Nostalgia Marketing Can Only Work Alongside Design Thinking

Nostalgia Marketing Can Only Work Alongside Design Thinking
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On this opinion piece, Kristen Vang (pictured below), director of Australian experience design studio Hatchd, argues that while nostalgia can be a very powerful resource for marketers, it doesn’t transcend the needs of consumers.

Kristen Vang

The frenzy around Pokémon Go, the relaunch of the Nokia 3310, and the latest blockbusters in the cinema are Disney’s Star Wars and Beauty and the Beast… you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s the 90s! But while the year is in fact 2017, nostalgia has had a huge impact on brand marketing strategies in recent years, and everything old is new again.

This is a bit of a contradictory trend in a century that has been so full of innovation and technological advancements, when even having last year’s iPhone is seen as being behind the times. So why is nostalgia helping so many brands engage with their consumers so effectively? There might be more strategy behind this trend than first meets the eye. Brands are increasingly moving towards human-centred design, and when this strategy is coupled with consumers’ need to connect with decades gone by, exciting brand strategies result.

Nostalgia marketing: the current recipe for past success

In recent years, strategic nostalgia marketing has been implemented by brands across sectors, from technology to music, and from FMGC to travel. Imagine the fond memories a person has about their favourite childhood soft drink or movie character. When they see it on the shelves at the supermarket or advertised in the cinema 20 or 30 years later, a lot of the barrier to purchase will have already been negotiated in their minds – they’ll be one step closer to choosing that brand over another option.

Why? The success of nostalgia marketing is that it makes people feel something. Emotions are an extremely important part of why someone choose one brand or product over another, and what keeps them coming back for more. Nostalgia evokes feelings of trust, warmth, joy – all of which feel very authentic when twinned with childhood and teenage memories. This positive experience people then have with these brands is the secret sauce behind good nostalgia marketing.

Some great examples of good nostalgia marketing over the years include Coca-Cola and Lego. More recently, Nintendo has reconnected with loyal fans from decades past with its new console, Switch, and the interactive mobile game Pokémon Go. The Pokémon Go app was a perfect example of how the power of coupling nostalgia with modern technology can be a success – especially with Millennials.

Design thinking is an essential part of the nostalgia process

Although nostalgia marketing can be very successful, helping brands reinvent revenue streams, and reactivate loyal fans, it is not a fail-safe marketing strategy. Once a huge hit online, MySpace tried to relaunch a few years ago but didn’t succeed in attracting many users, new or old, to the platform.

This is where human-centred design comes in. Brands and marketers need to think about the needs, frustrations and desires of their users first and foremost. Meeting these needs should then be built into the fabric of the brand, solution, campaign or product – not just used as a marketing tactic. In the case of MySpace, people didn’t need another social platform. MySpace didn’t offer anything that wasn’t already available.

Human-centred design is a process that brands to think about the human first and moves us further away from an assumption-based approach. It should be engrained in the organisation’s way of doing business that it forces everyone, from the C-suite to the customer service teams, to prioritise the end consumer with every strategy, investment, and business tactic implemented.

This involves a significant shift from putting the business’ challenges first to prioritising the customers’ needs above all else. In its simplest form, brands should be avoiding conversations about how to sell more, increase users, or reach more eyeballs. Instead, brands and marketers should embrace conversations about what customers want to buy or see. From there, dig deeper into the why of the customers’ needs, and ensure that everyone across the organisation understands how these needs have developed and what the customer will now be demanding. If cultivating feelings of warmth, trust and joy will help your brand the consumer needs you have identified, then consider bringing back themes, products and brands from days gone by. If you’re just looking for a way to bring another product to market, leave the products of yesteryear where they belong!

In a fast-moving world, brands can feel the pressure to reinvent themselves continuously. Yet, it’s important that any changes remain focused on audience and customers’ needs, bringing the latest technology to give people the best experience possible. The ROI of design thinking is clear – keeping the business alive. So while nostalgia can be a very powerful resource, it doesn’t transcend the needs of your consumers – it’s an innate part of their needs.

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