• Published 5.11.17
Forget selfies, it’s time to take bothies using the Nokia 8

February 2017. Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The big news was the return of a brand that many have grown up with — Nokia. A revived edition of the iconic 3310 took centre stage and suddenly the world forgot that the Finnish brand had been missing from action for long. It was nostalgia at work. And HMD Global, the other Finnish company responsible for Nokia’s revival, knew nostalgia alone wasn’t enough to make a brand survive.

For those who haven’t followed the story closely, here’s a recap. Nokia lost the battle to Apple’s touchscreen technology and sold out to Microsoft in 2013 for $7.2 billion. But luck didn’t favour the Bill Gates-Paul Allen-founded company and Microsoft sold the brand in two parts in 2016 for $350 million. The brand name was sold to HMD Global, formed mostly by former Nokia employees in Finland. The manufacturing arms of Nokia were bought by iPhone manufacturer Foxconn, which also agreed to build the new Nokia phone for HMD.

Since December 2016, HMD Global has used its brand power to rollout 11 mobile phones in 11 months, with all of them proving to be a success. In fact, Nokia 8, the company’s flagship product which launched last month, has taken the challenge to all the big names in the market. And it has not just been about making a comeback; the brand is creating a buzz among the youth with a feature called ‘bothie’ that fires up both the rear and front-facing cameras at the same time, shooting video or photos to be shared live directly to Facebook or YouTube. Wow!

So, why does Nokia still rock? Why is Nokia relevant to millennials? Why is Nokia still the people’s brand? t2oS took the train from 55/56 Rapid Metro Station in Gurgaon in late October. The fellow passenger? Pekka Rantala, the man who spent much of his career at Nokia is now chief marketing officer of HMD Global. Excerpts from our conversation.

Nokia 2

We can’t live in the past

We started our journey as HMD only 11 months ago, so we are a young start-up, a start-up from Finland. It’s early days but when we began our journey last year, we were already listening to phone buyers. We learnt that many didn’t feel secure about their smartphones. We learnt that many were running old versions of their smartphone software. Many of them were frustrated with preloaded software applications that came with their phones. These were issues that were addressed by our special take on Android… keep it pure, secure and up to date, providing frequent security updates, providing frequent software updates and not loading anything extra to our devices.

We are working on a brand that everyone out there knows about. We are a brand that people are still passionate about. There is so much equity we can leverage. We don’t want to live in any kind of nostalgia world. We want to move forward and live in the present. We have been and will be taking selective things from the past but those too need a modern spin. I understand the word nostalgia. Many people out there — young or old — they consider retro to be a phenomenon and we can benefit from that. But we can’t live in the past. So we will be staying true to the core values of brand Nokia, which is about reliability, quality and trust. And then there is innovation.

Nokia 3310


A new beginning

We have a wonderful marriage with Nokia Corporation and we haven’t just loaned a name from them. It’s a new beginning. We want to be, once again, one of the leading mobile phone players out there. We strongly believe that we can achieve that in both feature and smartphone segments. We may reach the target quicker in the feature phone segment because we have had a flying start and we inherited the feature phone business.

When it comes to smartphones, we have to innovate, which we have been doing for the last 11 months. Competition is tough and not a walk in the park. We need to make choices and we need to listen to people. It’s not necessarily about looking at what competition is doing. We are trying to have a good conversation with our consumers.

We know that Nokia is a unique brand (and not just a trademark) that has been around for over 150 years. So, we have a big responsibility. The brand has always had a purpose and has always been very different from any other tech products out there. And millennials always look for brands with a purpose. We are that brand. Over 80 per cent of the Indian visitors to our site or social media accounts are millennials. Which means we are moving in the right direction.

We are taking India seriously

India is a very special place for us. The bonding between consumers here and the brand has always been exceptional. In India, Nokia is everyone’s brand, which means we can be present at every single price point. With our smartphone and feature phone range, we are covering a number of relevant price points but, of course, we still feel it’s possible to evolve and develop the portfolio further. We can always come up with products at price points that we haven’t discovered yet. That we are taking India seriously can well be seen with the launch of Nokia 2 (will hit the market mid-November), which rolls out from your country.

We keep hearing about flagship model features cascading down to lower models of smartphones. The most important feature of Nokia 2 can reverse the trend. Many people feel frustrated and uncertain about the number of times one needs to charge the phone in a day. Can I trust my phone if I am out for nine hours and even if I have to make calls, browse the Net? Will my phone have enough charge? That’s why we decided to design a phone that makes a perfect companion for two days. So two-day battery life is a promise we are giving with Nokia 2. The two-day battery life of Nokia 2 isn’t there in Nokia 8. That’s a good example of good things not always starting at the top. Even though it would be priced around Euro 100, we haven’t compromised on quality. The phone is packed elegantly and has the Nokia design. It’s a solid package.

Nokia has always been a brand that wants to democratise technology. We ensure that all our phones are secure, be it Nokia 2 or Nokia 8. We are also partnering with companies that add value to consumers, like Carl Zeiss, which is a 170-odd years old optical giant. You will see more of this in the future. Moving forward, there will be more companion brands available.

A happy Finn

I admire the vibrancy of your country. All the people I have met here are full of energy and always wanting to progress while looking at the future. This is as much home as Finland, where people are emotional about Nokia. I get goosebumps when I speak about the responsibility brand Nokia has in Finland (the company in its heyday contributed greatly to Finland’s GDP). I am in a very lucky position because I get to do a job that I enjoy. But the job also has a purpose and as a Finn, it’s a privilege to be a part of this journey. It’s on us to bring back one of the most loved consumer brands of all time. Finland is now the first country where our market share has exceeded 10 per cent. This has happened only in a few months. They are proud and happy.

— Mathures Paul

Our mission is very simple. We want to be one of the top mobile phone players in the world in the next couple of years, a journey in which India will play a crucial role. By the end of the year, we will be selling in 100,000 stores. Since we started 11 months ago, India has contributed significantly to our growth story. We see maximum engagement on our social media from India. India is in the top three countries in terms of Nokia smartphone activation

— Florian Seiche, HMD Global CEO

The man spearheading the plans to revive a phone brand that many Indians consider their own is the kati-roll loving, cheese-omelette chomping Ajey Mehta, vice-president, India, HMD Global. Though his job has taken him all over the world, he returns to Calcutta now and then to be with his parents who live in New Alipore. “Calcutta at its heart is always the same. I remember hanging out at The Saturday Club, having cheese omelette. Calcutta taught me simple living and high thinking. I do believe having your feet planted on the ground is very important to being happy. The city has given me a lot.” Here’s what the man told t2oS over coffee.

Redefining and reinventing Nokia

Our target consumers are the purpose-seeking millennials. The Nokia of the old and the Nokia of the new, what remains common are the core values — simplicity, reliability, transparency... these are aspects we want to stay true to. What worked then, will not work now. Legacy is good but legacy can also pull you back. We are in the process of redefining and reinventing Nokia on the same core values.

Here’s a story. When we launched the 3310, the first person to call me was my niece. At that time we didn’t realise the demand that was there in the market. She calls me and asks for a 3310. She also said she wanted 20 pieces of the 3310! Obviously, I couldn’t give her that. Nokia has this very unique appeal to the millennial.

Our focus is on providing the best Android experience. So, when I hear other companies offering stock Android, I really feel flattered because it’s something we started talking about; the others have joined in. We believe in what we want to deliver and not base our proposition on what others are doing. I want to continue pursuing what Nokia stands for, otherwise we will be chasing our tail.

What’s a ‘Bothie’?

Speaking of features that people are talking about, one of them is the bothie on our flagship offering, the Nokia 8. The bothie comes with a dual-sight camera (with Carl Zeiss lens), delivering a split-screen experience. You can live stream on both cameras simultaneously and upload on social media with a single touch. This is a top-of-the-line feature. The speakers come with Nokia OZO Audio, which provides spatial audio and a better reproduction of ambient sounds. Bothie is becoming a word.

I joined Nokia in 2005 and have been on this journey through the ups and the downs. I have used multiple Nokia phones, starting with the 3310, the Communicator, the N95.... The important thing for me is to believe in the brand. There is a word in Finnish... sisu... which means perseverance, staying the course despite all odds. Nokia has reinvented itself multiple times. I simply identify with this brand. I have moved my daughter across 11 schools; I’ve moved 18 homes. I was all in when HMD announced Nokia phones.