Nokia's return to regional market

Gopher Ogembo, Senior Business Manager in charge of East Africa at HMD Global during the launch of the Nokia 7 plus in April 2018 [Courtesy]
In the late 90s and early 2000, most Kenyans had an unending love affair with Nokia phones that unfortunately did not last. But this could be rekindled, according to the firm’s global marketer HMD Global. Financial Standard spoke to its  East Africa Senior Business Manager about the brand’s aggressive re-entry.

How has business been since your relaunch three years ago?

Nokia phones have always been there except for our smartphone story which is slowly but surely cutting a niche in the crowded space. This is attributed to our unique value proposition embodied in the pure, secure, and up-to-date slogan. The phone does not come with too many and unnecessary applications. Moreover, the things that mattered to Nokia over 15 years ago are still core. We ride on durability, affordability, reliability and to adaptability so that the buyer has the best possible experience throughout the life of the phone. Secure and up-to-date means smartphones come with monthly security updates for up to three years, together with an arrangement for updating the operating system for two years. It also comes with the latest android operating system with Artificial Intelligence capabilities.

Your phones are seen as being out of the reach of the average Kenyan. What are you doing about it?

That was before but now, our phones are some of the most affordable in the market. Even the latest Nokia 3310 is still cheap compared to back in the days where it was going at not less than Sh15,000. So if it is said that our phones are gradually becoming inaccessible, the journey suggests otherwise. Moreover, our entry-level phones go for as low as Sh1, 500. Thus, we are not becoming “luxurious” as it is being claimed.

What would make a Kenyan opt for the latest Nokia brand?

We believe in providing a premium experience at different price points. So irrespective of whether it is a feature phone or an entry smart device, or a mid-range device, they always come with updated features. For Kenyans who want to upgrade from mere feature phones to smart ones, they can start with Nokia 1, Nokia 2 or depending on how deep their pockets are, they can go for 7 Plus or 3.2 and 4.2 with Artificial Intelligence. Nokia 9 is our flagship model going at about Sh69,000.

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Would you go lower than that?

We readily would do anything just to cost but not at the expense of quality. Compromising quality is not possible because we have binding international standards around everything we do.

What are you doing to regain your foothold in Kenya and globally?

We have not compromised on the quality and that has really helped us to win fans and gain traction in just a short time. Secondly, we have the widest range of Nokia devices on offer, in the process supporting our claim as the home of Nokia phones.

What are you doing to overcome the competition?

Going by our operating slogan, our smartphones will keep getting better. This will be achieved through constant updates and partnerships aimed at driving availability and affordability.

Which region in the country has taken to your revamped devices?

Adoption has been good across the country, especially in rural areas.

Where is your main base of operation, and why the choice of location?

HMD has offices in more than 80 locations globally. We are represented in all the continents with manufacturing facilities in Vietnam, China, India, Argentina, and Indonesia. Besides, we are headquartered in Espoo, Finland with marketing and design offices in London. Closer home, the sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region has up to three offices in Kenya, Lagos, and Johannesburg which is our head office for SSA and where our Vice President sits. The East African office covers the Horn of Africa comprising of Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. So we are a global firm boasting of the European culture of quality and reliability. Our governing structure is led by the CEO, Vice President, chief finance officer and managers overseeing over 600 employees.

What roles do stakeholders such as Foxconn have in the firm?

Foxconn is one of the shareholders as HMD is the licence holder for - meaning we have permission to design, market and distribute Nokia phones globally.

What’s next for HMD Global?

Since we are constantly innovating and launching, Kenyans will always be apprised of any big development around our devices.

Any challenges

It is about taxation. Our appeal to the State is to cut down the VAT on mobile phones which is currently at about 25 per cent. Many empowered Kenyans now know that good phones are no longer a luxury but a necessity.

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HMD GlobalNokia phonesNokiaGopher Ogembo