16th Jul 2021
3 Min Read

The power of the past. Harnessing nostalgia in your internal comms

Connor Faulkner
Connor Faulkner
IC & Engagement

Did you think football was ever coming home? Even if you didn’t, it was easy to jump on the Euros bandwagon this year thanks to nostalgia. If it can help millions become football fanatics almost overnight, how can IC harness the power of the past?

Whether you were a pessimist until the bitter end or never stopped believing, the sights and sounds of England tantalising the top tiers of international football hark back to decades gone by. But why did the delayed Euros ignite a sense of convivial familiarity among millions who weren’t even born then?

It’s the power to connect people that makes nostalgia such a potent tool. This often-neglected psychological trigger transforms a phrase, item or visual meme into a package of emotions and memories. Valentina Stoycheva in Psychology Today argues that it goes even further.

“[It’s] usually a yearning for our past selves, not just for a time and place. We crave to feel the positive emotions that we felt, to connect to the version of ourselves we were at the time we are reminiscing about.”

It’s about what you feel. When Southgate’s squad faced Germany, he dug into our stubborn island mentality and used it to its full effect. It’s the same idea behind the UK government’s parallels between the pandemic and our Blitz spirit – it denotes a stiff upper lip, the need to band together and stay positive. It’s a shorthand only made possible by short, sharp allusions to the past.

IC what you did there

When a company’s marketing department is talking to customers, they love to play on their brand’s history and heritage. Modern day tech giants such as Adobe and Spotify put this technique to the test in their campaigns, but some – such as Nintendo – make nostalgia a core pillar that’s intrinsically linked to its games and franchises.

And it works – with feelings of nostalgia making consumers more willing to open their wallets. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that nostalgic feelings made participants more willing to spend money on consumer goods and services.

But despite its power, we seldom see nostalgia used in the world of internal communications – and harnessing nostalgia to create must-see IC can make a huge impact on your people.

It can foster a sense of belonging, connect colleagues through a shared collective history and reinforce your vision, values and purpose. And if politicians, tech giants and football managers can use it, why can’t IC pros?

Here are a handful of ways that you could harness nostalgia in the world of internal comms.

A blast from the past

To leverage nostalgia, you first need to remind colleagues of your history – that means an editorial trip down memory lane. This isn’t just content for content’s sake, it’s about reminding your people of their achievements, the sense of history they’ve helped create and evoking a sense of pride in what they do.

Got a long-serving colleague who’s part of the fabric of the company? Get their perspective on how life at your company has changed: how your products and services might have evolved, but how your purpose has remained steadfast.

This could be a monthly feature where long servers interview new starters, or a one-off watch party where colleagues with varying experience sit down virtually to be entertained by the company’s marketing archives. In the latest issue of Severfield’s internal magazine, we’re taking a look at the history of one of the steel fabricator’s business units and it’s made for a brilliant feature.

Whatever you do, share two comparable perspectives to highlight what’s changed and what hasn’t. By outlining your past, present and future, you’ll help readers understand the part they play in getting you there.

Reasons to celebrate

Do you shine a spotlight on your long serving colleagues with decades of dedication under their belts? It’s a sure-fire way to keep your internal comms grounded, authentic and accessible.

Yes, a list of people who’ve racked up 25 years of service might not directly relate to your strategy – but it’ll remind people that their efforts are valued, and that there’s a culture of long service because the company looks after its people.

In our experience, this simple content treatment is often a colleague’s favourite part of a print magazine – and when it’s removed, it usually results in uproar. So don’t look to scrap this much-loved feature – bring it up to date.

That could be an interactive space on your intranet, such as a permanent hall of fame that colleagues can search through, care packages filled with badges, photo props and gift cards, or a hand-written card from the CEO. A work anniversary is a special occasion, after all.

So if you must remove your long servers list, make sure you have an equal – or even better – replacement lined up.

This is your life

We’ve been lucky enough to speak to entire families who’ve been part of the same company or team – from builders’ merchants to security contractors and established supermarkets. Sometimes, a career really does run in the family.

This is a content goldmine, because nothing beats a personal story told with authenticity. Shining a spotlight on a dynasty of colleagues with generations of experience is a powerful way to create authentic content that anyone can dive into – and remind them that people are at the heart of everything you do.

That could be a traditional ‘meet the team’ feature with a twist, a look back at the company’s history from each person’s unique perspective, or even an internal take on Family Fortunes – taking turns to guess key stats, values and the purpose of the company. Remember, gamification’s the future.

Show, don’t tell

Reiterating your history can help you reinforce your values – whether that’s through rich colleague stories, striking visual collateral or repeated in your onboarding process. When you’re wondering which stories to choose, pick those that demonstrate the longevity of your values.

If your relentless pursuit of excellence has been with you for the past 50 years, let your people know by highlighting the projects and people that have been built upon your history. Use this to define your non-negotiables, with a wealth of supporting evidence to back them up.

For a client in the aviation industry, we took colleagues on a journey looking at how their engines went from an initial prototype to powering the aircraft that carry millions around the world. The fascinating feature was filled with archive pictures and quotes from those who developed the turbine.

Or take a step further and make your history a collaborative effort. Think something more akin to an enterprise social network – a forum where colleagues can tell their own stories of past work, share their snaps and contribute to the company’s shared history.

This internal time capsule can be revisited on an ongoing basis and linked back to your present values to remind people that they’ve stood the test of time. It’s a great way to use nostalgia to cut through the noise and confusion, and remind us of the principles that have stuck with us.

Want to find out how to use nostalgia to make an impact with your people? Get in touch

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