Can Microsoft get the Nokia branding right?

I’m suffering from extreme jet-lag (14 time zones is nothing to laugh at) and woke up at 4 AM thinking about microprocessor architecture and wondering if Microsoft is going to mess up the Nokia device branding when the acquisition closes in the next few weeks.  Yeah, sleep deprivation does weird things to you.  The former is not something I have reason to write about, but the later is something we all should worry about.  Microsoft has a poor track record on branding.  And that is being kind.

At the heart of the problem for Microsoft is he name “Nokia”.  It has real value, particularly outside the U.S., and Microsoft has to be very careful about how it transitions away from using it.  I think there are fewer issues with the Lumia (and Asha) brands, but also no reason to move away from those.  Lumia is a better brand for Windows Phones then “Windows Phone”.  It’s not even close actually.

If you think about some of the previous dumb branding by Microsoft we could end up with the “Microsoft Nokia Lumia 666 Windows Phone”, in which case I’ll dump my stock.  Microsoft has to be much smarter about how they do this.

I was thinking about alternatives this morning and decided my favorite was to initially keep the current Nokia Lumia xxxx branding scheme but in a very low-key way make it “Nokia by Microsoft”.  You’d just say Nokia, but in writing there would be a small “by Microsoft” under the Nokia.  Then over the course of 12-18 months you’d emphasize the Lumia name and reduce saying Nokia.  By the end of two years you drop Nokia entirely and it is the Microsoft Lumia xxxx, but you still emphasize Lumia as the brand.

An alternative would be to make it Nokia Lumia by Microsoft (same subtle use of the by Microsoft) then slowly reduce the verbalization of Nokia until it just disappeared and you had Lumia by Microsoft. Again with the emphasis on Lumia.

The long-term branding is the Lumia by Microsoft the way Marriott has done with many of its brands.  It is Courtyard by Marriott and Fairfield Inn by Marriott.  Marriott loyalists will actually emphasize the Marriott part, but Marriott has increasingly emphasized the individual brands and what they stand for.  Marriott Courtyard (as they were originally called) was very confusing because you knew what a Marriott was and had (unfulfilled) expectations when you stayed at a Marriott Courtyard.  Today you know what a Courtyard is, and you know the Marriott affiliation brings certain benefits to Courtyard but doesn’t define it.  Microsoft needs to do the same kind of things with its brands, starting with Lumia.

So there is an engineer’s view of branding and how Microsoft should handle the transition of the Nokia brands.  Let’s see if the branding specialists can do better, or at least as well.

This entry was posted in Computer and Internet, Microsoft, Mobile, Windows Phone and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Can Microsoft get the Nokia branding right?

  1. Kip Kniskern says:

    According to the initial press release
    Microsoft is acquiring the Nokia and Asha brands, but only has a limited ability (I believe it was stated elsewhere that it’s for 10 years) to market the Nokia brand, and for current products only:

    ” Microsoft is acquiring Nokia’s Smart Devices business unit, including the Lumia brand and products.

    Microsoft will acquire the Asha brand and will license the Nokia brand for use with current Nokia mobile phone products. Nokia will continue to own and manage the Nokia brand. ”

    So, in a nutshell, Microsoft can’t, even if it wanted to, market a “Nokia by Microsoft” brand on upcoming phones, or across all marketing. It could, however, do the same sort of thing with “Lumia by Microsoft” branding, and continuing with the Lumia brand is what I expect to happen.

    But there is another problem, and that’s what to do about 3rd party phone branding. How will Microsoft brand non-Microsoft hardware? Would Samsung promote “Samsung Lumia” phones? Does Microsoft want to move away from the Windows Phone brand, really?

    • halberenson says:

      I don’t know if that means literally existing products as in 1020, or does “current products” mean Lumia and Asha, or does it mean phones and tablets.

      • betaliveside says:

        As Nokia is continuing as a company and a brand (with their own branding challenges now that the phone business is gone), I’m taking “current products” to mean just that: current products in the market now. In other words, Microsoft will not be required to stop referring to the “Nokia Lumia 1020”, but won’t be able to market a “Nokia by Microsoft Lumia 2020”

    • halberenson says:

      Windows Phone remains the name of the software.

      • Kip Kniskern says:

        Doesn’t answer the branding question. If it is to be “Lumia by Microsoft”, is it “Lumia by Samsung”, too? Or is it “Samsung Windows Phone” and “Lumia by Microsoft”? Or does it have to then be “Lumia Windows Phone by Microsoft” (add in a model and version number there and we’re right back to “Microsoft sucks at branding” 😉 )

        • halberenson says:

          No, it’s like Windows vs Surface. Samsung doesn’t call their Windows devices Surface. They have completely unique Samsung names and they run Windows. Ditto for phones. Lumia refers only to Microsoft Phone hardware a characteristic of which is that they run Windows Phone.

          • Info Dave says:

            I dunno, Hal, “Microsoft Nokia Lumia 666 Windows Phone”, kinda rolls off the tongue, don’t ya think?

            I’m just waiting for Surface to follow the same demise as Metro (Metro AG) and skydrive (Sky News)

  2. dave says:

    My sense of things is that for most people, they were loyal to Nokia, and the OS was a secondary concern when they purchased a Lumia phone.

    It would be a great pity if MSFT decided to “rationalize” device naming under the “surface” brand as, even with only two surface devices, the market and punditry have not been “sold” on what they are.

    People have been buying Nokia Lumias, and that branding has positive energy behind it. So stick with it, and don’t muck it up would be my suggestion.

  3. Brian says:

    I must say that I was impressed by how Lenovo was able to manage the IBM-to-Lenovo transitioning of the ThinkPad brand. Redmond should be finding the guy at Lenovo who managed that and throwing money at him.

    Both Nokia and Microsoft are going to be challenged during the transition period. Nokia really doesn’t have a strong brand outside of the phone world (well, I guess in the network equipment business, Nokia-Siemens was string (which is now just Nokia)). Their mapping software/services really hasn’t emphasized the Nokia brand at all (first as the purchased NavTech and now as “Here” (a brand I don’t like – but that may just be me)).

    I would expect that doing your 1-2 year “Nokia Lumia by Microsoft” dance (if they can get away with it under the contract) is probably the best way to go. The first thing I thought of when I read about the Nokia purchase was the “What if Microsoft designed the iPhone packaging” video that was circulating 5-ish years ago.

    • codekaizen says:

      I had the exact same thought about Thinkpad. Lenovo did it well. Thinkpad is a brand that had diehard fans, and most of them were concerned about the transition. MS would be hard pressed to do better than just copying this exact play.

  4. Steve Baker says:

    I love Windows Phone I also have a real fear that MS is going to stuff it all up now. Outside the US (yes I’m generalizing) it’s the Nokia brand that’s been selling the phones; not Microsoft, and not Windows (names which to most people still only mean “[slightly clunky] desktop OS”). So in the US they can try what they want but for the rest of they world what they need to do is not touch the “Nokia Lumia” brand at all. At least not until WP (and W8) has gained a more healthy market share. Then they can start dicking about with the name as they please.

  5. dafowler says:

    I am not sure but keeping Lumia as the “Brand” and developing it more is the best way forward. But any shift in branding should include a shift in products. I think the next challenge for the new Phone team will be developing the first design refresh for the line since its introduction. I also wonder if they’ll limit the number of phones and just increase their availability.

  6. Edgae says:

    The Nokia loyalty is an issue in the low end and feature phones, as Nokia offering (before WP7-8)of smartphones was close to zero. The focus must be on the transition of Nokia Lumia line to Microsoft Lumia line.

    As I envision the brand development, Microsoft must have to introduce a Surface branded smartphone line, this must be top of the line, with the highest specifications and features, have to match the surface tablets in terms of hardware and ingenuity, also must port exclusive of the line app’s and services, all of this aimed to compete with the iPhone. Three screen sizes 3.5, 5 and 6, also a line of smart covers and accessories.

    Then the Lumia line, this is the mass market line, although people buy Lumia’s because windows phone.
    Last time I buy an smartphone the decisive factor is not Nokia but windows phone. After leave android I opt for WP8 instead iOs. Then even I like the lime HTC 8S (for me the nicest WP device to date in terms of design) the Nokia apps convinced me to go with a Lumia device.
    So, as Lumia line is the epitome of WP, Microsoft must have to transition the line from Nokia to Microsoft brand gradually, in a couple of generations, say WP10, it must be completely Microsoft branded, or even a line with a new name.
    As a mass market line aimed to compete with android devices, the idea here is the bang for the buck, actually the Lumia’s do an excellent work here, covering all the form factors and prices.

    Last, the feature and low end phones. I think that here are a lot of room for improvement.
    As Microsoft doesn’t have a foot here, and Nokia equity in brand recognition is high, Microsoft have to carefully handle the line to make the users of Asha phones, when upgrade, think in WP first when purchase an smartphone.
    One option would be to make a basic WP version to port in feature phones, that can run WP8 apps.
    Another option would be to create a new Os for low end phones with their own app store and apps.
    After that, when the Os is firmly placed, then transition the brand.

    • halberenson says:

      Just one correction here. Prior to the introduction of the iPhone Nokia had something like 70% world-wide share of smartphones. 0% in the U.S., but almost 100% in many countries. It took a few years for the iPhone to bypass Nokia’s Symbian-based phones in market share.

      • Info Dave says:

        The operative word is ‘had’

      • Edgae says:

        Thank you for the correction Hal.

        Nokia really screw up the things, letting their market share drop too drastically against iOs and android.
        However that proves the point of loyalty, if even the most loyal nokia users left the brand for iphones and android phones, I see no problem users leaving nokia for microsoft.

  7. MarcelDevG says:

    I don’t think Microsoft bought Nokia for their name. There is a bigger picture here, the devices and services theme. Somehow they have to connect all the dots between the desktop, tablet, Phone, the console etc. I think the One Microsoft song relates to that.
    Is it smart? I don’t know. Maybe It will make it easier to explain to the users that everything is connected and synced and thus just works. A message that is not told enough.
    On the other hand, One Microsoft will make it less compelling for the third party makers and also for the potential buyers. They want a choice. I can go all apple, or I make my own choice.
    Maybe the connection between all of this is still Windows?
    But I agree with you, branding is hard, and Microsoft track record is one of hit and miss.
    In Europe, Nokia had a good brand name because of the quality of the hardware and software. Maybe if they didn’t left the USA, the iPhone would not have surpassed them so quickly?
    But that quality reputation took a big hit with the perception that they were losing the battle with android. The platform was not on fire, it was sinking.
    But discussions about branding is like talking about the weather or your favorite sport: everybody thinks they are experts in it and everybody has an opinion. But still it is fascinating and fun.

  8. Edgar says:

    Thank you for the correction Hal.

    Nokia really screw up the things, letting their market share drop too drastically against iOs and android.
    However that proves the point of loyalty, if even the most loyal nokia users left the brand for iphones and android phones, I see no problem users leaving nokia for microsoft.

  9. Jeffrey Snover says:

    At Digital I worked on “POLYCENTER Manager on NetView V3.0 for Windows NT” so I get the issue. 🙂

    Jeffrey Snover

    • halberenson says:

      I forgot about that. What hear was it?

      • Jeffrey Snover says:

        They sold us off in 1996 so the first release must have been in 1994 (back when I had all my hair).

        • halberenson says:

          So back around when I left DEC. What is really funny is that even though I was on Rose Ann’s staff I recall no discussions about branding. In fact, I recall few tactical business discussions at all. Probably because I was too focused on the “save software at DEC” problem.

  10. small_mountain says:

    If they let the same people make the marketing decisions that have made the marketing decisions the last couple years, there is no doubt they will screw it up. Windows RT was the stupidest name in the history of names. Frankly, I think “Windows Phone” is a boring, overly long and cumbersome name (remember “Windows Phone 8 phone” to describe phones like the Lumia 920?).

    Microsoft should use Nokia as long as they can and then switch to “Microsoft Lumia” as the brand of their smartphones. And they should come up with a new, short, clever name for the Windows Phone (or Windows Phone/Windows RT mash-up) operating system. This will never happen.

  11. halberenson says:

    I think the branding will eventually just be “Lumia”, the problem is the transitional period. How do they keep the momentum associated with Nokia while they make sure Lumia is as well known as Xbox?

    The OS naming problem is much more complex and depends in part on if you want them to be brands or not.

Comments are closed.