Editor’s note: Lisa Malat is the vice president and chief marketing officer at Barnes & Noble College, Basking Ridge, N.J.  

With every new generation, new challenges, opportunities, expectations and preferences come to light, impacting everything from how consumers shop to the brands they love and the ways marketers reach them. Millennial and Gen Z college students are no exception. Today, these groups represent 17 million college students who are in the formative years of making their own brand decisions and purchases. Their economic significance is multiplied by their lifetime spending potential and the influence they have on other consumer groups.

At Barnes & Noble College, we have a front-row seat to Millennial and Gen Z students. We are immersed in their lives on the 771 campuses we serve nationwide. From college acceptance to post graduation, we are there for every step of their journey, giving us a unique view into their expectations of college life and the role of their campus bookstore. Their voices informed and inspired our transformation from being just the campus bookstore to what we are today – a social and academic hub on campus that supports student success both in and out of the classroom.

This shift in our positioning was led by voice of the customer research that pushed us to consider new approaches and strategies which, in the end, succeeded in building authentic and loyal relationships with the generations on our campuses.

Research allowed us to build a connection that goes beyond that of a traditional retailer. These relationships – with newly-admitted freshmen, parents, graduating seniors and alumni – are built on a strong foundation of trust driven by our commitment to truly listen to them, learn from them and then act.

The backbone of our research is our College Insights platform, a network of more than 10,000 students, parents, faculty and alumni. We tap into th...