The re-entry of Nokia’s Lumia 800 into the top 10 bestselling handsets last month took some in the trade by surprise. But optimism abounds at Nokia, despite the seemingly daily reports about the difficulties facing the Finnish manufacturer. For Conor Pierce, Nokia’s Western Europe general manager, it is a question of perspective.
He dismisses the negative press around Nokia as ‘noise’ and says he is focused on the longer term. ‘You ask questions about the next three months. What’s more important is the next three years. Of course, we are a challenger and we will continue to battle away.’
The first Lumia device was launched in November, and Nokia’s performance should be measured against how the first Android and iOS devices performed after they launched, says Pierce.
The home market
But what of Stephen Elop? Nokia’s CEO said in April that establishing momentum, ‘particularly in the UK, has been more challenging’. So what happened? Pierce claims the home market is under tremendous pressure. ‘It always has been a highly competitive and mature market and it’s going through enormous changes.’
Pierce says he enjoys working in a challenging environment and takes great satisfaction from watching people achieve something others deemed impossible. ‘You need to understand that this [fightback] is going to take hard work. It won’t be done in a day. I have done it before when I worked for Nokia in Turkey.’
Pierce says that generating retail advocacy is top of the agenda for Nokia in the UK market. While the manufacturer has been buffeted by negative headlines for some time, reviews of its Windows-powered Lumia portfolio have been positive, with some handsets winning prizes. Retailers and operators privately admit they are great phones, with a quirky but easy to use operating system.
But the problem for Nokia is that retail staff find it much easier to sell a Samsung Galaxy Ace or an Apple iPhone to a customer rather than convincing them to purchase a Lumia device.
This is why Pierce is putting so much into Nokia’s ‘hearts and minds’ strategy. The company has seeded 10,000 Lumia devices, and Pierce says Nokia will benefit from the increasing confidence staff have in the handsets. ‘It’s easy for staff to sell what they are familiar with. The challenge and opportunity is that we need to find and engage in many different channels to help them understand the value proposition and simplicity of the sale.’
This frontline focus goes above Pierce. When Nokia CEO Elop visits London, he frequently pulls the UK head out of his Soho office to mystery shop what staff are saying about the Lumia range. Pierce says the company is listening to feedback. He cites the entry-level Lumia 610 as an example of how it has responded to the desire for cheaper smartphones to entice consumers to trade up. A key focus for Nokia will be those who have stuck with the brand for years. Pierce reveals that net promoter scores have hit an all-time high, another sign that the Lumia portfolio is gaining traction.
However, he accepts the business needs to move faster, a view shared by Elop. While being coy on details, Pierce says further retail initiatives are in the pipeline. He has also been heartened by the headway Windows is starting to make in the app market. With around 100,000 apps, it is still some way off the half a million offered by either Google Play or Apple’s App Store, but Pierce claims around 300 apps are being added to the Windows Marketplace each day. This is a critical means of increasing Lumia sales, as more apps will generate consumer excitement in the ecosystem, encouraging more developers to work on the Windows Phone platform.
Pierce says he wants to continue to position Nokia as a challenger brand with fresh innovations in the smartphone market. It may not be a technological differentiation, but he claims the colourful Lumia range provides an eye-catching contrast to ‘the sea of black’ devices. At the recent launch of the Lumia 610, Pierce spoke of its hydrophobic technology, which makes drops of water literally bounce and roll off the handset. Meanwhile, features from its forthcoming 42-megapixel PureView smartphone are set to be imported onto future Lumia devices.
The mobile industry is hopeful this strategy will pay off. Pierce’s approach has been praised for bringing empathy to a company long-criticised for displaying the arrogance of a market leader. And it is hoped the business can recapture some of its old magic, if only to bring some more competition to a market where Samsung and Apple are now the dominant players.
Nokia’s problem could be one of history. Once a dominant player starts to wane, some argue it can never fight back and re-establish its dominance over the market. If this is true, is Pierce trying to do the impossible job? ‘I don’t think it’s impossible,’ he says. ‘It’s very possible if you are doing the right things, and I think we are doing them. I am confident we have the right focus and it’s trying to understand where the value is to partners, retailers and, most importantly, the people.
‘When I go into stores and talk to people using the Lumia devices, they are loving them. The challenge we have is not the noise you are referring to. The challenge is to keep focusing on what we do best. We know where we are going.’