Pending the success of this venture, they can even expand to designated Barnes & Noble Library physical locations.


Alternatively or supplementary, the brand can venture into a Book Box Subscription offering. There is already a market for this type of product, but Barnes & Noble has the resources necessary to become the market leader and compete with the smaller brands already present in the category. A book box subscription service stays relevant to the product offerings the brand was founded on, with current customers already fitting the target audience for this type of offering. A typical monthly subscription book box features one book with an assortment of merchandise related to the book, and B&N has the contacts, products, and resources needed to create this type of offering. They even have the potential to expand past the one-book-fits-all model of competitors by allowing subscribers to select the book box they want each month from several options defined by genre (Non-Fiction Book Box, Self-Help Book Box, YA Book Box, Fantasy Book Box, etc.), and give subscribers the opportunity to purchase more than one box at an extra cost.

An Ad Agency Conclusion

We believe the steps Barnes & Noble is already taking to revitalize their brand and offerings are a solid start, but in order to fully and successfully compete with Amazon, their current actions may not be enough. Giving consumers a new and valuable experience with the brand will be vital to their success, a simple layout change and product reprioritization won’t be enough to deliver that experience piece. If we were their brand team, we would take what their brand is at present and give it a solid theme, emotion, and experience makeover to deliver a selling point Amazon lacks via the initiatives we’ve outlined or similar changes, but what do you think? Is there anything you would do differently?


I’m Sophie Mann, and I work at encite branding + marketing + creative as Vice President of Strategy. My job entails a continuous study of business, marketing, data and culture, all in the name of driving strategy forward. I’m passionate about helping brands resonate more strongly with their consumers and communicate with their ideal clients. I’m also a proud graduate of the University of Kansas - Rock Chalk!

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