Everything Old is New Again: Leveraging Your Company’s Classic Appeal

The last time you saw a guy walking down the street wearing suspenders and sporting a handlebar mustache, did you think you had stumbled across some kind of historical festival? You probably hadn’t; you were simply witnessing the effects of the latest hipster trend.

Whether you want to call it “newgrass,” “neo-folk,” or Americana, bands like Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers are at the forefront of a movement toward a more old-school aesthetic. Think late-19th-century style, old-timey instruments, and a down-home sound that wouldn’t have sounded out of place several decades ago.

You know you’ve made it when TV shows start lampooning you. That’s exactly what IFC’s hilarious show, Portlandia, did with this trend:

But . . . How Can Something Old-fashioned Be Trendy?

That’s a great question. Technically, it can’t. By their very nature, fashions or other cultural indicators that have their roots in the past aren’t trendy – they’re classic. But the recent emergence of throwback music, clothing, and haircuts can tell us something about what appeals to people on the most basic levels.

Old-fashioned culture isn’t “current,” and that’s the point. We live fast-paced lives that have us constantly connected to technology via computers, smartphones, and tablets. With new gadgets, applications, and social networks competing for our attention every day, many people are looking to return to a simpler way of life.

Don’t expect a mass exodus from technology or social networks; those components of modern life appear to be here for the long haul. But it could mean that people are more selective about where and how they choose to interact with the digital world.

What Does This Mean for Your Marketing Strategy?

No matter what products or services your company offers or how closely linked your business is to technology, you can glean a variety of lessons from the comeback of the classic.

Let’s get this straight: I am not saying that you should strap on a pair of suspenders and learn to play the banjo (but if that’s what you want to do, more power to you!).

Nor am I suggesting that you deactivate your company website, remove your social networking pages, and commence to communicating via carrier pigeon or Pony Express. But again, to each his own – actually, no. Please don’t do any of that.

What you should do is consider what aspects of throwback culture you can incorporate into your marketing strategy to position your brand as timeless and trustworthy.

Brands that are Getting it Right

When it comes to creating a classic image, some companies just get it. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Trader Joe’s. This retailer’s Fearless Flyers are some of the cleverest and most appealing approaches to grassroots marketing today. The Flyer doesn’t only show pictures of produce along with prices per unit; it spins a yarn about the product, how and from where it was acquired, and how best to prepare and enjoy it. Its design recalls a century-old handbill from a small-town general store.
  • Dollar Shave Club. This company has several components working in its favor. The product they offer – mass-produced razors at rock-bottom prices – may not be old-fashioned, but their unique angle is. They are one of a growing number of subscription services that deliver product straight to the customer’s door on a recurring basis, kind of like the milkman used to do. Businesses using this model are a prime example of combining and old-school service with newfangled automation technology.

Why Old-fashioned Marketing Appeals to Customers

When companies effectively engage in old-fashioned marketing and business practices, they characterize themselves to their target audiences as having the following qualities:

  • Reliability. Customers see them as establishments that have been around for a while and will be around for a lot longer.
  • Simplicity. Old-school businesses don’t operate with a bunch of “bells and whistles,” at least not ones that the customer can see or be impacted by. This reminds people of simpler times, perhaps when gas prices weren’t approaching $4 a gallon (but let’s not think about that).
  • Quality. Whether this is true or not, the perception often exists that modern products are more disposable, while antiques were built to last. Your marketing strategy should depict your company’s product in the latter light.

What Companies Can Do Right Now to Leverage the Trend

As you consider your company’s old-fashioned marketing methods, you should never play into a gimmick to get momentary attention. Like any other marketing strategy, your old-school campaign should reflect the unique characteristics and appeal of your brand.

Some approaches you may want to incorporate include the following:

  • Pavement-pounding. Especially if you do a lot of business locally (or want to do more), online content marketing, social media, and other digital promotion methods shouldn’t replace your physical presence in the community. Passing out flyers at special events or knocking on doors might sound crazy, but sometimes it gets you in front of the right people, in the right place, at the right time!
  • Hospitality. Few things are more old-fashioned than inviting someone into your “house.” Encourage customers to visit your brick-and-mortar location, even if you don’t operate a storefront. Tours of breweries, factories, and other manufacturing facilities are fascinating and show customers the inner workings of your organization.
  • Newsletters. Whether you snail-mail or email it, sending a regular newsletter keeps customers apprised of the latest developments at your company and in your industry and helps maintain a personal connection.
  • Consultative sales. People know when they’re getting “marketed at.” Back in the day, shopkeepers would talk with their customers to help them find the perfect product to meet their needs. When modern retailers show a sincere interest in enhancing the lives or solving the problems of customers, customers feel good about doing business with those companies.

Move Forward By Looking Back

When it comes to marketing, it’s not what you do – it’s how you do it. Take a lesson from those creative and business entities that have tapped into the human propensity towards the old-fashioned. You may never grow an epic pair of muttonchops, but you’ll definitely grow your customer base.

Now that’s something to get nostalgic about!

How has your business leveraged classic appeal?

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Emily Perry

In her spare time, Emily enjoys hanging out with her husband, American bulldog, and two cats. Besides writing, she is passionate about questionable fashion, singing in the car, and taking the easiest yoga classes available. She plans one day to record a ukulele/rockabilly/folk record, no matter how much people beg her not to.

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