With purchasing power of approximately $170 billion per year, it’s important for brands to actively target millennials. New research shows millennials, a generation totaling about 1.5 billion people worldwide and about 75 million in the U.S., will be outspending every other generation, including baby-boomers, within the next five years.

Businesses are already falling behind on what is sure to be their biggest target demographic going forward. According to a survey of 121 business leaders in the retail world, approximately half of retailers are unaware of the buying power of millennials, 60 percent aren’t conducting any research on millennials and more than a quarter wrongly assume that online advertising is the number one influencer of millennial purchasing activity.

User-Generated Content

When it comes to making big buying decisions, millennials are more likely to distrust companies, and instead rely on the opinions of friends, family and even strangers. They’re more connected to the internet than ever before, meaning marketing strategies need to adapt to include social media marketing, SEO analytics, local SEO services and most of all, user-generated content.

84 percent of millennials say that user-generated content on company websites has at least some influence on what they buy, compared to 70 percent of boomers.

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In fact, there are many purchase decisions—big and small—that millennials won’t make without reading consumer reviews including electronics, cars and travel accommodations.

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51 percent of millennials say consumer opinions found on a company’s website have a greater impact on purchasing decisions than recommendations from family and friends. 64 percent of millennials feel that companies should offer more ways to share their opinions online. Millennials want to be heard and hear what others have to say; and businesses who want millennials as a market need to keep in mind when thinking through their content marketing and digital strategies.

Creating Brand Ambassadors

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Beyond having great products and utilizing advertising, marketers should strive to turn loyal consumers into brand ambassadors.

But how does a marketer help make that happen? The first step is to make sure there are multiple places for brand ambassadors to share their opinions, and make sure those venues are easy to find. A company’s social media presence must include a wide variety of social channels. Millennials are opting for social networks beyond Facebook for a variety of reasons. Marketers looking to make the most out of their digital portfolio should include Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and Google Plus.

Marketers need to actively encourage loyal customers to share their thoughts. For example, Starwood Resorts encourages all of its travelers to not only review the hotel, but also nearby restaurants, activities and shops. The goal is to create an archive of content for customers to look at and use made by fellow travelers.

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Having a Twitter feed is a good first step, but brands should utilize the platform to answer questions, concerns and complaints. Companies like Ford, Home Depot, Whole Foods and Rubbermaid make sure to stay on top of their Twitter feeds and send personalized responses. Simply sending an automated response is not enough, and can even backfire. Responding to questions, addressing complaints and simply thanking newfound brand ambassadors is customer relations in the digital age and is simply essential if companies want to create repeat customers.

Make Your Presence Known

While it is true that millennials are still greatly influenced by traditional advertising, and do majority great deal of their shopping at brick and mortar locations, this big spending group is using a greater proportion of its dollars online than anyone else.

45 percent of millennials spend more than an hour each day looking at retail-oriented websites. This is proof that neglecting to include social media marketing and local SEO services as part of an overall strategy could lead to the loss of potential sales.

More than 50 percent use their smartphones to research products or services while shopping. Every business should have a strategy for how to reach consumers on mobile and this merely reinforces that point.

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When it comes to search results, ranking makes a huge difference when it comes to clicks and sales. Brands that want millennials to find their business need to maximize their search engine ranking and optimize their website for mobile and local search. If a millennial can’t find a brand online, they’re less likely to spend a single dollar on a product, and no business wants to miss out on a chunk of $170 billion.

ZOG Digital specializes in helping business create and grow their online presence to maximize their appeal to millions of potential customers. ZOG Digital is a local SEO company with experience in social media marketing and search engine optimization. Contact ZOG Digital today for all digital marketing solutions.

Read more: 4 Ways to Use Social Media Beyond Marketing