Designers coming up with new color palette for rebranding
This isn’t news. “When in doubt, reboot it” seems to be the mantra of the film and television industry these days. Some of North America’s most popular cars are updated, relaunched versions of classics (Chevy Blazer, Chevy Camaro) or stalwarts that never really left the scene (Jeep Wrangler, Ford Mustang).
But in an ironic twist for a strategy that some criticize as unoriginal, too many entrepreneurs fail to explore the full range of creative possibilities presented by the nostalgia trade. They’re not creative enough about refreshing and repurposing old, proven ideas for business success.
Don’t make that mistake. Think outside the box about how and what to reclaim as your own—then set about turning it into a successful business idea. Use these seven ideas for inspiration.
Identify “basic” products and services with a timeless quality. These are things most people need, done in a way that evokes the past.
Think a house-cleaning service with a midcentury maid vibe, grocery delivery built around a core “milkman” service, or modern auto detailing with old-fashioned house-call courtesy. The recent success of the grocery delivery business and the rise of next-generation house-cleaning companies shows what’s possible here.
In the same vein, look for fads or niches whose popularity has ebbed without fading completely. The pandemic resurgence of Dungeons & Dragons is a prime example, as is the increasing popularity of classic video and arcade games among gamers of a certain age.
For example, Houle Sports has taken the old tradition of sports card collecting and put a new spin on it by offering verified appraisals and fair market values using the eBay past sales API. This approach makes sports cards a much more stable investment opportunity for new and old collectors alike.
Even if your business idea isn’t strictly nostalgic, “de-freshing” its branding and marketing can evoke simpler, happier times and encourage customers to open their wallets. So give the white space and minimalist fonts a rest and embrace a cheery vintage palette and typefaces. A retro logo is a low-cost first step.
The eternal success of the Hollywood reboot machine demonstrates the buying power of existing, impatient audiences that crave new nostalgia content. And remember: these audiences aren’t just made up of “original” fans. Many devotees of The Mandalorian weren’t born when the original Star Wars movies hit theaters, for example. With new generations jonesing for rear-looking offerings, you’ve got no reason not to provide them.
Every successful nostalgia play has a compelling story behind it. In many cases, that story comes from the creator’s own experience, whether it’s fond memories of Dungeons & Dragons games in your parents’ basement or the vintage wardrobe that convinced you to become a fashion designer. Tell your story (or others’) with eloquence and warmth, and customers will reward you.
Rifle through your home’s cabinets and drawers, and there’s a good chance you’ll encounter a popular product originally designed and marketed for an entirely different purpose. Bubble wrap, the ever-popular packaging material, was conceived in the 1950s as a sort of space-age wallpaper but never caught on—for reasons that seem clear in hindsight. Look around: you might just come up with the next Play Dough (originally conceived as a wallpaper cleaner).
Finally, align your products or services with influencers who leverage nostalgia for their own commercial purposes. These partners strengthen your claim to ownership of some slice of the past, boost your credibility with trend-seeking audiences and, most importantly, increase your visibility in a crowded marketplace for refreshed business ideas.
Refreshing and revitalizing old products or trends might put you on the right track, but it’s no guarantee of a successful outcome. A winning business strategy is more than an inspiration or idea. It’s a system, a well-oiled machine that spins lots of different inputs into a beautiful, profitable end result.
This means you can’t bet your next big business initiative’s success or failure on nostalgia alone. Even timeless ideas need modern practices and strategies to flourish. Even as you embrace the past and its potential to take your business to the next level, keep one eye on the future, too.
John Hall is the co-founder and president of Calendar, a scheduling and time management app. He’s also the strategic adviser for Relevance, a company that helps brands