Cracker Barrel And Making Demographics Matter

Cracker Barrel And Making Demographics Matter

Not even COVID-19 changed the trajectory of demographics. And, although data in The New York Times indicates that global population growth may end in 2080’s, we are currently living in a world that is getting older and younger at the same time. Demographics are a marketing reality. And, brands, such as iconic Southern fare restaurant Cracker Barrel, now face a strategic conundrum. 

The older and younger dichotomy is due to the longevity of Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) at one end of the spectrum and the cohort of Millennials (born between 1982 and 1996) and Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012) at the other. It used to be that the demographic charts had one big bulge: the Boomers. This bulge just moved up the age range as it matured. Now, with the addition of the Millennials, the demographic charts look like a two-humped camel—a two-humped camel that will be with us for decades. The Boomer generation has longevity. The Millennial generation is just as big. Younger Gen Z already has impact. 

It is popular in the current marketing environment to focus primarily on Millennials and Gen Z and the even younger demographic groups (Gen Alpha born starting in 2010s). For example, this is what Meta is doing with its AI bots. That said, network television is seeing gold in the silver-haired market. But, for many marketers, over the next decade, brands will need to be relevant to two huge groups of people who have different values and view the world through different lenses. 

The current two-humped demographic reality – lots of older people and lots of younger people – presents opportunities for brands. Boomers have discretionary income. Millennials and subsequent younger cohorts rule the social media environment. These two demographic forces not only change the way we communicate and relate to one another. The older-younger landscape changes the ways in which brand-businesses must operate.

Two massive age cohorts with different worldviews, different values and different complexities pose an interesting conundrum for brands: which of these age groups should be targeted? What will a brand need to do differently? How can we attract and maintain both cohorts? These are interesting challenges not just in terms of product, service, store design and utility, but also in terms of communications, including language and package design. 

Because the world is getting older and younger at the same time, brand-businesses must decide what their strategies will be to address these two cohorts. 

This is the conundrum that Cracker Barrel must solve.

Cracker Barrel, born in 1969, is known for its Southern country store theme and menu. Its advertising communicates freshly made food at a fair price with a touch of care. This refers to over 20 meals for under $12. Its tag line is Take care now

Cracker Barrel describes itself as: “Cracker Barrel Old Country Store provides a friendly home-away-from-home in its old country stores and restaurants. Guests are cared for like family while relaxing and enjoying real home-style food and shopping that’s surprisingly unique, genuinely fun and reminiscent of America’s country heritage…all at a fair price. The restaurant serves up delicious, home-style country food such as meatloaf and homemade chicken n’ dumplins (sic) as well as its made from scratch biscuits using an old family recipe. The authentic old country retail store is fun to shop and offers unique gifts and self-indulgences.”

Originally, Cracker Barrell was seen as a way to sell gasoline, as its founder worked with Shell Oil. Over time, Cracker Barrell opened stores without gasoline pumps. The menu broadened. And, so did its array of “gifts.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, “Cracker Barrel Is Stuck in a Generational Gap.”  Apparently, Cracker Barrel’s core customers make it difficult for Cracker Barrel to attract younger guests. This will need to change.

About 43% of Cracker Barrell guests are 55 years old or older. A lot of the sales within this core group are “tchotchkes” such as wooden puzzles (approximately 300,000 a year) and rocking chairs (approximately 70,000 a year).

Efforts to make inroads with younger customers have strained Cracker Barrel results, affecting comparable store sales and the brand-business’ stock price (down at least a third in the past half year).

Many casual dining establishments have a laser-focus on younger consumers. But, for Cracker Barrel that is probably not the best path to high quality revenue growth. Cracker Barrel needs to design a strategy that maintains its bonds with core customers while is attractive to new customers.

From a brand-business standpoint, there are two important factors.

First, it is possible to address more than one target audience without alienating another.

During the 2004 McDonald’s turnaround, McDonald’s adopted multi-segment, multi-dimensional marketing identifying three targets with different needs:

  • Great tasting food and fun for kids
  • Healthful eating for young adult moms
  • Satisfying food for young adult males

The beer brand Modelo uses multi-segment marketing. In a report from The Wall Street Journal, Modelo focuses on its Hispanic core base and a non-Hispanic audience. “The brand strives to ensure its marketing appeals to both its core Hispanic and growing non-Hispanic customer bases, rigorously testing its ads with both groups to avoid alienating either one…. And, it (Modelo) spends heavily to run those winning ads.” 

A brand like Cracker Barrel can address multiple segments of customers. Cracker Barrel can be a multi-segment brand. It is critical to recognize that people are multi-dimensional, not uni-dimensional. To be relevant, Cracker Barrel must be also be multidimensional rather than uni-dimensional.

A multi-segmented, multi-dimensional approach has important strategic implications for communications, media, product development, pricing, promotion, restaurant design, packaging and so on. For example, the increased use of non-traditional media to communicate multi-dimensional brand messages to our multi-segmented markets.

Therefore, second, Cracker Barrell should employ a Brand Journalism approach when communicating with its segments. A multi-segmented, multi-dimensional approach has important strategic implications for communications, media, product development, pricing, promotion, restaurant design, packaging, and so on. For example, we are using non-traditional media more and more to communicate our multi-dimensional brand message to our multi-segmented markets.

Brand Journalism means telling the many facets of the Cracker Barrel brand story … and yet you know it is Cracker Barrel.

No single communication alone tells the whole Cracker Barrel brand story. Each communication provides a different insight into the Cracker Barrel brand-business. 

Modelo manages messaging to multiple audiences using advertising that appeals to both segments. Attracting and maintaining both Hispanic and non-Hispanic customers are key to Modelo brand-business-building. Modelo shows its advertising to its Hispanic core “… to confirm that none of its messaging was straying away from the people who had made it (Modelo) what it was.” 

With Brand Journalism, communications create a brand magazine, with each article a different story. Each edition is different: different subjects, different topics, different messages, all coming together in a dynamic, interesting, relevant; ever-evolving Cracker Barrel brand-business magazine.

Brand leaders are the editors of this brand magazine. As editors, brand leaders look not only at the subject matter, but also the style. For example, an article on Bruce Springsteen for the New Yorker must be written in a very different style than if it were written for Rolling Stone.

Cracker Barrell does not have to abandon its core customer group. And, Cracker Barrell should not do this anyway: core customers are valuable. Cracker Barrel must continue to adore its core. This does not mean that Cracker Barrel cannot focus on new customers as well. Every brand must both keep customers and attract new customers, just not at the sake of alienating the core base. Multi-segment marketing using a Brand Journalism approach to communications is a good place to start.