Organizations that create successful brands understand their customers well, and that extends to those of us who run organizations focused on higher education.

How well do you understand the "customers" of your university, and what do you know of their lifestyles and buying behaviors?

Named "Millennials" by researchers and authors Neil Howe and William Strauss, and described in their book Millennials Go to College, your customers were born in 1984 or later, and those on the leading edge are now entering your college.

They are close to, and "co-purchase" with, their parents. They are extremely focused on grades and performance; active in community service; demanding of a secure, regulated environment; respectful of norms and institutions; and conventionally minded, verging on being conformists.

Millennials Buy Brands

Millennials are attracted to well-defined and well-expressed brands because those brands strengthen their beliefs about themselves, provide a sense of comfort and home, confirm their sense of community with their peers and reinforce the order they see in their world.

According to Howe and Strauss, "With e-stores, chat rooms, and buddy lists, they are the first youth generation in which virtually any member can keep up hour-to-hour with the opinions and tastes of peers across the nation."

Brands appeal to Millennials' sense and sensibilities because they are a badge of trust; they communicate to others who these stundents are; they offer the reassurance that what the students buy will be accepted and embraced by peers and colleagues; they are an identification of source, quality assurance and risk reduction; and they simplify complex purchasing decisions—particularly expensive, life-critical decisions such as choosing a university.

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Joseph Benson ( is a brand strategist with over 25 years of experience designing and implementing brand and marketing strategies for financial services, healthcare, high-tech, entertainment and retail clients.