Saturday, 17 May 2008

Nokia goes for 1% market share in the US

Okay, I'll admit in advance that this is going to be a pretty snarky post, but it never ceases to amaze me how badly Nokia handles itself in the US market. In Europe and most of the rest of the world, Nokia operates like a fighter jet, incredibly nimble and powerful. But in the US, it's more like a biplane. An old biplane. With holes in the wings. Nokia's market share in the US has dropped from 20% to 7% in the last two years (link), and sometimes I wonder if it's trying for 1%.

Case in point: Nokia's "Open to Anything" ad campaign featuring people who have created software for Nokia N95 smartphones (link).

It features, swear to God, a guy who created a self-hypnosis application for the N95, someone who created a bad breath detector, a man in the Witness Protection Program who created a location-aware app to track the hit men chasing him, a ditzy woman who uses the phone to track fertilizer schedules for her plants, a jealous wife who created a lie detector, and a flake Jewish photographer who glued together two n95s to create a 3D camera.

"You've never really seen a bris until you've seen a bris in 3D." --Nokia's website

They're all fantasy applications from obviously fake people, but beautifully animated in an elaborate Flash-driven site.

From time to time, I've talked with Nokia employees who were confused about why people don't buy more application software for their Nokia S60 smartphones. There are a lot of reasons -- lack of awareness that they can do it, lack of a built-in software store on the device, incompatibility between various versions of S60, etc. But one huge reason is because no one has ever made a compelling case to most users on why they should care about smartphone software.

The triumph of creativity over business sense

The Open to Anything campaign is a great example of how Nokia's hurting itself in the applications business, and in the US market in general. I'm sure Nokia's intent was to do something light-hearted to draw attention to the N95, and if you view the ads as standalone short films they are moderately witty. You see this a lot in online marketing lately -- a creative agency will create humorous websites (often with video) designed to draw traffic from bored web surfers. But unless the ads also align with your strategy, they don't drive sales. In Nokia's case, they actually do harm:

--Once again, Nokia is communicating that its users are freaks and morons, which in the US is not the way to build a loyal following. Nokia has a long habit in the US of positioning itself as the preferred phone of people who lack social skills. At least this time there aren't any sluts in the ad (link).

--The benefit of an open phone is not that you can write your own apps, it's that you can buy applications created by others. Almost no one wants to create their own apps. So we're being told that N95 users are not only freaks and morons, but they are freaks and morons who have programming skills -- an even narrower demographic.

--Since the argument for why users should care about applications has not been made, showing a bunch of nonsensical applications actually makes people less likely to take an interest in mobile apps at all. It trivializes the whole idea of mobile software, at a time when Nokia claims it is trying to make itself into a computing company that can compete with Apple and Google.

Meanwhile, Apple's ads depict its users as smart and hip, it puts its CEO on stage with real developers showing lustworthy iPhone applications, and it plans a built-in software store for the iPhone. Care to guess which platform is going to get more user and developer loyalty?

I'm tempted to start taking bets on when the iPhone application base will be larger than S60's. Unless Nokia wises up quickly, it won't take long.

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