How not to announce a consumer electronics device in 2012 – a lesson from Nokia

When you get a piece of spam, there are a couple of key components to it.

  1. There’s a subject line – intended to make the reader excited to “make money fast” or “make cheap international phone calls”.
  2. There’s an assortment of flattering text, sometimes pictures, and other components to the message, designed to both delude and confuse the reader into thinking this is a legitimate offer.
  3. Finally, there’s a call to action. A hook. In most spam, this is a hyperlink to a churn and burn URL, but in some it’s an email address, a phone number, or dumbest of all, a stock symbol that the reader is expected to go buy.

Without the hook – the call to action, spam has no point. Neither does marketing as a whole. If I tell you about my awesome new “Foo 2.0”, but don’t provide you with any call to action for it, you’ve got to be pretty darn smitten with it to keep it front of mind until you find out actionable information.

Nokia did this just this week. Video gaffe aside – Nokia likely spent a considerable sum to announce two phones – all things considered, two interesting phones, with good industrial design and some very interesting camera technology. But they announced them the same week that several other phones, and an entirely new lineup of Amazon Kindle devices were also announced. Most of these other devices were either immediately able to be ordered or had an availability date.

Worse, though, is the upcoming week’s news. Once a year, Apple sucks the wind out of everyone else’s mobile phone sails – even if only temporarily – by announcing the new model of iPhone for the year. Love it or hate it, no other phone, yet, can create that sort of resonance.

Let’s assume, for a second, the Nokia phones last week captured your interest. It could be the fact that they’re the first Windows Phone 8 phones, perhaps it’s the amazing cameras they offer, or the design aesthetics of the phones – or some combination of all three. If the Nokia interests you at all, you’ll have to wait to make your decision. You don’t know how much it will cost, whether it will be on the carrier you currently use (or have to stay with, perhaps because of family members who are mid-contract), or even when it will be available.

Now let’s assume you’re just thinking about getting a new smart phone. Next week when Apple announces the new iPhone (likely called, creatively, “The New iPhone”), you’ve got an immediate call to action (it can likely be pre-ordered online immediately), you’ll know whether the iPhone will be available on your carrier (if you’re a US customer, unless it’s T-Mobile, it will be), and you’ll know the price (most likely the same price structure as the 4S was last year).

It’s highly likely that Microsoft or Nokia had reasons for Nokia’s announcement last week not containing an availability date, price, or carrier information. But I believe in omitting them, Nokia missed the opportunity to motivate potential buyers to the point of (pre)sale. More importantly, by not closing the deal last week with potential buyers interested in both Nokia’s news and the new iPhone, any momentum Nokia had out of last week’s press event will be lost to next week’s Apple news, and some number of sales lost to iPhone purchases instead. Given no call to action last week, I believe that Nokia should have held back on their news until they were prepared with a true launch event and device availability.

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