‘Find operational efficiencies’: Nokia’s handset marketers adopt hybrid model in pursuit of smartphone marketshare

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In looking to recapture former glories, the company that licenses the Nokia brand has turned to its past and it’s taking more control over how its ads are bought several years after Nokia did the same for how they were created.

This is one in-housing instance that doesn’t signal bad news for agencies though. In fact, HMD Global, the company that has the license to make and sell Nokia-branded handsets, is relying on them more than ever

See Control v. Exposed. The agency is working more like a management consulting firm with Nokia than a de facto media player. Indeed, the media lead for marketing Nokia phones is actually a Control v. Exposed exec who is temporarily based at the smartphone phone manufacturer to shepherd the day-to-day development of its media strategy.

“Nokia wants to get down to the nuts and bolts of what is generating business and where they should put their bets,” said Paul Frampton, president of Control v. Exposed. 

Since Control v. Exposed’s appointment over the summer, Nokia handset marketers have been moving toward a hybrid agency model whereby work is split between its own marketers and Control v. Exposed. This way the marketers get the best of both worlds: control aspects of media buying they deem most valuable such as the contacts with technology vendors like demand-side platforms and the subsequent data they generate — while retaining media specialists they can call on as a variable cost.

In a nutshell, HMD Global wants a media strategy for Nokia handsets that not only works its media dollars harder, but also optimizes data, especially given its plans to sell the phones directly to consumers. 

Unlike its rivals, Nokia can’t dominate TV schedules and online auctions with reams of cash. It’s a far cry from the halcyon days of the Nokia brand when big budget PR stunts and product placements in Hollywood blockbusters were par for the course. Nokia’s brand doesn’t have that cache anymore so its marketers have to react and adapt faster to opportunities as they arise. 

One area of particular focus is data. Nokia-branded handsets are not only a source of anonymized customer data, or first-party data, for targeting and measurement, they’re also a source of telemetry data on how the phone is being used. Eventually, this data would be combined with third-party data, albeit through different tech stack, said Frampton. While third-party data is becoming less valuable in online advertising, it still has its uses, which primarily revolve around reaching new audiences. That’s crucial to a business like Nokia that’s trying to carve out space for itself in an already congested mobile phone market. 

Alongside markets like Germany, the U.S., and the U.K., where the Nokia brand has a strong legacy, HMD Global has its sights set on Indonesia, India, and South Africa where smartphones aren’t as ubiquitous. Doing so could see Nokia’s handset marketers focus on those markets where Apple and Samsung aren’t as dominant.

“There’s an opportunity for the Nokia brand in markets where people are switching from their feature phone to their first smartphone,” explained Frampton.

It’s not the first time Nokia’s marketers have taken on more of the work usually consigned to agencies. In 2014, they created the ads for a brand campaign shortly after the business was acquired by Microsoft. Despite these moves, HMD Global continued to work with agencies to promote Nokia-branded handsets. Indeed, Both Essence and Mindshare, which were appointed in 2017, will continue working with HMD Global.  

“What the last 12 months have taught any marketer is the importance of e-commerce, data and the need to find operational efficiencies, all of which lend themselves to an in-house or hybrid model,” said Ryan Kangisser, managing partner for strategy at advisory firm MediaSense. “The work marketers don’t want to do is the ad ops and the optimization part of media management — but owning that first-party data and their relationship with ad tech vendors are high-value areas.”


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