The last Howard Johnson’s restaurant in the country closed its doors for good this past week, marking the end of an era for the once-iconic American brand.

From its humble beginnings in the 1920s, the restaurant would become the largest restaurant chain in the U.S. by the 1970s. If you piled into the back of station wagon and took a summer road trip during this era — you likely remember Ho Jo’s.

Unfortunately, the chain’s signature fried clam strips and 28 flavors of ice cream were no match for changing audiences. Or cheaper airfares that fundamentally altered the dynamics of travel. And, thus, a slow but steady demise of this once iconic brand began.

What Generational Marketing lessons can Building Product Brands learn from this experience?

By the Numbers

Generational marketing is the term for segmenting and targeting marketing messages by age. To market effectively to audiences — in different age ranges — it’s vital to understand the motivations, challenges and habits… of each group.

Age brackets are often defined as “generational cohorts,” including:

  • Silent Generation — born before 1945
  • Baby Boomers — born between 1945 and 1965
  • Generation X — born between 1965 and 1980
  • Millennials — born between 1980 and 1995
  • Gen Z — born after 1995

With varying strategies and budget allocations, home and construction product marketers target Baby Boomers, Generation X (Gen Xers) and Millennials… who consume different types of content. Each cohort spends the majority of their time on different platforms — which presents unique marketing opportunities. And challenges. Understanding these differences can help building products companies tailor their brand tone and voice to appeal to and engage these distinctive audiences.

Boom(ers)… There It Is

Once the largest generation in terms of population, Baby Boomers have recently been surpassed by Millennials.

Despite that, Baby Boomers are still the most valuable generation… when it comes to buying power. And why not? Just consider the time they’ve had to accumulate all of that wealth. In fact, they account for the largest spending power of any generation. As of 2019, Boomers possessed 54 percent of all U.S. household wealth.

Because Baby Boomers didn’t grow up as “digital natives,” it’s a common misconception that they’re not tech savvy. This assumption, however, is not accurate. And could lead to significant missed opportunities. You know what they say about assumptions…

According to marketing data and technology company V12, Baby Boomers are very comfortable shopping digitally… with 85 percent reporting they research products online prior to a purchase.

On the social media front, Boomers stick to more traditional platforms, with Facebook leading the pack.

Overlooking this and other generations in digital marketing campaigns, demonstrates how stereotyping — can adversely work its way — into generational marketing performance.

Case in point: one of our team members has a good friend who is part of the Silent Generation. At 95 and still going strong, she is anything but silent… and regularly uses her iPad to post and engage in reviewing products.

The Forgotten Generation

While Gen Xers make up 25 percent of the U.S. population, they are often “forgotten” — due to the cohort’s smaller relative size. However, this generation mustn’t be ignored. Gen Xers represent 31 percent of the population’s total income dollars and are known for their strong brand loyalty.

In fact, based on a study by eMarketer, Generation X has the highest brand affinity among all generations. While most are less interested in trying new brands — whenever they are aligned with a brand’s values — more than 40 percent stick with them.

Remember, this was the last generation that spent their childhood without computers, mobile phones or the internet. Gen Xers grew up in a time of economic recession. And most had to work even harder than their parents did… to achieve the same level of financial success. As such, they tend to have less disposable income than older generations. And are often more budget conscious.

In terms of technology, Gen Xers are comfortable using digital channels… with email being among the most important. They rely on the internet — as a research tool — and tend to be more skeptical of marketing messages than other age groups.

‘M’ Is for Millennials

Millennials are the first generation that grew up with advanced internet and mobile phone technologies. Because they’ve lived their whole lives in an “always on” world… these digital natives tend to expect easy-to-digest information. And instant gratification.

Millennials consume a great deal of online content — and are swayed more by influencers than are other generations — creating significant opportunities for building product brands.

Notably, three out of four millennials perform extensive research before deciding to buy a product. And 50 percent say online reviews were a major factor in making a recent purchase.

But, consider that Millennials typically value authenticity and honesty over flashy campaigns. They prefer ethical and community-focused brands. And are more likely to invest their money with a company when a brand’s values align with their personal ideals.

As would be expected, this group is also highly active on social media. However, they’re not particularly loyal to any single channel. When something new and better catches their attention… Millennials may be some of the first, to hop on a new bandwagon.

Optimizing Content for Each Generation

While individuals are — of course — unique, each generation has common characteristics and preferences. Understanding these traits and trends can help brands develop and target marketing content and messages more effectively.

Generation X. Marketers find it easy to overlook Gen Xers — because the generations, both before and after — are so much larger. Yet, Generation X has close to 50 million members. And that’s a group too significant to simply overlook. This generation is in line for what’s expected to be the largest transfer of wealth in history… as Baby Boomers will leave their children some 30 trillion dollars over the next 15 years.

Gen Xers are known to be more skeptical than those in previous generations. So, it’s crucial to be consistent — and engage with a genuine voice — in all marketing communications.

They also tend to value stability more than Millennials do, making it important to appeal to their need for financial security. Family mindedness. Personal well-being. And work-life balance.

Millennials. Because Millennials place a high importance on authenticity… marketing messages aimed at this group should strive to be consistent, honest and transparent. Millennials are typically turned off by a hard sell. Instead, consider how personalization and customization can help to create more accessible messages that better resonate.

When developing content, brand marketers need to keep in mind that Millennials tend to show support for brands that demonstrate socially and environmentally responsible values. ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) initiatives are critical to demonstrate when marketing to Millennials.

This group also gravitates toward user-generated content… and places a great deal of trust in online reviews and recommendations. Campaigns that utilize influencers, user-created assets and short-format video — that request reviews and feedback — will be more likely to align with Millennial expectations.

Critically important: the Millennial generation is at childbearing age now. Starting a family and setting up a home are among their top priorities. This is the largest generation in history, and their spending power is being felt across wide swaths of our economy. In fact, they are so important that we’ve developed a white paper on best practices for marketing to this key demographic, which can be downloaded here.

Baby Boomers. In contrast to Millennials — who have a reputation for short attention spans and consuming shorter-form content — Baby Boomers are much more likely to value in-depth articles and analysis.

They expect appeals directed toward them to be a bit more formal. And they rely less on the use of slang. Or pop culture references. Unless of course, those pop culture references are now considered “retro” from say 30 to 40 years ago.

Yes, most Baby Boomers are highly competent users of technology, and many plan to keep working — and making discretionary purchases — well into their mid-sixties and beyond.

Remember the Exceptions

It’s vitally important to avoid making generational stereotypes. For example, assuming that older generations prefer to save instead of spending. Or that young people can be found only on social media. As we must all realize, there are always exceptions to every rule.

That said, generational marketing can help building product brands get a better sense of their customers’ perspectives for developing unique buyer personas — how they prefer to find and consume product information — and ways they wish to engage.

Interested in ways to customize your marketing strategy to more effectively reach and influence your target audiences? Send an e-mail to to get the conversation started.