When it comes to millennials – those born between 1980 and 1999 – there is little consensus on the core traits, wants and needs of this generation. They’re described anywhere from determined, innovative and creative, to entitled, unmotivated and indifferent. But, perception doesn’t always align with reality.

Millennials, for instance, are frequently miscast as irresponsible and frivolous, especially when it comes to spending. However, a recent Segmint survey of U.S. online consumers found that millennials are more debt conscious than previously believed, with the majority opting to fund leisure activities with available funds from checking and savings, rather than carrying debt via credit cards. This level of financial maturity in terms of better managing their financial lives is refreshing and, to many, a bit surprising.

Made up of more than 80 million people, the one thing everyone can agree on is that this is an audience that brands and marketers cannot afford to ignore, especially given their future earning potential and the fact that in a decade this group will be earning more than half of all personal income. However, there are a number of challenges associated with engaging and selling to millennials that brands are still struggling to navigate. So how do brands and marketers find unique ways to compel and, ultimately, sell to this diverse, digital and increasingly important demographic? Here’s how:

Understand Actual Behavior, not Intent

Millennials are the most researched generation in history, but they remain an elusive group to categorize. Fortunately, for marketers, the era of big data and availability of marketing technology that can digest and analyze anonymized consumer behavior allows marketers to understand consumers at a level of precision not previously attainable.

By utilizing its own data known as “first party data”, such as purchases, payments, information from their own customer systems, loyalty card transactions, etc., brands can look backward at actual purchase data and behavioral attributes, while analyzing preferences. This type of data is incredibly powerful, showing a brand how exactly a consumer is engaging with their offerings in real time, providing instant feedback in terms of what’s resonating and not resonating, and therefore giving an accurate understanding of targeted individuals (not generic groups). This understanding allows brands to better engage with its customers based on how their customers are actually interacting with their brand and not the pre-conceived characteristics of 3rd party audience segments in a “spray and pray” approach.

Foster Relationships with Personalization

Armed with an understanding of actual 1st party customer behavior, marketers should use that data to create personalized experiences for their customers. While millennials may prefer to engage digitally, they still want to feel a personal connection. So, it is crucial for brands to foster that personal relationship, whether on digital channels such as on a marketer’s own web site, or via the open internet, or through physical channels like the call-center or a bank’s branch.

A real-time understanding of customer behavior allows marketers to build personalized, data-driven messages and campaigns that are truly relevant. This narrowcast strategy is far more valuable to a generation that does not have time or patience for broadcast, generic messaging. It also drives an exponentially higher level of efficiency – targeting an individual with precisely the right message at the very moment they’re in a specific channel (on their web site, on the open internet, calling into a contact center, etc.). Only those impressions are served in real-time to individuals who will find it most relevant.

Engage Consistently and Authentically 

According to Nielsen, 85% of millennials aged 18-24 and 86% of those 25-34 own a smartphone. Time spent on smartphones is also greatest amongst millennials. This group spends two or more hours per day on a smartphone and is 43% more likely to browse the internet on mobile than on desktop.

Brands must consistently provide these highly connected consumers an engaging and authentic experience on desktops, smartphones and tablets. Connecting with millennials through multiple channels including social media, video, email and apps ensures that a brand is reaching these consumers exactly where they are and on their preferred mediums.

Of course, consistent communication does not mean blasting millennials with messages on every device throughout the day. Marketers must leverage technology to take an “always on” approach that allows for smart targeting and delivers timely messages based on real-time needs. This allows brands to deliver advertisements and messages that add real value for the user, which is the best way to foster a sense of trust and engagement. This is what truly forges deeper, lasting, more profitable relationships over the long haul.

The most critical things for marketers to remember when looking to engage with millennials are authenticity and value. By taking an approach that is focused on the individual consumer and how you can best serve those needs, brands will build trusting relationships, paving the way for loyalty and sales.