Nostalgia and Marketing to Millennials: Part I

 In Content, Marketing

Marketing to Millennials almost requires a time machine. The content Generation Y prefers can be described in a myriad of ways: vintage, retro, old school, classic, etc. However, every descriptor comes back to the same selling point.



The Millennial generation is classified under the youngest demographic of adults. However, it’s the charming allure of their childhood that attracts them to antique boutiques and digital storefronts alike.

It’s funny—many business owners and digital marketers don’t think of this huge demographic as perspective buyers. While they don’t have the liquid cash flow the Baby Boomers have, the Millennials represent a marketplace as well.

In fact, only a handful of major brands harbor a keen understanding of the Generation Y mindset. TOMS, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, and Forever 21 represent a select few that have tapped into the driving force behind Millennial spending habits.

Several corporate powerhouses miss out. As this generation becomes a sought-after voting block, they are also an untapped resource. And this is especially true for small businesses.

The days of giant retail dominance may soon fall by the wayside. If Gen Y has their way, Wal-Mart’s stock prices will plummet, local grease spoons will topple the fast food complex, and vinyl music will compete with Spotify playlists.

Though giant corporate conglomerates will exist as long as low pay exists, David suddenly has a big leg up over Goliath. So if you think this cohort—a stronghold of 80 million—is comprised of selfie-taking and entitled narcissists, think again.

Soon, they’re going to be your customers. And to stay afloat and keep the engagement levels consistently high, your understanding of this generation is paramount.

Nostalgia Everywhere

Yes, it’s 2016, but it seems that we’ve stepped back into the 1990s. And not because there’s a Clinton on the presidential ballot. For evidence of this time warp, look no further than the slew of entertainment coming out.

Reboots of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ghost Busters, and Full House have been financially successful. R.L. Stine, the author of the wildly popular Goosebumps series, is publishing again. MTV will soon re-engage their forgotten demographic with a channel focused solely on 90s entertainment. (Even after the Millennial market abandoned the network.)

Not to mention, the Star Wars and Rocky movie resurgences have resurrected the days of 1970s disco. And it goes even further than that: sales of vinyl music rose by an incredible 52% a couple of years ago.

So why all this nostalgia-based purchasing behavior and engagement?

It’s rooted in memory and simplicity. Millennials yearn to break from the modern world’s several inconveniences.

These days, younger people work harder for lower wages than their parents did.

The guarantee of a fulfilling career after college is long gone. Most can’t even attend a university, which equals what a high school degree did 30 years ago, without saddling themselves with a mound of debt.

They’re stressed out, bottom line. So the content they engage with and the products they buy must provide an escape from the hubbub.

If Nostalgia is the Road, Experience is the Destination

Nostalgia prompts remembrance and feelings of carefree whimsy.

In this way, the Millennial’s adherence to the days of yore is not always rooted in the desire for childhood’s simpler days. Instead, it seems as if marketers would be wise to cater to experiential elements of product development and marketing.

Think about not only about what your product does, but how it makes the end user feel. This is the key differentiator in selling to Millennial buyers.

As I just mentioned, the economic and social climate is tough for Millennials. And hard work doesn’t always pay off. They’re looking for a new experience that separates them from stress, if only temporarily.

When they buy, that’s what they’re thinking about.

To Gen Y, music isn’t background noise or a way to pass the time on the treadmill. It’s an emotional awakening, something designed to enrich lives. Millennials will pay a bit more for vinyl music that creates an atmosphere.


To Gen Y, buying groceries isn’t a fast trip to the super market. They’ll head to Trader Joes instead of a Kroger mega store, so that they can acquire ethically sourced, higher quality foods.

When they get home, they’re unlikely to microwave a frozen burrito. Instead, they’ll steam beets, prepare quinoa and squash, and crumble goat cheese. This endeavor creates an experience, instead of merely fulfilling a necessity.

It’s not that the Generation Y marketplace desires to make things more complicated. Quite the opposite.

Millennials want simplicity. I’ll get into why this is the case in the follow up to this blog. But rest assured, knowledge is not always power—especially if you don’t know what to do with it.

Side note: yes, you read that right. Knowledge is painful sometimes, especially for the Millennial generation. There will be more on that next week, but for now, it’s important to know that the media we’re fed can alter purchasing behavior and individual consumer needs.

How Small Business Marketers Should React

Here’s the big takeaway: there are millions upon millions of prospective buyers that you may not be communicating with. So far, you know that experience is the key to tapping into the Millennial mindset.

More important you know the economic woes, stress, and information overwhelm are all key pain points that businesses must solve.

However, there is more to learn about this demographic. Be sure to tune in next week for part 2 of this article, which will reveal the steps to engage a profitable and under-utilized market.



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