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Who are the Zillennials? (And why should brands care?)

Illustration of people sitting around a monitor. In the background are three circles that way Millenials, Gen Z, and Zillenials 1993-1998.

In recent years we’ve heard all about the beef between Generation Z and the Millennial generation (the latter is now considered too ‘cheugy’ to be the cool kids any longer).

Answers to key questions, such as how you part your hair (side or middle?) or whether low-rise jeans should be consigned to the scrapheap of fashion history, result in a generational label being slapped onto us – whether we like it or not.

But as the spotlight shines on the younger generation and their spending habits, we’re seeing the acknowledgment of generations within generations: namely, the Zillennials.

This sub-group of not-quite Millennial, not-quite Gen Z consumers has only recently emerged as a serious force within the world of e-commerce and retail.

Zillennial definition

Who are Zillennials?

Put simply, Zillennials are a micro-generation that sits in between Millennials and Generation Z. While they identify with key parts of the Millennial and the Gen Z experience, they’re considered either ‘too young’ or ‘too old’ to have participated fully in either set of social and cultural norms.

Millennials are considered to have been born between 1981 and 1996. This makes the youngest Millennials 26, while the oldest Millennials are 41 years old. Meanwhile, Gen Z spans the period from 1997 to 2012, making Gen Zers anywhere from 10 to 23 years old.

This means there’s more variation in their experiences of technology, popular culture, lifestyle, and the workforce than a single generation can possibly span. Because their formative years took place within the transformational time of analog to digital, Zillennials see themselves as falling into something of a no man’s land between the two generations.

In sum, Zillennials are neither fully Gen Z nor fully Millennial. Instead, they carry a unique fusion of traits and experiences, making them a notable target audience in their own right.

The Zillennial years: When were Zillennials born?

Because the term is so new, the age bracket for Zillennials is quite fluid. Most commentators define Zillennials as people born between 1993 and 1998, overlapping neatly with the tail-end of the Millennial generation and the beginning of Gen Z.

Another way to think about this generation is young people who have graduated from college and are currently establishing themselves in the workplace.

Like Millennials, Zillennials have a reputation for having a strong work ethic, but also share the desire of Generation Z for a better work-life balance and place a lot of importance on doing meaningful work. They haven’t yet settled into fixed purchasing habits, and brand loyalty is constantly in flux. All these characteristics serve to make Zillennials an attractive target market for disruptive brands.

What does the Zillennial experience look like?

Zeroing in on what defines the Zillennial experience isn’t as easy as it might sound. As a sub-generation, their relationship to issues of the moment, such as climate change and the so-called ‘great resignation’, isn’t going to be the same as their Gen Z and Millennial counterparts.

Fortunately, there are some clever analogies that commentators have come up with to summarize the unique generational space that Zillennials inhabit, such as:

  • Being alive when 9/11 happened, but not old enough to have any proper memories of it.
  • Started with a flip phone but graduated to a smartphone by college.
  • Growing up with the internet in the home, but without 24/7 access.

And also some funny ones:

  • “I’m old enough to remember blue toothing songs from my Sony Ericsson to my friends in the playground, but not old enough to remember The Spice Girls craze.” Glamour Magazine
  • “Zillennials are too young to have plucked their eyebrows into oblivion, too old to have known how to fill them in properly.” Refinery 29
  • “We discovered ad blockers and we loved them. At the same time, we’d also been taught to wait through the television ad breaks.” Emily Warner, Medium

Why is everyone talking about Zillennials?

Generational labels can help identify trends and cultural values among different age brackets for audience targeting. However, they’re also a very blunt tool.

When older Millennials joke about the pains of dial-up internet and using MSN Messenger, this younger generation of Millennials can feel a little lost. Unlike the true digital natives of Gen Z, Zillennials weren’t using social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram from preschool age – but they weren’t raised within the pre-internet age, either.

Zillennials offer a cautionary tale for how generational labels can morph into stereotypes that minimize the nuances in experience between age groups. These nuances are what hold the key to high-quality audience targeting – especially when Zillennials are being neglected by the majority of brands.

According to Digital Crew, Zillennials will account for a whopping 40% of all consumers. So, if you’re able to get to grips with the quirks and preferences of this micro generation, you can secure a massive advantage over your competitors.

Zillennial characteristics that brands should pay attention to

Rapid adoption of new technologies

Although Gen Z is (rightfully) considered the true digital natives, it’s worth remembering that those really seismic technological shifts – the growth of the internet, the rise of social media, and the shift to smartphones – had already taken place within the first few years of their lives.

By having a foot in both generational camps, Zillennials experienced a massive shift in technology during their formative years, with social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine all popping up during their time in high school. As a result, Zillennials are accustomed to experimenting with ‘the latest thing’ and being early adopters of new ways to connect with brands and products.

Longer attention spans

It’s not hard to see why TikTok has become the social media platform of choice for Gen Zers. The short-form video format is perfect for a generation infamous for short attention spans.

But unlike Gen Z, Zillennials grew up in an era where technology was far less seamless. Think long loading times for webpages, buffering YouTube videos, or lengthy ad breaks on T.V. As a result, Zillennials – just like their older Millennial counterparts – don’t view these interruptions in the same way.

So, where Gen Z will lose interest before they finish a blog or a long-form YouTube video in the name of moving on to something else, Zillennials are much more likely to stick around.

Values-driven purchasing decisions

Much has been made of how Gen Z is the most socially and environmentally generation in history, but this label can also be applied to Zillennials. As the so-called ‘young Millennials’, Zillennials also grew up in an era of growing discussion about climate change and sustainability. This has shaped what they’re looking for in brands and products.

Like Gen Z, Zillennials put a high priority on purchasing from brands whose beliefs and values align with their own. From environmental sustainability to cruelty-free ingredients or manufacturing processes, Zillennials are highly clued into what they want to see in a product – and they aren’t willing to compromise.

What do Zillennials tell us about audience targeting?

Simply targeting categories like ‘Gen Z’ or ‘Millennials’ is no longer enough to ensure that your brand resonates. Generational labels that span as much as 20 years of technology, popular culture, and experiences are not precise enough to capture the unique characteristics of different age groups.

As the Zillennial sub-culture shows, even just a handful of years can mean transformational differences in how consumers shop, work, and play. Simply taking a broad brush to your branding and marketing strategies can result in you missing out on highly lucrative market segments.

In sum, micro generations continue to wield a huge amount of spending power. If brands want to leverage these niche audiences to build more revenue, they need to have an in-depth understanding of what makes the market tick.

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