I’m going to interrupt the Cloudy Days for Data series again to muse this time about marketing…
I’ve been very pessimistic on Nokia’s future prospects in the United States but there’s no distinction in that stance; so has just about every other pundit. It seems like every time Nokia had something novel to offer, whether it be new devices like the promising internet tablets or a potentially hot service like Ovi, the ball wound up fumbled… sometimes by design.
A large part of that design was the stubborn insistance on model numbers over names, despite the allure shown by competing products like the iPhone and Blackberry. It’s been long known that this sort of branding resonates loudly with US citizens, so when Nokia portfolio manager Ira Frimere declares in a recent Computerworld article:
“I’ve learned it’s not what I like, but what my customer likes,” he said.
…I have to wonder when this epiphany occurred for him. No offense meant to Mr. Frimere, but I recall numerous conversations in Nokia US offices over this subject and that was the one consistent theme behind them all. It did not matter what Nokia executives thought; wrapping product branding and marketing strategies around customer needs and wants is paramount. Marketing 101.
That is not at all to say that nomenclature alone determines a product’s success. That is certainly not the sole driver behind RIM, Samsung and Apple quickly and easily overtaking Nokia in the US smartphone market. But it is certainly an important psychological aspect that cannot be cavalierly dismissed.
Another quote by Frimere, as follows:
“Our strategy is to get as many devices into U.S. carriers as possible,” Frimere said in an interview. “We want to be No. 1 in the U.S.”
…is another I’ve heard ad nauseum, both in and out of Nokia’s halls. It was a rallying cry for us (current and former Nokia US employees) in 2006 but the enthusiasm fizzled with job, site and market share losses. The main problem has been that the obvious actions have not matched the stated goals in too many instances. I can only hope that there are corporate moves of which the rest of us are unaware– but that hope grows thinner by each market-share-sliding quarter.
The most recent buzz has been more about operating systems, though, than naming conventions. Nokia’s homegrown Linux variant, Maemo, is poised for a refresh both in user interface and device host. It’s a little late to many of the myriad developers still fiercely loyal to the novel platform, but Maemo is slowly starting to garner the sort of media cache usually reserved for hard products like phones. Knowing the specifications and the capable team behind the operating system, I’m guardedly optimistic on its prospects. The only thing that can get in the way of Nokia now is Nokia itself– has the company truly managed to find a way to straddle the precarious razor divide between open source software and for-profit devices? Can it successfully manage the necessary transition from Symbian‘s horizontal success to the more vertical computing needs going forward?
To be fair to Frimere and Nokia in general, I found another quote by IDC analyst Sean Ryan to be rather disingenuous:
“Mention Nokia to the average American and nobody has ever heard of it.”
Tell that to the multitude of Nokia-toting people I encounter every day. In fact I cannot go a single day without hearing that default ringtone emerging from some unexpected location. So, true, Nokia’s current share is too small to sustain, but there was a time when Nokia was king in the US. People still remember; when they find out I used to work for the company, they regale me with stories of the indestructable brick phone they still miss. There is pent-up demand for Nokia– the continuing challenge is all about capitalization.
The problem is that not only has Nokia fumbled the ball, they consistently fail to recover it even with a collective eye on it. Nokia claims they will prevail– the only question now is, has the game passed them by? I hope to hear from Ira Frimere and others on that score.
Thanks to Stephen Gadsby for the Computerworld article link.