The big conundrum these days is how marketers and advertisers can actively appeal to the coveted millennial demographic. After all, millennials hold the power; they set trends, spend money, and boost brands.

Brands are increasingly finding that it's difficult to keep up with a group whose tastes are constantly in flux. Also, the millennial is notoriously snarky and cynical but not negative. In fact, millennials have a great positive energy that they share via social media through good-natured self-deprecation and a knowledge of pop cultural references.

But if you don't engage on social media, you simply aren't part of the conversation, and you don't exist.

Brands have to provide shareability and value to their user base, and even create a platform for the content creators to use. Movement campaigns such as Always' #likeagirl are a great example. The ALS #icebucketchallenge was another.

Allowing the content creator a measure of personal expression while providing branding guardrails such as the appropriate hashtag and the rules of engagement (hold up a sign that says #likeagirl, or shoot a video of an ice bucket being poured over your head) gives your audience the power to engage their own friend groups, which ultimately (and ideally) sets off a viral chain reaction.

Likers, Sharers, and Content Creators

The subsets of millennials are "likers," "sharers," and content creators.

Likers will get behind a movement and show support—but rarely engage their peers. Likers represent the majority of your following and the end consumer that you must ultimately engage to see ROI.

Sharers take their engagement one step further. They will not only engage but also encourage their peers to do so, which is key to a viable and successful social campaign. This particular subset represents a smaller percentage of your audience, but these customers exert influence on the larger groups and are integral to a campaign's measure of virality.

Content creators (or influencers) are often popular millennial figures with their own social media engagements and stand as pillars of taste-making among the rest of their community (and sometimes the world at large). This particular subset may include your brand as part of its lifestyle in an organic way, which really has a tremendous impact on its following (and ultimately that of the brand).

Many content creators have sharers of their own, so they represent the highest rung of the pecking order.

Engaging all three (likers, sharers, and content creators) is critical to brand dissemination in millennial culture. A brand's ability to do that is the perfect gauge to potential success down the line.

Brand Authenticity

Nobody can sniff out a fraud like millennial consumers. They are information bloodhounds and have access to every bad review, every corporate blunder, every negative reference to you and your product.

You can't hide the facts. Trying to cover up your true colors only makes you look phonier. The simple solution: be truthful.

Be humble. Be real. Don't try to be "cool," or try to use popular slang if it doesn't suit your brand's image. The best measure of "cool" is whether you cringe when you type or something in everyday life. Your brand voice will resonate if it stems from something authentic.

Digital marketers must understand that there is no magic bullet or secret sauce. The truth of your product must come through internally and create a sense of pride to your own team, which should shine through your marketing efforts.

When you make a mistake, own up to it and apologize. Be genuine and forge a real relationship with your user base on a person-to-person basis through social media. You may not realize it, but the person who cares enough to engage in a debate or comment on a social media post may represent dozens or hundreds of silent observers who are being swayed by your responses, or lack thereof. Get into the conversation and be very real to your own brand.

Ask questions, be vulnerable. Don't take yourself too seriously but always have a purpose to your message remain true to that very message. Have a set of beliefs and engage in an upbeat dialog pointed toward empowerment.

We all want to be treated with respect and to be heard, not just marketed to.

Being Tasteful to the Tastemakers

The concept of taste can most times be relegated to be something of a subjective concept. It's difficult to put any tangible stock in the word, but when branding through imagery and visuals, (things that millennials can really engage in), the measure of taste becomes paramount.

Visuals must be engaging and intelligent. The days of blinking, flashing "buy now!" banners and buttons are over.

No millennial wants to be hard sold. They want to feel like they are opting into a value proposition that gives them access to something. This opt-in process should provide a concrete value, such as access to an early release of event tickets or a discount code on a purchase.

Millennials, like most of us, realize that if your product is so great, then you shouldn't have to oversell it. In fact, you should be exclusive about who purchases the product and use the law of supply and demand to drive up demand by limiting access to some degree.

For example, of my 21,000 Instagram followers, only about 7-8% regularly "like" one of my posts and even fewer comment. This is relatively high since the average Instagram feed has a 5% engagement rate. I attribute that discrepancy to the fact that I comment back and write to each person who takes the time to comment on my posts. That is a time-consuming task but one that has my following feel that they are part of a group of like-minded friends, not just a faceless social media feed. I genuinely like and appreciate my following and show them that regularly. That is the whole key to this generation.

The inclusion concept can give millennials a sense that they're part of something greater; they're part of a story. It gives them a feeling that they're helping to drive that story and that their part in doing so is a keystone to that brand's success down the line.

There's a reason why you see a lot of narrative video ad content that depends on humanizing ads to tell a genuine story. Chipotle's "Back to the Start" ad or Epuron's "The Wind" are perfect examples that pull the viewer in and exploit an emotional payoff to drive home a simple message. The beauty of this is that the average millennial gets it. These ad campaigns do the impossible by getting what's stereotyped as a very elusive and erratic demographic to sit down and watch them.

* * *

You hear all the time that "kids today" are no good, have no values or attention spans, and are spoiled. I don't buy into that at all. I believe that these are children of the information age who are, by and large, very positive-minded and motivated people. They want to prop each other up, they want to find a sense of belonging and that they aren't alone in being vulnerable. They're aware of the hypocrisies of our modern age and are coming to terms with them as they forge an identity and value system in this changing social landscape.

Are you trying to make a buck by hawking a product? Sure. Be transparent about that fact, and your average millennial will respect you for it.

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Adam Padilla is CEO and co-founder of BrandFire, a full-service creative agency.

LinkedIn: Adam Padilla