My Mantra

Helping brands and leaders be more influential
by embracing their humanity and personality.

Mobile Marketing Archive

3 Ways Dumb Phones Might Save Nokia

Last month Nokia quietly missed the opportunity of the decade.

It wasn’t easy to spot. Amidst all the news about the mega-implications of the Microsoft-Nokia merger this week, some critics are adding up the failures of two doomed brands while others see it as proof of Android’s projected growth. Just about every article looks at the deal through the lens of smartphone market share. There is only one financial question everyone is asking: who will dominate the smartphone market?

That might be the wrong question.

The Nokia Phone You Haven’t Heard About …

Nokia has been receiving great reviews for one of its most ambitious phones yet – the Nokia Lumia 1020.  Featuring the killer feature of a 41 megapixel camera sensor, the highly entertaining TV spots promoting the new phone use familiar situations like attending a kid’s theater performance to demonstrate just how good life would be if you could zoom in without having to be part of the action:

What most of us missed was another Nokia phone that quietly launched at almost the same time.  It had a much different promotional plan with a single ordinary product video [below] posted onto YouTube and a lonely product page on the Nokia website.  This phone (unimaginatively dubbed the Nokia 515) was the opposite of a smartphone – fitting in a category that gadget blogs have termed “dumbphones.”

It’s not easy to understand why Nokia didn’t focus on promoting the 515.  Of course the Lumia 1020 is a far sexier place to put marketing dollars.  Yet this one missed opportunity points to a greater truth about the new Nokia-Microsoft alliance which may indeed serve to doom both to remaining a distant third place behind iPhones and Android Phones.

Why?  Because there one thing that tech enthusiasts love to forget when it comes to these so called dumbphones … there’s actually a surprising number of people who want them.

Who Wants A Dumb Phone?

Of course no one goes into a phone purchase looking to buy a phone that is low on intelligence.  But the “dumbphone” category basically includes any phone that doesn’t feature wireless internet and surfing capability.  Here’s the thing about all of that access that tech snobs sometimes forget … not everyone wants or has the ability to pay for it.

There are at least five key target audiences that would LOVE a dumbphone like the Nokia 515:

  1. The “Conscientious Smartphone Objector who wants to avoid living life tethered to a device.
  2. The Technology Avoider who want the simplest possible phone with less features.
  3. The Data Plan Hater who don’t want to pay extra per month for data access.
  4. The Outdoor Explorer who is in areas with low coverage often or needs the best battery life.
  5. The Phone Seeker who prefers a phone to use for talking above anything else.

And these are just the categories of potential users that came to mind with a little bit of thought.  The true audience includes perhaps many more categories of users.  And there are billions of “dumbphones” currently in use throughout the world.  The market for these phones may be shrinking worldwide, but it is more sizeable today than most media would have you believe.

Aside from the myth that no one wants these dumb phones, even the gadget blogs raved about the design and features of the Nokia 515.  PhoneDog noted that the Nokia 515 was “the first feature phone that has interested me in years.”  And Wired magazine called the phone “the nicest dumbphone you can buy.”

3 Ways a Dumb Phone Might Have Changed Nokia’s Future

So despite the fact that there is a market for dumb phones that numbers in the billions (today), and Nokia has the ability to put out a dumb phone that even skeptical critics give winning reviews to … they chose to follow Microsoft’s also-ran “Don’t Fight, Switch” positioning and focus on their own top of the line smartphone in the Lumia 1020.  As we now know, this strategy ended in the recent merger with Microsoft.

While the merger may yet pay off for both partners, there are three ways that making a different choice might have changed Nokia’s fortunes – and carved out a sizable alternative market without taking on Microsoft as a partner:

  1. Focus on battery life. According to the reviews, the Nokia 515 has a standby battery life of 33 hours.  If you can reduce the processing speed needed for smartphone features, you can dramatically improve battery life as well.  Most smartphones still offer a pitiful battery life, and with no real solution in sight this is a huge opportunity for a mobile phone maker to own the “best battery life” reputation by trading off less important features for their target audience.
  2. Target tech laggards. There are still a large number of people who want a great phone to actually talk and text, but don’t care about the “smarter” features.  Just about everyone in the mobile phone industry believes that these users will be gone in a year, but the facts don’t support that assumption.  The more likely near term future for the next several years will likely see costs decrease to allow some price sensitive users to get smartphones, but also lead to growth in the “smartphone objectors” who see choosing a less feature rich phone as a lifestyle choice.
  3. Leapfrog technology.  One of the best potential benefits of not focusing on trying to capture part of the smartphone race is that it also could have freed Nokia’s best and brightest engineers to push forward promising research such as the Morph Device Concept that received lots of attention a few years ago – but seemed to stall to a halt after that initial buzz.


Every analyst watching the mobile industry is predicting a future heading towards smartphones.  Connectivity will get cheaper, technology will get better and devices will become more ubiquitous.  None of that is likely to change.  In the quest to dominate smartphones, though, there was a golden opportunity for one player to position themselves outside of the race.

What the industry calls “dumbphones” may be just the kind of focused and functional product today’s market is longing for.  And in a market like that, ignoring what customers want isn’t just a bad strategic choice.  It’s also pretty dumb.




The Script Of Improv – What Is (And Isn’t) Real Time Marketing


A theater show happens in real time. It’s live on stage and the actors are actually saying the lines as you watch them. And if it’s well done, it can seem spontaneous and real and unscripted. But of course, it is scripted. They are memorizing lines and performing them. Improv, on the other hand is completely UNscripted. It is based…Read More >>

How Samsung Wins By Channeling Its Inner Seinfeld


Samsung’s first hit ad for the new Galaxy phone was a parody of mindless Apple-istas waiting in line outside an Apple store. It introduced a tag line as well – “the next big thing is already here.” Now the brand is back with another series of ads focused on promoting the Galaxy in a business setting as a secure, useful…Read More >>

2013 Trend – Shoptimization


What’s the Trend? Technology helps optimize the process of buying everything from fashion to medical prescriptions. As consumers become more conscious about what they buy, where they buy it, how much they spend for it, and how much time shopping takes – retailers and app-makers are discovering that the ultimate competitive advantage may come not from what you sell, but…Read More >>

How To Spot A Trend: 7 Social Media Trends That Matter In 2013


There has been a single pink folder on my desk since January 15th of this year. That day matters to me for two reasons – first because its my birthday, and second because it’s the day when I start an empty folder with the intention of collecting ideas for my year end trend report. Then throughout the year, I steadily…Read More >>

How To Miss A Huge Social Media Opportunity


As a creative marketing guy, I love a good idea. In fact, I’ve spent many hours sitting in conference rooms brainstorming with teammates to come up with them. So when I first saw Verizon Wireless’ big new campaign called Share America – I was instantly engaged. It is a great concept involving an up and coming band (Hot Chelle Rae),…Read More >>

How Personal Relationships Will Make (Or Break) The Future Of The Arts


For Nate Dern, the unlikely path to acting micro-stardom would come from a simple three letter catchphrase that most people would barely consider a word. As the artistic director of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York and a sociology PhD student at Columbia University, Nate had spent years auditioning for different roles. In late 2011, he landed a…Read More >>

12 Big Trends Transforming The World Of Retail Right Now

Last week I had the chance to deliver a keynote presentation at a merchandising event put on for some of the largest retailers in the US by the trade association  I shared some trends built upon consumer behaviour and incorporating some startups that are getting a lot of attention right now.  I don't share many of my presentations as…Read More >>

5 Marketing Lessons From Uber (The World's Best Travel App)

5 Marketing Lessons From Uber (The World's Best Travel App)

Several weeks ago I was standing on a street corner in New York. (This is not the sentence I thought I'd start this post with, but go with me …) After unsuccessfully trying to hail a cab, I decided to try out an app I had heard about called Uber. I had heard it was useful for those kinds of…Read More >>

A Guide To Geolocation & Geosocial Marketing In 2011

A Guide To Geolocation & Geosocial Marketing In 2011

One of the topics that has gotten a lot of attention from forward thinking marketers in the last year is the potential for geolocation and geosocial marketing. This year, there will be more devices with built in GPS and the ability to geotag content you create with the location where you created it than ever before. Location Based Services (LBS)…Read More >>