By Jennifer Leggett, Communications Specialist

Millennials recently passed Baby Boomers as the largest living generation at more than 75 million, amillennial-expectations-impacting-customer-service-624x415ccording to Pew Research Center – yet they still remain a marketing mystery for many companies, who struggle to connect with them through traditional media channels.

Countless think pieces, articles and analyses have been written about Millennials, dissecting them like they’re alien creatures – a selfie-obsessed, #hashtagcrazed species whose phone is less a device and more an appendage. “Millennial,” in many ways, has become a negative term – which is likely why only 40 percent of Millennials define themselves as such.

As a self-proclaimed Millennial, I think it’s imperative that companies learn to engage us. With ages ranging from 19 to 36, Millennials make up one-fourth of the population and represent $200 billion in annual buying power. Here’s my “insider” perspective on how to reach Millennials.

Target social groups. Millennials are not as attracted to traditional “life stage” advertising because they are not following milestones like getting married, buying a house and starting a family at the same time – or at all.

The better way to target audiences is through social groups, or “tribes.” For example, you may target a community that follows a green lifestyle, plays video games or interacts with certain social media personalities. When it comes to visuals, companies should focus less on nuclear families and more on multigenerational, diverse groups coming together for a common cause.

Engage on social media. Even though social media is what Millennials are perhaps most famous for, it can’t be said enough – brands looking to build a Millennial audience need to interact with them on social networks. In terms of brand decisions, networking is far more important to them than previous generations – Millennials are most influenced by opinions from friends, family and people online.

Millennials are highly skeptical of traditional advertising and are more likely to crave a two-way relationship with companies. They value an “authentic” connection that allows them to engage with companies directly. Social media is the perfect opportunity to create brand loyalty, but it requires more than just building a Facebook or Instagram page. Companies need to listen and respond to feedback quickly, stay relevant to social media news and trends, and create original, compelling content.

Boost mobile marketing. As more Millennials cut the cable cord, mobile has become the new marketing frontier. More than 85 percent of Millennials have a smartphone, and they use them in stores – checking websites and reviews when considering product purchases. With mobile marketing, the first thing to consider is your website. It needs to be mobile-friendly, meaning it is easy to navigate, runs quickly and has a clear call to action. But mobile is also a quickly growing platform with many possibilities, such as creating mobile apps or integrating your advertising naturally into already popular ones.

When it comes to Millennials, it’s important to remember that this generation is exploring new social and technological frontiers – and companies who are interested in building a long-term Millennial audience also need to explore new ways of marketing to them.