As HMD Global gets ready to boost Nokia’s smartphone sales in India, Pekka Rantala and HMD India’s Ajey Mehta speak to BrandWagon’s Ankita Rai on how the company plans to push the brand into public consciousness and engage with its fans while further building on core values of reliability and trust. Edited excerpts:
What is Nokia’s growth strategy for India? What is your association with Kolkata Knight Riders about?
Ajey Mehta: In 2018, we are focussing on three key areas. One, expanding our portfolio so that we operate across price points. We have launched four products now and will further expand our portfolio. Two, deepening our channel presence. We have 510 exclusive distributors in India and more than one lakh sales outlets are now selling Nokia phones. We have deep relationships with e-commerce partners, in addition to launching our own e-commerce site. Three, marketing. We have associated with Kolkata Knight Riders as a principal sponsor. Basically, we are looking to leverage platforms which can give us scale. We want to make an announcement that we are back. In addition, we are picking up assets which are targeted at young millennials as we need to increase our relevance among our target consumers.
The next thing we need to do is active fan engagement. It is going to be a big focus area this year. We want to connect with our fans and make them our ambassadors. We will use Nokia.com not just to sell devices but also as a marketing platform to connect with consumers.
Pekka Rantala: The focus is on growth. We grew five times within eight months in the last year alone. It may sound boring but in the last one year, we have improved on all possible brand aspects such as brand numbers, preferences, awareness, sales trade, partnerships, etc.
HMD Global will soon introduce yet another revamped version of its classic Nokia feature phones. Is relaunching iconic phones a marketing gimmick? Detractors say Nokia is banking too much on the nostalgia factor for its comeback…
Rantala: We want to have fun with our fans. We love many of our old Nokia phones and so do our fans. So every now and then, we take something special from the past — the classic design — and make it fresh and modern with the latest technology. So for example, Nokia 8110 4G combines design from the ’90s with today’s technology. We will continue to play with this. The 8110 4G and the 3110 are different products at different price points. It is not a marketing gimmick. It is true business. The net promoter score of Nokia 3310 is very high. It is doing great in India since its re-launch last summer.
In the past year, of all the marketing and advertising we have done, 99% of it was not based on nostalgia. But when we do something nostalgic, related to our iconic phones, it travels fast, thanks to social media. So even if we don’t intend to, the exposure of nostalgic things is quite a lot, which eventually works in our favour. We can’t complain.
The biggest challenge for Nokia is to break the dominance of Chinese smartphone brands which collectively accounted for 53% in 2017 (IDC). What’s your strategy?
Rantala: The key thing for us is to keep an eye on the consumer and what they want. Our line of products are based on consumer needs and not what our competitor is offering. Therefore, we are not against any brand. I don’t believe in doing tactical things to take on the competition. We want to have a constant and sustainable growth, and make products as per consumer needs.
Brand Nokia stands for reliability, trust and quality, and it has an emotional aspect to it. It has its own character and identity, which many of our competitors lack at this stage of their evolution. We will leverage it to the fullest but at the same time, products must keep the brand promise.
Mehta: There are three pillars to our product strategy — one is design and craftsmanship on the basis of feedback from our consumers. Two, is offering real life experiences such as good imaging and sound, and three is a pure and up-to-date android OS. Then we have a marketing play — packaging all the best features in a phone and marketing it. In addition, we have strong offline channels and e-commerce partnerships. We are also starting our enterprise channel.
Is being a legacy brand a disadvantage while trying to connect with new-age consumers?
Rantala: We haven’t seen it working against us. It is because we are not on a nostalgic trip. We don’t base our operations, branding or marketing based on the nostalgia factor. We want to write the next chapter of Connecting People. But I do think if some brands during their comeback depend too much on nostalgia, it can work against them. It has to be a fresh take.
Mehta: It is both a challenge and an opportunity. The opportunity is that people know our brand very well. The challenge is that people know us as something else. Everybody knows about Nokia but do they know that Nokia has introduced android smartphones? So we are partnering with properties which give us scale and get this message across.
How do you plan to connect with the youth in India?
Rantala: We are focussing on digital, social media and retail to bond with millennials. In fact, two-thirds of our global smartphone buyers last year were people under 35 and in India, it was much higher: more than 70%.
So for new models you are using communication like Phone you can rely on for Nokia 7 Plus or Step up to Smarter for Nokia 1 and so on. Similar communication has been overused in the smartphone space…
Mehta: What’s true to Nokia is its values — it stands for reliability and trust. Our market research shows that consumers expect these values from their Nokia phone. So while it may be basic, we want to bring Nokia back saying it is something you can rely on. After all, a smartphone is a necessity. It is a strong positioning.
India is also the biggest feature phones market globally. Will feature phones continue to be a part of your product strategy?
Rantala: We are bullish on feature phones in a modest way. In terms of value, we became number one in the feature phone segment worldwide in the third quarter of last year. The market is not fading away. There are 1.3 billion feature phone users globally. In India also, the market is big. The focus will be to ensure growth in both segments. The growth, however, will be much faster in the smartphone segment.