HMD Global wants South Africans to fall in love with the Nokia brand againBy Robin-Leigh Chetty 8 March 2017 | Categories: interviews
In the weeks leading up to this year's Mobile World Congress, it was Nokia that stirred up the most interest, with the announcement of the new Nokia 3310 being the standout. In Barcelona it was the most talked about device, as Nokia's exclusive licensing partner HMD Global continued its reintroduction of the Finnish phone brand to consumers.
With a storied history in South Africa, we were intrigued to find out what HMD Global has in store for the country. To that end, we sat down with the company's VP for Sub-Saharan Africa, Justin Maier, and head of portfolio, Patrick Henchie.
TechSmart: HMD describes itself as the "home of Nokia phones." Can you describe the relationship between the two companies, and how it will be positioned for customers?
HMD Global: HMD Global is a Finnish start-up that was birthed rather recently, on the 1st of December  in fact, and appeared a short while thereafter in South Africa. HMD acquired the exclusive license from Nokia to manufacture and distribute devices bearing their logo. Our model at HMD is built around strategic partnerships, which includes ourselves, Nokia, Google and Foxconn.
As far as consumers are concerned, not much will change in terms of how the Nokia brand will be viewed, with all our marketing material and in-store retail setups having a very familiar look and feel to it. Much like you see at the stand here [at MWC 17 in Barcelona], it will all be Nokia, with HMD Global working in the background.
The same goes for the devices themselves, they're all branded Nokia. When they start up they have the Nokia logo and feature the ringtone we've come to know from the Finnish company. Much of the original Nokia team has also transitioned with us, which means much of the same DNA exists.
TS: Speaking of devices, we saw four new products showcased at your press conference. Can you confirm which ones will be arriving locally?
HMD: The plan is to have all four the devices to come to South Africa. We will have global launch events when each device comes to market, and the timing at this stage is Q2 2017.
TS: Some of the devices are pure Android. Can you explain the choice behind that decision and why consumers should look forward to experiencing it?
HMD: Well the decision to go pure Android is a move by HMD to differentiate itself by not differentiating. Google too, has come a long way in terms of what the pure version of the Android OS can do. Add to that our target market, which is a very particular millennial audience.
Chatting to some of the people at the stand, they're excited by the fact that we're running pure Android. It means that there is no bloatware or additional applications getting in the way of their smartphone experience, which is a big thing for us and the user.
It also makes a lot of sense from an enterprise perspective, because our devices will be getting the regular Google security updates, along with having better battery life thanks to Google's Doze functionality.
TS: Prior to MWC 17, the new Nokia 3310 was the most talked about device. Now that it has been revealed, what has the initial reaction been like?
HMD: We were on hand at the stand yesterday [27 February], which isn't something we normally do, but it was important for us to be a part of such a pivotal moment for our company. The aisles at our booth were full, and we pointed out to journalists that the small stand that you cannot get close to, that's all because of a feature phone.
A lot of people have asked us why we decided to do a feature phone, and we simply say that consumers have been coming to us and saying, "Remember the 3310? Remember those emotions?" When you show people the device, you can immediately see on their face that connection to the past, the experiences that they had with the original.
Perhaps the most interesting thing we've gauged at MWC so far, is that despite people being more worried about smartphones than feature phones, when they hold the new 3310, they start to think how are they're going to incorporate this into their life? Already, consumers are starting to think that maybe I do just need a device for the weekends, or something smaller when I go out.
The new 3310 has triggered a change in thinking for many consumers and journalists, which is great to see and part of the reason why decided to bring this device to market.
TS: Nokia is a well-known and much-loved brand in South Africa. With this 'relaunch', are their any goals you have in mind for 2017?
HMD: Speaking from a product portfolio perspective, one of the things we are aiming for is to have consumers pick up one of our new phones and instantly know it's a Nokia device. That it feels well made and comes in at a good price point, and is something they are proud to carry.
When you think of Nokia and Africa as a continent, there is so much love for the brand. Globally our brand awareness is sitting at 95%, and Africa is even higher. From a strategic point of view, we try not to disclose numbers, but our goal is certainly to make consumers fall in love with our devices once again. We believe that when consumers experience the devices in-store, we can definitely reach that goal.
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