Millennials. Echo Boomers. Generation Y. Generation Next. Whatever you call them, today’s 20-somethings are tech-savvy, mobile, socially-conscious . . . and on their way to becoming tomorrow’s dominant consumer demographic.

Are you ready?

The shift will be happening sooner than you may realize.

Camille Schuster, Ph.D., who’s a Professor of Marketing and Management at California State University San Marcos, President of Global Collaborations, Inc. and an Executive Board Member at Teradata University Network, pointed out during her talk at the Teradata Marketing Summit 2014 last month that it’s only going to take five to seven years for Millennials to become a larger market than Baby Boomers. Only five to seven years? That means marketers need to start thinking ahead and working towards strategies that will resonate with this new, empowered consumer group.

As you look out to the not-so-distant horizon, make sure you are ready for:

  • Social churn. Research shows that most Millennials reject conventional business roles and traditional notions about what it means to “get ahead.” Case in point: Schuster mentioned a 2013 American Express study which concluded that businesses must recognize that employees are placing a greater premium on work life balance and are looking for ways to pursue their passions through all aspects of their lives. In other words, Millennials aren’t necessarily keen to achieve the same standard of living as their parents; instead, they’re asking, “Why would we want it?” They’ve seen how chasing economic status can wreak havoc on health, marriages, the environment, etc., and as a result, the study identified a shift in how Americans define success:

Schuster said the attributes highlighted above can have an enormous impact on the products Millennials buy, the brands they will connect with, etc. Marketers will need to adjust the way they message and build their brand images accordingly, she added.

  • Consumers who are more socially-conscious. 2014 research from Deloitte found that 74% of Millennials believe businesses have a positive impact in the communities where they operate – but could always do more. What’s more, this desire for ethical, socially-conscious companies is reflected in Millennials’ purchase decisions. An August 2013 Nielsen global survey found that 50% of global consumers say they are willing to reward companies that give back to society by paying more for their goods and services.
  • Lots of social media engagement. Last year, eMarketer confirmed that Millennials have the highest social networking penetration of any generation. What’s more, they have the highest Facebook and Twitter use rates. eMarketer found that Millennials now make up more than half of all US Twitter users and predicts Gen Yers will hover around that point for the next several years.

Being asked to “prove it.” According to new research from Pew, Millennials aren’t as trusting as older Americans. Only 19% of Millennials Pew polled said most people can be trusted –that’s compared to 31% of Gen Xers, 37% of Silents and 40% of Boomers. Schuster shared a great example to illustrate how an established company addressed this Millennial demand. She shared that last year, PepsiCo stopped using the additive brominated vegetable oil in Gatorade – because of a petition started by a 15-year old girl (and signed by 200K+ other consumers). The execs at PepsiCo showed they were willing to listen and change company policies in response to consumers. There’s some disagreement about how to define Millennials. Some say they’re anyone born between 1980 and 1995. Others say the age range is even broader, encompassing the span from 1982 to the early 2000s. Either way, one thing is certain: Millennials will be a major component of the customer market in the not-too-distant future. Be smart and start planning ahead now, so you can offer a relevant and compelling customer experience, one that will drive loyalty among this new generation of consumers.