Trendwatching is a good resource to help marketers become acquainted with and better understand current behaviors. Not long ago their editors coined the term “Custowners” to describe the hybrid of customers and owners, those consumers who actively invest or help to fund the product or service they are consuming. We’ve all seen examples of this trend; you can find many examples at kickstarter.com.

Reading about “custowners” brought to mind a great experience I had not too long ago. My college friends Chris and Sherrie and their daughter Kirsten and her roommate (both recent college graduates) treated me to a great ride aboard their boat on Lake Union in Seattle. We stopped at Ivar’s for fish and chips before heading out on Lake Washington to see the Gates’ (well, their house anyway). I suppose Bill and Melinda weren’t home, since no one came out waving on the dock to welcome us, so we went on to see the evening lights of Belleveue. We probably should have called first. Bill and Melinda aren’t much for drop-ins.

On the way across the Lake, Kristen’s roommate told the story of her dad receiving a call from her alma mater during the college’s phon-a-thon. Her dad’s response to the ask was not atypical: “I believe I just gave you $250,000. That’s enough.” I completely understand his reply to the ask. He sees himself as a “custowner.” He invested in the product at the same time he consumed (via his daughter) the product. (You’re nervous that I used the word “product” in this example. You’d rather I use “service?”) That father helped keep the college running by “giving” tuition dollars. He played a part in helping the institution succeed, or at least survive, for four years. For now, he doesn’t feel obligated or inclined to give more. And he may feel that he has the right to a voice in the life and direction of the college.

Maybe that’s why parents of college students feel just fine about calling the dean directly.

What if colleges and universities understood—and treated—parents as “custowners?” How would our relationships and communications change? How would our relationships and communications improve?

This previously appeared on rhbinformed.com.

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Rick Bailey

Rick is the Principal and founding partner at RHB.