BlackBerry Torch vs Nokia Torch- 5 learnings for India’s mobile marketers

By the time you read this post, you would have already seen, heard or read about the launch of the BlackBerry Torch handset. The handset launched yesterday among concerns of India’s Home Ministry not relenting on the encrypted service issue. excerpts from CNBC’s interview of RIM country head Frenny Bawa.

And while the BlackBerry Boys- an iconic ad created by Vodafone India- are sure to line up and be the first to flaunt the new slider handset, my thoughts go back to the first “Torch” handset which put India on Nokia’s world map, and soon enough positioned India as one of the fastest growing mobile markets globally.

Circa 2004, Nokia in India was NOT streets ahead of the market that it later became. The user data that was then trailing the market by almost a year, and consequently, media coverage of the day, set Nokia, LG and Samsung on the same trajectory cutting across GSM and CDMA protocols. Reason being, the fallout of Reliance Comm’s entry into the market via CDMA, with bundled handsets that brought the average call rate to INR 1 per minute with free incoming. The rapid adoption of the cheaper service ( GSM operators were still charging an average INR 5 per minute for outgoing and incoming calls). LG, Samsung, which had supplied the handsets for bundling found their market share jumping with this move.

Nokia, while leading in GSM handsets across categories, had moved into independent retail as the operators found it more lucrative selling airtime than carrying, and distributing handsets, since the telecom license regime of the day had shifted to revenue sharing model.

Team Nokia, then led its brand across the brand chasm via this iconic ad.

While the brand marketing effort broke new grounds –Made FOR India– highlighting a new category of mobile phone users ( the everyday worker as highlighted in the truck crew) who would use the handsets in trying dust, humidity, and tough environmental conditions ( the video takes you across India), the handset with its in-built LED TORCH for finding your way in darkness in an India grappling with poor power infra, a single piece rubberised keypad, which didn’t allow the grit and grime to get into keys, and the anti-slip rubber grip, made sure India took to the set in millions. The Nokia 1100 perhaps still holds the record for being the highest selling handset in India, ever!

Nokia, followed this act with even bolder moves in consumer marketing creating segments in the mobile market where none existed. e.g. gaming phones, fashion phones, multimedia handsets with music, camera, and then enterprise phones with BlackBerry Connect push mail service.

Circa 2006, BlackBerry was still an enterprise email service with oddly shaped handsets which did very little beyond delivering your inbox and large number of office apps into your hand. And while the rest of the world, had evolved terms like CrackBerry and BlackBerry prayer, India was a market that hadn’t woken up to push mail. December 2006, and the BlackBerry Pearl launch, saw an India warming up to the previously MNC and IT company positioned device. Why? BlackBerry had finally brought in a product that had more features – camera, music, data alongwith what it did well all along ‘push mail’.

The last 4 years have been phenomenal for RIM ( the Canadian company that makes BlackBerry), while they went and changed their game creating a handset for every feature they added and sometimes, for every operator it launched with, Nokia in India, and perhaps globally is finding it difficult to replicate or even build upon the successes of the past.

And of course, having that army of app developers who could quickly built and integrate social media apps making (twitter from BlackBerry and Facebook for BlackBerry) a status symbol stronger in India than email with signoff line such as Sent  from by BlackBerry>

So what does this mean for marketers?

  1. Create NEW niches: Today, the biggest niche staring folks in the face is social media and networking. It’s already 80 million strong, in a market where total mobile subscribers are 700 Million. Any marketer who can build a set of early adopters for social networking with instant sharing apps such as Apple iPhone and BlackBerry will create a meaty niche, just as Nokia had done more than half a decade ago, with its LED torch when it acted on market feedback for a brighter back light.
  2. Build MORE into the niche: Yes! it does make sense to create variants for the same target user. It’s called graduating up the ladder. So you used an iPhone 2G, it’s time for you to try out the iPhone 3G. You liked the qwerty keypad of BlackBerry and the sliding touch of a iPhone, try a slider which does both in the new BlackBerry Torch. saw the new Nokia N8 in demo last week, sorry sorely unimpressed!
  3. Use NICHE users as brand advocates: The role of Brand marketers are changing in the world of social media. Early Adopters or Brand Fanatic Users actually go out of their way to show other brand users what’s new, what’s brewing and what’s coming. All this via twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and the like. Not tuning into that conversation and thinking ahead costs brands and marketers dearly. FMCG style logistics and distribution handling works only in product categories where shampoo users don’t find new uses for it. Mobile users and app developers have found so many new uses that an iPhone could track your heartbeat and a BlackBerry app could suggest how you are running with your new Nike Plus shoe. And all this, tweeted to millions of users across the world real-time.
  4. Cross the chasm into new territories: What did Apple and BlackBerry do that Nokia did NOT? CROSS OVER! The iPod became the iPhone which became the iPad and is now about to re-invent personal computing via the cloud. Same story with the BlackBerry, which did pretty much the same thing with enterprise email and turned its products into multimedia lifestyle devices. Nokia used to make TV’s in the 80’s and loads of accessories in the middle, in fact, it had its own version of the iPad ready in 2004. What does that mean for marketers? A. Successful products evolve out of market insights, B. Once the product is out, match the insights with effective marketing and communications!
  5. When you go mass, don’t forget class: It’s the classic conundrum. Sales wants volumes, volumes are greater at the bottom of the pyramid, innovation is almost always expensive, where do you want to build the market. My take to that, is always at the leading edge. “Brands are sold by conversations” whether they are online and instant as with social media or talk outside the boardroom or out in the streets. Even if you are selling plain vanilla ice cream, you need to see a sundae on the menu, which is a conversation piece, even if it is expensive and has more goodies than you can think of. The Indian consumer, like elsewhere, often leapfrogs and knowing that she can have something that positions her persona or her lifestyle better is a possibility that not only creates volumes at the top but pays for innovation handsomely.

End Note: And in all this, there is a new play in town which is quietly but steadily creeping away at iPhone, BlackBerry and Nokia market shares, which could change the game dramatically and that’s the Android OS playing on all other handsets ranging from Samsung, to HTC, to you name it. And with Google rapidy bringing the world into its “free is a business model” game, we might see a Google labelled TORCH  with in- app ads showing you the way to Bijli, Paani and Sadak ( power, water, and roads).

Disclosure- I have the perspective from the ringside into both Nokia and RIM. I was a member of the team that took Nokia from Made FOR India to Made in India. My first entrepreneurial venture, DIGIQOM guided and built the BlackBerry brand in India via experiential marketing, and media PR, through its transition from Enterprise Email to Mobile Lifestyle. I continue to have friends across the telecom spectrum and mobile marketing who share their thoughts, and insights with me. And I occasionally contribute!

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