The Cusp Generation should matter in PR


As PR professionals, we know just how important it is for brands to understand target audiences and how new iterations of popular culture take shape. Using generational labels helps brands to distinguish the common trends and cultural values among different age groups and achieve more targeted marketing campaigns.

Sometimes these labels are a bit much and I roll my eyes at the labels marketers come up with. There is however something to be said for a ‘micro-generation’ that was recently identified and the role they play for brands and the industry at large.

We are all quite familiar with Millennials (also known as Generation Y), born between 1981 and 1996, and Gen Zs, born between 1997 and 2012. Wedged between them you’ll find the so-called “Cuspers” or “Zillennials” – a micro-generation of Gen Z, a smaller “fringe” group born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s, who are too young to be true Millennials and too old to be true Gen Zs.

Urban Dictionary calls them “the forgotten middle children between Millennials and Gen Z“.

Whereas Gen Zs are true digital natives embracing and understanding the role of technology from a young age, Zillennials grew up just before them in a rapidly changing world shaped by popularising technology, globalisation and shifting social norms. They possess deep knowledge of digital technologies, yet they’ve also grown up feeling nostalgic about analogue experiences.

Combined Gen Zs and Zillenials are the largest generation in the workforce with the largest cohort of managers among them, so their significance to brands cannot be shrugged off.

The Zillennial subset is complex

The unique generational perspective of Zillennials should be clear for brands and the growing PR and communications industry. Consider the unique generational space that Cuspers hold:  

·       Zillennials have strong views and perspectives on issues like climate change, food insecurity, peace and conflict. They were tertiary students and young working adults when the Greta Thunberg movement swept the globe.

·       They witnessed 9/11 but don’t have vivid recollections due to their young age during that period.

·       They grew up on the cusp of the consumer internet, having used the Encyclopaedia Britannica before the arrival of Google. 

·       When older Millennials reminisce about dial-up internet and the Mxit messenger app, younger Millennials might feel left out.

·       Unlike Gen Z, who are true digital natives, Zillennials always knew the internet but didn’t grow up with platforms like Instagram and WhatsApp from a very young age.

·       They were raised with home internet access but have not experienced the constant uninterrupted connectivity of today’s young generation.

·       They were on the cusp of adulthood during the COVID19 pandemic.

A nuanced generational label

For PR and communication professionals and the brands they represent, these generational labels can assist in identifying trends and cultural values across various age groups and help shape targeted communication and marketing campaigns. We do however run the risk of over-simplifying matters.

In my opinion, the hype about Zillennials exists to remind us that generational labels are helpful, but they can also quickly turn into stereotypes. We shouldn’t overlook the nuanced experiences of different age groups in campaigns or even their contributions around a boardroom table.

Considering people’s nuances is crucial for understanding their purchasing decisions and lifestyle motivations. We need to understand what makes Zillennials tick, in all their diversity, for effective audience targeting. This is especially important considering that Zillennials make up a significant portion of consumers and they prioritise brands that align with their values, including sustainability and social responsibility.

Value-driven decisions by Zillennials

According to Digital Crew Zillennials will one day make up 40% of all consumers. So, understanding key traits such as values-drive decisions will give brands a significant edge:

·       Zillennials experienced major technological shifts making them early adopters of new digital trends.

·       Unlike Gen Z who are known for their fragmented and short 8-second attention spans, Zillennials can watch brand content for 12 seconds or more, a tolerance they learnt growing up with less seamless technology.

·       Like Gen Z, Zillennials prioritise purchasing from brands that align with their values, particularly when it comes to the environment, sustainable sourcing, fair income, and fair employee treatment.

Despite sharing a technological familiarity with Gen Z, Zillennials hold nostalgia for pre-digital norms. Zillennials are currently in their twenties, embarking on their careers. They possess a unique perspective on societal shifts including the Covid pandemic, recent geo-political upheaval and mass migrations underway caused by wars, economic forces and climate devastation.

As a significant consumer base, we need to effectively communicate with this generation, to cater to their preference for authenticity, sustainability and accessibility.

Zillennials are navigating many transitions, straddling the characteristics of both preceding generations while keeping close to their own identity in the digital age. Their contributions and the psychosocial space they occupy should not be overlooked by brands wanting to stay relevant. 

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