Nokia Angles for North American Re-entry

Phone manufacturer eyeing millennials

A year after Nokia partnered with Microsoft to bring its Windows Phone operating system to Nokia devices, the phone manufacturer is marking 2012 as its “big comeback year” in North America, said the company’s head of North America marketing Valerie Buckingham during a Social Media Week keynote on Feb. 13.

Nokia’s North American re-entry coincides with the continental launch of its Lumia smartphone line this year. The brand has seen its business diminish in recent years, leading it to partner with Microsoft, which itself was slow to capitalize on the smartphone marketplace. The well-received Windows Phone line has been greeted by many wireless experts as the best chance both companies have to re-establish their brands in a market dominated by Android and Apple.

Addressing a concern that Nokia would have to navigate promoting its own brand as well as that of Microsoft’s mobile software—which could mean Nokia promoting its rival manufacturers—Buckingham said Nokia is “initially” focused on promoting the Windows Phone ecosystem.

“We’re as focused right now on building out the ecosystem for Windows Phone because we believe if we can lift the tide, it’s going to lift all boats,” she said, adding that research has shown consumers are more focused on the integrated device as opposed to specific hardware or software offerings.

But before Nokia could launch its re-entry initiative, it had to get a lay of the land. Buckingham acknowledged that the Nokia brand has been under the radar for most North American consumers. “You need to be realistic when you talk to someone you haven’t seen in five years,” Buckingham said.

To that end, Nokia again turned to research. The company identified millennials as a key customer segment because of the demographic’s heavy base of influencers. But before it began messaging millennials, Nokia arranged focus groups and panels to understand the segment and get past its rebellious stereotype. Nokia found that, perhaps surprisingly, young consumers consider their parents to be friends, aren’t rushing to move out of their parents’ homes and question ideas around consumerism.

“If we go out in our communication…with ideas of who people are that aren’t actually accurate, [then] in our world today…it’s immediately apparent when you’re checked out and when you’re clueless,” Buckingham said.

To relieve concerns about authenticity, Buckingham said brands need to balance projecting a single brand voice and encouraging employees to serve as brand custodians. The latter approach, she said, can “open up the pores a little bit and let that reality out.”

She added, “We gotta trust the people that work for us. I think if you build up so many systems that an individual that works for Nokia can’t reach out and be real, then we’ve got a problem."