How SMEs can use nostalgia as a marketing strategy

Fond memories are a powerful marketing tool for any small business, argues Tom Stephens

Businesses are under pressure to always look forward, and with good reason. By making something that has already been made, or by selling something which everyone already owns, an SME can fail before it really gets going.

Yet, while the onus is on entrepreneurs to be looking forward, consumers often love to look back. By tapping into nostalgia as a marketing strategy, businesses can grow while consumers are reminded of their favourite parts of bygone eras.

Here are some ways that your SME can incorporate nostalgia in marketing, no matter what products or services it sells.

Timing is everything

A detailed analysis of nostalgia marketing explores how, if executed effectively, the strategy can revitalise old brands and reconnect old audiences. For example, Nokia relaunched its iconic 3310, replete with Snake, at a time when people were suggesting a social overdependence on smartphones.

Elsewhere, Adobe used an actor to become Bob Ross in its Joy of Sketching campaign in 2016. The artist’s show had arrived on Netflix and created a cult icon of Ross, with Adobe cleverly riding the wave. Nokia broke a trend while Adobe followed a trend, but both depended on appreciating the emotions of consumers.

While these companies are significantly bigger than an SME, the same logic applies. Be observant of current trends and consider which ones you can leverage to appeal to your audience.

Appeal to emotions

All effective marketing is successful in eliciting an emotional response, but nostalgia marketing relies on the recreation of a consumer’s past emotions. Allowing a consumer to relive cherished memories is effective in generating contemporary affection towards a product. There are recent examples in the gaming industry of companies appealing to schoolyard memories. The recent success of Pokemon Go was driven by a generation of consumers who were able to relive part of their youth, even though the augmented-reality game was far removed from the Game Boys of the 1990s.

Another example is the Paddy Power slot that uses icons from the classic card game Top Trumps. Applying the Top Trumps theme to a visually engaging online slot game taps into both the old and the new. Similarly, Sony’s miniature PlayStation Classic likewise appeals to a generation that grew up with the original product. The nostalgia permeating Sony’s advertising campaign will encourage adults who have since given up gaming to pick up a controller and relive their childhood.

Transporting someone back to a more carefree time is one of the most powerful uses of emotion in marketing. You don’t necessarily need costly licensing deals to do that as an SME – the point is to figure out which parts of those days gone by would bring positive connotations and follow the same aesthetic; create a similar product or even use a colour scheme which will bring back the memories – and the emotions, too.

Revive past successes

Some of the world’s biggest brands have deployed this effectively in recent years by bringing back forgotten products. Pepsi’s reintroduction of Crystal Pepsi, Coca-Cola’s limited revival of Surge and McDonald’s resurrection of Szechuan sauce were all driven by consumer demand. Listening to customer requests is vital when devising marketing strategies. These huge companies were able to reconnect consumers with long-lost flavours, evoking positive emotions. Making their return limited therefore opens the door for future revivals way down the line, although be careful not to antagonise consumers by regularly withdrawing and reintroducing popular products. In terms of your SME, consider which older products in your own company or in the general sector were iconic; is there any way you can bring them back or get inspired by it to introduce a new product?

Maximise social media

Throwback Thursdays (TBT) are effective in providing a framework for people to share collective memories. Car brands BMW and Dodge have enjoyed success with TBTs through the posting of iconic vehicles. This not only reminds audiences of the company’s prestige, but also generates online traffic as people channel their nostalgia into social media debate. This is a no-brainer and very easy to implement by optimising SEO, no matter the size of your company. Social media users love retro images and video, which they even share when they feel they’re particularly well done. Get them on your side and you’ll reach new levels of exposure for your firm.

After all, nostalgia marketing can only work if the consumer’s emotions and desires are considered. Many big companies adopt nostalgia marketing as a key strategy, but smaller companies can tailor this approach to meet their needs and to appeal to that universal desire to reflect on happy memories.

Tom Stephens is an independent technology writer