In the Chinese zodiac, 2017 is the Year of the Rooster, but it could just as well be called the Year of the Comeback. Even as the gladiatorial contest between Federer and Nadal at the Australian Open tele-ported nostalgic viewers back to a previous decade, another comeback was quietly being scripted at the offices of Nokia.
Just days after Federer’s age-defying Grand Slam victory, the global telecom industry was abuzz with rumours, later confirmed, of the re-launch of the iconic Nokia 3310, whose debut in 2000 pre-dates the great man’s first Grand Slam title.
This news was the subject of a lively debate at a recent get-together with some former colleagues from Nokia India. Why do it, and will the bold and unconventional move succeed?
The underlying strategy can only be guessed at, but the answers may lie in the history of the cult product and the Nokia brand. The first phone for millions of Indians, Nokia 3310 helped propel Nokia to the pinnacle of its success, both globally and in India. It sold over 120 million units world-wide and helped Nokia to move from a position of ‘market leadership’ to ‘market dominance’ in India. Within a few years of its launch, eight out of every 10 phones sold in India were made by Nokia!
The key to its success was not technology leadership, but rather Nokia’s consumer understanding that gave the mass market exactly what it wanted, along with some simple but compelling innovations.
It was a compelling entry-level product and did not need much marketing support as it practically sold itself. To paraphrase Heineken, when you make a great phone, you don’t have to make a great fuss. Marketing budgets were largely allocated to flagship products that created the brand pull for entry products.
For the day, the phone was small and ergonomic, virtually indestructible and easy to use. It had a very long battery life and broke the price barrier of `10,000. Importantly, it was also customised for India with industry firsts like local language support. And, of course, it had the hugely popular and addictive video game, Snake!
There is a story of product localisation as a key strategy for Nokia’s success in India, but 3310 is only a small part of that story which began with the Saare Kahaani De Achha ringtone in Nokia 5110 and climaxed with the ‘Made for India’ Nokia 1100.
Coming back to the present, what can we expect from the new Nokia 3310? Will it spark a nostalgia wave to help resurrect the Nokia brand? Will it be a reliable second phone of choice for those times when notoriously short-lived smartphone batteries die on you? Is it for those who seek simplicity or want to rebel against the 24X7 intrusion of smartphones in their lives? Can we expect the Millennials of the Pokemon Go generation to switch from their phablets to a device harking back almost to the Pac-Man era?
The good news for Nokia is that, defying the odds, ‘Dumbphone’ sales continue to sustain in India with a volume share of half the market, and the Nokia 3310 could find a niche there. Let’s hope it can help Make Nokia Great Again!
(The author was the managing director of Nokia in India when 3310 was launched. He is currently Founder/Director at GreenBean Ventures Pvt Ltd)