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Nokia and the American Consumer


Nokia telecommunications brand has attempted to make an impact on the American consumer with their smartphone innovations throughout the years, but the technological giant has had a very hard task in doing so. The American mobile phone user has never latched on to the hype over Nokia, except, maybe for the five minutes of product placement fame the phone had when a version of the 8110 series featured in the Matrix film.

Nokia was the brand of mobile phones that, not too long ago, outperformed both Apple and Samsung in the international market.  It was the brand that once endured strong presence and profitability in regions such as the Middle East, India, Europe, African and Latin American nations, but never so in the United States.

Nokia has innovations in smartphones at price points for all types of buyers and budgets in emerging markets, which contributed to its international appeal years ago. Most importantly, they did not yet have the strong competitive threat from Apple, Samsung and RIM’s Blackberry smartphones, which were all perched on the horizon to replace Nokia on its leadership roster.

In the U.S., while mobile phone users where chattering on their clam shell shaped Motorola, the rest of the world were on trend with Nokia’s innovative designs and technology. But Nokia’s trendy innovations of the day were not directed at the American consumer at an aggressive pace. Nokia did not, or could not, infiltrate the lucrative American marketplace strongly enough in a timely manner. Not doing so helped to relegate the brand to a status of “technologica non grata” within the customer’s mindshare, stateside.

Nokia’s oversight in the American market may not have been an oversight at all. The presence of strong homegrown competition from Motorola combined with the domineering and dictatorial powers of network carriers like Verizon, represented strong barriers to entry into the American mobile phone battleground.  The Finnish telecommunications brand has had an uphill battle in claiming a share of the minds and profits of the American territory for quite a long time, and it has certainly tried. Its Symbian operating system and low quality apps also did not give Nokia the competitive armor it needed.

Nokia relies on its high-end Lumia series to give the company a competitive advantage in America.  The big reveal came in 2012, when the company launched the Lumia 900 with a promotional concert featuring Nicki Minaj in New York’s, Time Square. It was a revelation of grand proportions, witnessed by over 30,000 attendees who more than likely never owned a Nokia, but most certainly have a Minaj hit single on the competitive brand Apple’s iPod.

Nokia’s Time Square battle for minds and profits was followed by a major investment in ad campaigns featuring, ambient, digital and traditional advertising. The long anticipated American launch came at a time when Apple and Samsung were not only dominating the American market, but were also starting to infringe on the profitability and dominance of Nokia in countries overseas.

Should the bittersweet, mostly bitter, relationship between Nokia and the most lucrative marketplace in the world already be improving?  Is Nokia finally here to stay? Have the barriers to entry been broken? Are the Americans convinced?  The financial figure says no, but Microsoft’s take-over of Nokia’s handset division in 2013 says they’ll get there in due time.  Nokia’s Lumia series continuously underperforms in sales in comparison to its competitive counterparts, Apple, Samsung and HTC. Lumia’s limited availability at major carriers including AT&T and T-Mobile also has a negative effect on sales in the U.S., where the network carriers are influential in gearing the profitability of the mobile phone industry.

With the help of Microsoft, Nokia might begin to see gains in the Windows Phone sector. Microsoft’s aggressive marketing agenda should also help Nokia with penetrating the hearts, minds and profits of U.S. customers and techies. The root of the issue is that Americans do not know about Nokia, which is why the brand has invested millions in building and establishing a strong and reputable identity in the North America region, and Microsoft is now poised to help increase the knowledge and sales of Nokia.

At Wednesday’s Build developer conference in San Francisco, Stephen Elop, executive vice president of devices at Microsoft, announced plans to unveil new Nokia Lumia Windows Phones for the American consumer this summer. Elop revealed that plans for a Nokia Lumia 930 launch will also take place in June but only in Nokia’s international markets.

Commentary by Humphrey Bennett


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