Rediscover the Soul

It was meant to be THE launch. The event that would help rescue ailing telecoms company Nokia from its perilous slide into brand irrelevancy.

Last week to a packed audience in New York, Nokia Senior VP Jo Harlow unveiled the Lumia 920 smartphone; the device many predict will either make or break the struggling Finnish company.

Harlow beamed as she proudly proclaimed that the Lumia is ‘the most innovative smartphone in the world’. Unfortunately, the markets didn’t quite share her enthusiasm. Nokia’s share price slumped by 11.4% to a meagre $2.51 following the announcement.

Worse still, consumers that actually want to get their mitts on this gizmo, well, can’t. It’s currently unavailable to order online, it doesn’t exist in retailers, and you can’t request one from your network provider. Following all the hype, Nokia still has yet to publish a date for release. And with yesterday’s announcement of the iPhone 5, they are certainly treading treacherous waters.

Not only are consumers frustrated by having zero opportunity to explore and discover the device, it also appears Nokia has been a little crafty when it comes to their advertising. On the same day as the announcement, technology news site “The Verge” revealed a rather damaging video clearly showing that a recent Nokia ad isn’t exactly as it appears.

In footage which we are led to believe is being shot using a Lumia to showcase its Optical Image Stabilisation functionality (OIS), it transpires that it was indeed captured using a large static camera, complete with lighting rig.

The Lumia may actually be brilliant and OIS may indeed work, but by pulling this trick Nokia has lost the confidence of its audience. Even if they could get their hands on one, many will now choose not to.

Nokia could have done this so differently. For one, they should have believed in their product and avoided any attempt to portray it as something it’s not.

If the OIS feature was actually as good Nokia claimed, they could have invited a bunch of customers to have access to the phone before anyone else and then challenge them to create the shakiest movie possible – by mountain biking, show jumping, kitesurfing, whatever – but share the experience and showcase how good the product is at the same time.

This wouldn’t be the brand talking, it would be the customer. But this takes confidence in the product, something clearly Nokia doesn’t have. Unfortunately, now its audience doesn’t either.

Humanise the brand

For proof of what’s possible by inviting your audience to co-create your marketing, you don’t have to look any further than Tom Dickson of Blendtec fame. Granted, this is an example that has done the rounds, but I think it perfectly illustrates the power of having utter belief in your product, and then inviting your audience to be part of the experience.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Tom, his company makes blenders. And just 6 years ago, it was relatively unknown. Now Tom and his CMO George Wright didn’t have a multi-million dollar advertising budget, but they did have amazing creativity and total belief in the quality of their offering.

They concocted an idea where Tom would dress up like a nutty professor, complete with white lab coat and goggles and invite members of the public to suggest things he could blend in his little blender.

If you take a look at Tom’s YouTube channel you will see he’s blended everything from iPads to Justin Bieber DVD’s. Within five days of launching this campaign, Tom’s initial videos had been viewed more than 6 million times (now at over 100 million and counting). Sales have increased by over 700%; all for the cost of a video camera, lab coat and plastic goggles.

“Will it Blend” works because Tom is authentic. This approach totally humanises the Blendtec brand, transforming it from a soulless manufacturer into “Tom’s company”.

Tom isn’t an actor; he isn’t claiming things that aren’t true – he’s just himself; loving his product and loving his work. But above all, its successful because he involves his audience. He invites them into the experience – to participate and suggest stuff they want to see; they become part of the story. This proves that advertising isn’t dead – just that in order for it to be effective, it can’t feel like advertising.

Rediscover the soul

Going back to our Finnish friends, there is no doubt Nokia is in a bit of a pickle. But then, so was Apple back in 1996. When Steve Jobs returned to the company he founded, it was on its last legs. It had bloated, grey, slow products and was facing imminent bankruptcy. Apple had become irrelevant.

Was the answer to add more product features? Slash prices? Spend tons on promoting what they had? No. It was to bring back the magic that had made Apple great in the first place. Apple still had a soul; it just needed to rediscover it. Just like with Tom from Blendtec, Apple needed to humanise.

The act of branding is often confused with logos, taglines and colour charts. Branding is none of these things. Branding is simply understanding who your company is, what it values and why it matters. For Apple, this was always about being the rebel – thinking different and challenging the status quo. They needed to reconnect with the people who believed in them from the start, whilst at the same time provide a message to new customers that would cut through the noise.

This wasn’t a time to talk about speeds and feeds, MIPS and MHz, this was a time to celebrate who Apple was. The “Think Different” campaign didn’t attempt to sell their irrelevant product lines. It sold who Apple was and what it believed. Customers saw themselves in Apple’s story – if you were a change maker, a rule breaker, someone who moved forward the human race, then you were one of them.

We all know that Nokia produces mobile phones; we’ve probably all owned one of their devices at one point in our lives. But what’s lacking is the same thing that was lacking with Apple back in 1996 – we have no clue who Nokia is – it’s lost its connection with its brand purpose.

I continue to write about Apple because it’s one of the greatest turnaround successes in our time. They’ve gone from a bloated, irrelevant nobody, staring bankruptcy in the face, to the world’s most valuable company in just 16 years. That’s the power of branding. There could be hope for Nokia yet.

  • SimonStafferton

    Its telling that I wasn’t even aware of this launch until reading your post. Apple are everywhere, Nokia will have to pull off a miracle to gain any real market share!