As Millennials—the generation born in the US between 1980 and 2000—gain greater buying power and increasingly influence commerce, marketers and brand managers are looking for new ways to engage them.

Developing a Millennials-focused marketing strategy is a must: They are, after all, the largest generation by number, comprising 79 million people, and they already have enormous purchasing power—$170 billion per year.

Like the generations that came before them, Millennials have unique generational characteristics; successfully marketing to Millennials therefore involves a shift in tactics and strategy. It requires an understanding of what works with this generation—and what doesn't.

Here are six ways you can develop a more effective approach with Millennials.

1. Redirect your online advertising budget

Many marketers assume that because Millennials are frequently online, online ads are the best way to reach them. But a 2013 survey by SocialChorus (my company) found that just 6% of Millennials trust traditional online ads. In fact, Millennials are incredibly adept at ignoring online ads, with many reporting that the ads have become completely invisible to them.

To reach Millennials, redirect the portion of your marketing budget invested in traditional online ads to something that works.

2. Understand—and harness—Millennials' social media sharing tendencies

One thing that sets Millennials apart from Boomers and Gen Xers is their tendency to share everything with friends in real time. They grew up with social media and expect to be in constant communication with their peers.

Brands can capitalize on that behavior by giving Millennials positive customer experiences to share. A Tweet about your company's great customer service can inspire the Twitter users' friends to give your product or service a try.

Also, tap into that social urge by creating entertaining, viral content that Millennials will want to share with friends.

3. Harness user-generated content and encourage product/service reviews

In the SocialChorus survey, a whopping 91% of Millennials reported that they trust their friends for product recommendations. That presents a huge opportunity for companies to market with Millennials rather than to them, by encouraging customers to share product purchases and reviews on social media.

Companies that make it easy to share customer experiences, and brands that actively seek input, can transform Millennial customers into extremely effective brand advocates.

Millennials also consider user-generated content a highly credible source of information, so companies that harness this resource can gain an edge over competitors.

4. Be a company Millennials want to associate with

Although they're sometimes portrayed in the media as inwardly focused and selfish, Millennials are typically socially conscious and philanthropic in their outlook, and they seek to associate with people and brands that share their values. They care about the environment and social issues and look for opportunities to change the world, both by taking action on their own and by supporting others who do.

If your brand projects a socially responsible image and engages in philanthropic activities, Millennials will be more likely to want to do business with you.

5. Have an open, transparent communication style

Perhaps because they came of age in a time of economic and social uncertainty, Millennials value transparency. They tend to distrust businesses that don't respond to feedback, or companies that are secretive about their activities.

To gain Millennials' trust, make sure you engage them on social media and share company news. Millennials value being heard and consider companies that communicate openly more trustworthy, so gain their confidence by engaging with them directly.

6. Mine Millennial data to improve their marketing experience—and your results

Privacy issues are a constant drumbeat in the news, but perhaps because they grew up with the Internet, Millennials tend to be less concerned about privacy than previous generations and more willing to share personal information in exchange for incentives. That openness offers brand marketers an excellent opportunity to collect, mine, and apply social data for superior campaign results.

* * *

Millennials are already transforming the companies they work for and the merchants they do business with, and they will be shaping the marketplace for decades to come. Their values and approach to communication are distinct from that of their predecessors, the Baby Boomers and Generation X, so it makes sense to adjust your marketing strategy accordingly.

If you create and implement an effective marketing strategy that catches Millennials' attention, harnesses social media, projects a positive brand image, and transforms Millennials into brand advocates, your company will be well positioned to thrive and grow as the next generation of consumers comes of age.

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image of Dave Hawley

Dave Hawley is VP of marketing at advocate marketing solution SocialChorus.

LinkedIn: Dave Hawley

Twitter: @DaveHawley33