Inside Nokia's plan to bring the brand out of the engineers’ room and into the consumer consciousness again

The Nokia 3310 launch stole the show at Mobile World Congress, no doubt to the displeasure of every PR exec flown into Barcelona last week. While it dominated column inches, in reality the cutesy handset was kept on the periphery of the Finnish company’s stand at the conference in favour of a huge display of its 5G technology.

It wasn’t the only stand to feature 5G; it seemed that every MWC 2017 stand had decided to feature it, along with some sort of drone, according to bemused delegates on Twitter. But Nokia was one of the only mobile brands to dedicate its presence to the new ultra-reliable, low-latency connection tech.

It was shown in the context of real-life: for instance, how 5G can be used to launch a VR experience at a stadium, aid the safety of chemical engineering and provide communication networks when all others fail in a crisis situation.

Avoiding talking about the tech and instead focusing on the benefits is of 5G is the approach that is also naturally flowing into Nokia’s 5G marketing strategy, according to Phil Twist, vice president of marketing and communications for mobile networks.

“If you look at how we're trying to position 5G, it's not about the fact that we've got a massive Mymo eight by eight or 64 by 64 antenna. It's looking at the intelligence and the value that goes behind it rather than just the technology side itself," he told The Drum.

“The sort of things we're talking about with our brand are things like the human potential of technology. Because it's boxes and it’s bits and it's bytes and it’s speeds and it’s feeds and it gets engineers excited and actually… [we want to explain] why do you need it? What does it bring to you?”

While it’s a far cry from advertising affordable handsets to the masses, Twist believes this focus isn't a shift in brand positioning but one that reflects what Nokia is about “really nicely”. Which makes sense: after its market share decreased with the rise of the smartphone, the Nokia brand became less of a present icon to the average consumer and more of a nostalgic throwback with the hype around the 3310 and the return of Snake being a symptom of this.

But while this was happening the brand was ticking over in the back room of B2B sales, occasionally crossing back over with products such as the Ozo VR camera.

Now, 5G brings a range of real-world uses, which the brand hopes will get consumers talking again. Twist emphasised: “5G is not just the next ‘G’. It’s something rather more than that. This is the one that opens up a business case which is not about voice minutes or megabytes of data, or whatever."

He continued: “This is the one where you have a proposition of virtual reality sports event transmitted to your home, or an autonomous driving function so that your car can take you through a traffic jam without you having to sit behind the steering wheel. It’s the ‘why’ - what are you going to do with it? What's the use case, what do people pay for, what do they want out of the technology? And that's what we're focusing the marketing activity on.”

It would be wrong to expect any ambitious consumer campaigns for Nokia 5G anytime soon – most experts at MWC were benchmarking the 2020s as the decade the tech will really come to the fore. Twist explained: “It's not going to be a replacement for the networks we currently know – it’s going to be an adjunct that brings new capabilities, but in specific use cases and probably just in specific areas for quite some time to come.”

However the brand’s commitment and investment in 5G is clear, and it’s already speaking with “probably 45” mobile carriers about trials and testing. And with the UK government now also committed to being at the forefront of 5G via its National Productivity Investment Fund, Nokia’s work in the space is likely to enter the public consciousness before any grand marketing plans go live.

“I think 5G is going to appear everywhere eventually and the biggest challenge with governments is making sure that the spectrum availability is not a limiting factor in what's going on,” said Twist.

“We're making sure [the] net neutrality types of discussions [are] understood and on the table, so that we don't have those limitations. But that's not just us – the whole industry needs to be able to move those things forward.”

Katie Deighton

Katie Deighton is The Drum’s senior reporter - creative and video based in London. She produces, films, presents and edits the title’s editorial video output, including series such as On The Scene, Ad Breakers and Why I Left Advertising, and manages its coverage of the creative sector. She also reports on the intersection between politics and marketing, as well as the third sector and fashion.

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