As the brand owner of Nokia, HMD Global navigated 2020 by leveraging a considered approach to meeting the needs of consumers. CMO and Product Portfolio and GTM head (India), Ruchira Jaitly speaks to WARC’s Gabey Goh for the Marketer’s Toolkit 2021 about engaging with tribes, how omnichannel is the future and why marketers can’t be just marketers. 

How have the developments of 2020 changed consumer trends in the telecommunications vertical?

The consumer use cases completely and radically changed. What we saw is consumers seeing that the only way they can navigate COVID is if they get more digitally-savvy. 

One of course was the primary wage earner. Most people in India are not employed with corporates, they are self-employed, or they are working in smaller businesses. These are businesses that are not necessarily enabled with the right digital tools, so they needed to upgrade their device. [In India] the primary device for accessing the internet is the mobile phone, because it gives you the benefits of both connectivity as well as the ability to manage business. Because of demonetisation in India two years ago, there was already a base there of people who had accepted that they could make digital transactions. 

The second use case was for students and online education, which if you ask me, is almost at the same place as where the primary wage earner was. We saw lower-priced but very reliable devices coming in because when you're handing a device to a student or to a child, you want something which is not too expensive but extremely reliable and trusted. As for Nokia, we also come from a philosophy of trust and our proposition has been that for many years now. 

The third use case that we saw is a lot of people wanting to make sure that their older parents are digitally-enabled. I got panic calls from friends saying, “we need to get a new device because her device isn’t working, and we don't want her walking out and doing stuff”. You're not looking for sophisticated devices in this case, you're looking for devices that are reasonably simple to operate. Not too complicated with too many of these bells and whistles. 

Once you're used to accessing all the resources that you have online, you will come back to a point where you'll say, “I can do it”, and it'll never be an either/or. For older people – and admittedly that demographic is lower in Asian countries – it's a very important demographic that previously under-invested in technology. Technology was the preserve of the male metro and mobile consumers, and that's changing. 

How have these consumer shifts and emerging use cases defined your marketing strategy?

Key insights

  • The digital evolution in India was something that started with digital enablement across different age groups, some of whom were maybe not the usual suspects. Technology was the preserve of the male Metro and mobile consumers and that's changing.
  • Geopolitical stresses across the world is going to lead to consumers being more purposeful in their choices on the brands that they choose, and the countries that they come from.
  • Marketers must seize ownership of the business agenda to become an invaluable source of growth – and are uniquely placed to help the organisation make sense of rapid consumer change and trends.

I like to think of marketing not as something which is about brand and recognition, because that's not a challenge for Nokia. Marketing is actually about , ‘how do I ensure that in the consumer decision journey, [Nokia is] there at the right points to be able to be considered and therefore hopefully evaluated as that final purchase choice?’ We embarked on a transformation journey at 2019, where we said we want to completely switch our business model to one of talking more and more digitally to tribes – people who share similar interests, values and beliefs who are connected by being online. Equally, I want solutions that gives me not just efficiency, but the ability to communicate meaningfully in the moments that matter.

We've always talked about democratising technology and by its very nature, that means that you are going to have more price points – where the belly of the population sits – to support that. For us, that democratisation meant that we had propositions sitting at the lower level and therefore we were able to connect with consumers and say, “you don't have to go crazy in terms of buying a device, and you can get something where you know you will get XYZ benefits over the next two to three years”.

In India, we have done a campaign which talked about “Made in India” because that's something that Indian consumers do care about… People aren't going to go hyperlocal to the point of cutting off their nose to spite their face, but they certainly will make choices based on what they believe are the right values. One way they do it is by putting their credit card out for the values that matter.

There's a lot of these dynamics which are going to cast a long shadow. Like they say in tech, you overestimate the short-term and underestimate the long-term. I believe that for COVID-19, the short-term has not been overestimated – it has been a huge impact – but the long-term might be underestimated.

Ruchira Jaitly, India and APAC CMO, HMD Global

When India entered lockdown, how did the marketing team and the business adapt to these restrictions? 

The first thing is we’ve gotten much closer to the data, because you need to know who's asking for what and where. We should always have known, but didn’t, because you had the ability to do a little bit of the spray and pray approach… It's not like you're completely blind, unlike a lot of other categories, but I don't think it was a very data-driven approach. The first step really was getting every piece of the data at the backend, so [we] could actually pick up. 

The second piece was during the worst of the lockdown period when everything was shut down and retailers were closed. We saw several enablement tools coming up: Facebook in India did PIN code matching, where you could target by PIN code. This goes beyond geo-targeting by language or by geography.

In India you had red, amber and green zones: red was complete lockdown, amber was temporary, and green was open. We could turn it on and see those zones. We can talk to consumers who write to us saying “tell me more”, well tell us your PIN code and can we find a way of getting it to you? That was a project we ran, which also gave us the confidence to say that the future is omnichannel.

What does that omnichannel strategy look like for the Nokia brand in India?

You’re going digital in your media choices in terms of putting up phone reviews, influencers, the kind of conversations you have with consumers…. but [consumers] can purchase anywhere with an omnichannel approach: we could deliver it to the [buyer’s] home with a contactless delivery, or we could chose for a distributor or one of our promoters to come sell it to you at your house, or you could choose to go to an outlet and pick it up in the next two hours. 

That for me is the future. It unlocks three things: one, it unlocks the way [brands can] plan inventory. If I am going to be sitting and saying “hey I need inventory in every store”, that's very expensive for an organization. This means that I can plan my inventory where I can see the demand popping up,  literally by PIN code. The second is I can leverage my very extensive retail network to get closer to consumers who do not want to stay home and stay safe. 

In our industry – where online was already 45% of volume via Flipkart and Amazon – an omnichannel approach is getting bigger. It allows your proposition to be larger than just going to a marketplace, or an e-commerce player. It also gives a way to utilise all that capacity sitting in retail outlets which may not be leveraged.

It didn't mean that we stepped away from online, it just meant that we leveraged our full range of assets. For the first time, we listed a feature phone for an exclusive launch on and Amazon, and we shattered records for traffic, consumer engagement, and purchase. It was marketed as the secondary device to a smartphone consumer who's had too much screen time and wants a digital detox, but still wants to stay connected.‘Digital detox’ is becoming a big deal – after looking at the screen non-stop, you're wrung out.

We opened brand stores on Amazon and now on Flipkart, and it's not a first, but what used to be the preserve of a very premium device strategy is becoming more mass scale – whether it's the kind of products that you have, or the kind of consumers that you want to get in.

What do you think will be the biggest universal challenge that marketers will need to grapple with in 2021?

We’ve got to stop thinking of ourselves as marketers first and think of ourselves as growth, revenue, and business drivers. The day we become just marketers, we limit ourselves. I feel very strongly about it, because nothing stops ingenuity and creativity. It's only when you own the business agenda and drive growth that marketing then becomes that part of the business which is invaluable. 

Marketers can be that [team] for the business, because of all this information that's being thrown at us about what's going to happen to the GDP, what's going to happen to consumers, where they spend their time and what are they doing… who’s going to put all of that together for the organisation? The sales guys are busy selling, the finance guys are managing the P&L and that's their focus. Who's going to tell the business, for the next three quarters with all this global uncertainty, what it is that's going to make our consumers stick with us?

Go back to first principles. Don't assume that because you’ve always done it, it's what's going to work again, go back to first principles and see what is it that you really need. My point is, we might just land in the same place that we were before the conversation started, but we know why we're doing it and therefore, if it doesn't work, we also know why.

The context today is overshadowing everything else that you're doing: investment capital, working capital, cash flows, product portfolio… you name it, you cannot escape it. So, if you can't escape it, just sit down and say: ‘this is the context, this is where the consumer is, this is what we really want to deliver, and this is what business needs this month.’