Nokia World 2011: Back From The Brink But Not Yet Fully Out Of The Woods

Dan Bieler and Katyayan Gupta

This was possibly the most important Nokia World event ever. Nokia had to demonstrate that it can deliver against its plans. In February 2011, Nokia communicated its intention to team up with Microsoft to develop its new platform and to “entrust” its Symbian operating system to Accenture. In total, 3,000 visitors from 70 countries attended Nokia World 2011 in London to hear and see what the “new Nokia” looks like.

In essence, it was clear what Nokia World 2011 would be all about before the actual event had even started. Nokia had to produce a device that can take on the iPhone and the Galaxy. At the event, Nokia announced the launch of the first “real Windows phone” in the form of the Lumia 800. The result is an impressive device that certainly secured Nokia a seat at the table of the tripartite of leading smartphones platforms.

At a price point of €420, the Lumia 800 impresses through a very intuitive and refreshing interface. And yes, the choice of Microsoft as a partner has certainly produced the best ever Nokia device. It will give Apple and Samsung a run for their money. It was all the more noticeable that Microsoft was absent during the key note address. Nokia also unveiled its emerging market flagship "Asha" device series, which sits somewhere between feature and smartphones. The Asha family comprises four models that target the youth segment in emerging markets. These devices are priced between €60 to €115, feature touch and QWERTY, games like Angry Birds, and one of them is also dual SIM.

A key area for Nokia to improve relates to its business-focused solutions. The current strategy comes across as underdeveloped and underexplored. The current strategy could be summarised as “what works for consumers also works for SoHos and SMBs.” This does not reflect the demand that we hear from the businesses we speak to. Even SMBs often have fairly specific communication requirements.

In our view, Nokia’s go-to-market and marketing strategy remain Nokia’s Achilles heel. First, Nokia must commit sufficient resources to getting the flagship devices out to customers. A flawless distribution strategy has never been more important. It is encouraging to see that Nokia has reworked its relationship with telcos by stopping its own online device sales. Second, Nokia must overcome the engineering pitch in that still lingers in certain segments of its marketing organisation and move toward storytelling and experience sharing. Moreover, Nokia’s marketing focus on the 25-year old age group and “the 25-year old in all of us” might turn out to be too simplistic and risks not sufficiently addressing the more mature – and prosperous – target audience. Communicating “ageless class,” which the Lumia 800 does, looks smarter.

Overall, we found at Nokia World 2011 a mix of familiar old themes, such as device-centric presentations, but also a distinctly un-Finnish aura. Nokia has clearly broken with its past and is writing a new chapter in its history, once again reinventing itself as it has done before. We believe that Nokia will find the right balance between cultivating its partnership with Microsoft and pursuing the goals that were the reason for partnering with Microsoft: avoiding the pursuit of an app-centric strategy; developing context-specific solutions involving hardware features, applications, and network intelligence; and linking interests and activities. So far, so good.