As we steam into summer, we are about to see the annual appearance of veteran rockers strapping on the guitars for one more round of concerts.
In the parlance of the music industry, groups such as the Rolling Stones, Steely Dan and Foreigner are known as “legacy acts,” as if in some way this makes them more relevant. Well, the reason they do it is because it works (I know it does, because I just bought my Steely Dan/Elvis Costello tickets).
Over in our world of consumer electronics, we sometimes see a similar dynamic. Often a company or investment group will resurrect an old brand and try to bring it back to life. Or it goes the other way, and someone like Kodak or Polaroid licenses the brand to a manufacturer and gets back in the game that way.
In either fashion, the goal is to reach back into a pool of leftover brand equity and use that to catapult back into the market.
Most of the time it doesn’t work, for the unfortunate reality is that many old brands went out of business because, well, they lost the war. Polaroid and Kodak, for example, watched the world go digital all around them, and then fell into the trap of feverishly protecting their “core” business – which is great except that core business was going out of business right before their eyes.
So imagine the surprise when the market went nuts last week when another grizzled brand was about to stage a comeback. Re/code broke the story that Nokia was thinking about getting back into the handset game. People ran into the streets screaming with happiness, and everyone got a puppy. Well not quite, but the reception was incredible, as if some brand equity dam had suddenly burst open.
Except for one little problem: Nokia walked the whole thing back on Sunday, claiming up and down and every way possible that none of this was true. Now from a legal point of view, their reaction was almost inevitable. Nokia’s existing handset business was bought lock, stock and barrel by Microsoft just last year. Part of that deal was an agreement that Nokia would not re-enter the handset business until next year.
So we are left with people feverishly responding to a company NOT releasing a new product. To say that this is brand equity that companies would kill for is an understatement. And as much as it’s fun to make fun of brands that do stupid things on a daily basis, let’s talk for a second about a brand that for years got it all right.
t’s hard for people to remember this, but Nokia was Apple before Apple was. I know that seems ludicrous these days, but gather around you young’uns and we will explain what the world was like before the iPhone.
Here are the three reasons Nokia still has such a hold on us.
1.Nokia got their brand into the public consciousness.
Nokia understood placement early on and worked the game better than anyone else. Want to know what their latest handset was? No need to guess, because every season Mulder and Scully were carrying it on “The X-Files.” And the phones that snapped open in “The Matrix”…Nokia. Nokia even had fun with the fact that many people thought the Finnish company was actually Japanese, funneling a joke to that effect into the first “Transformers” movie.
2.The software must work better.
Nokia used Symbian, which was a fabulous operating system designed from the ground up for the mobile environment. This meant it ran fast in low processor/memory environments and it was extremely battery-friendly. But in a move that Android recognizes, Nokia also “forked” the software, making it run even better. As a result, Nokia phones were “snappier,” for lack of a better word, responding instantly to key commands and scrolling quickly through menus.
3.The phones felt different.
Apple uses their software to differentiate their phones, and with Nokia it was the industrial design that was the differentiator. They were heavier, which may seem these days to be a liability. But the weight was powerful and dynamic, in the same way that people equate Mercedes with the “thunk” sound the door makes. Their phones just felt good in your hands. They didn’t scratch easily and were built like tanks. I dropped my Nokia 2,110 more times than I can remember, even fully exploding the beast on several occasions. I just took the pieces, fit them all back together, and the sucker worked.
To this date there are tribute sites on the web where people talk about their old Nokia handsets. It was that brand that first touched us differently than any other electronics company before them. We loved our Nokia phones, so it’s not surprising that last week we saw this outpouring of pent-up energy.
And who knows, with all the brand loyalty shown last week, even after all these years, maybe, just maybe, Nokia will be back. Just not this year.
Christopher Caen is a partner and chief brand strategist of Theory Associates, a strategic branding agency that creates demand for some of the world’s leading technology brands. He can be reached at [email protected].