Nair turns Nokia’s attention towards online

Nokia’s Sudhir Nair holds the purse strings to one of the biggest marketing budgets in the region. Richard Abbott meets him

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By  Richard Abbott Published  June 25, 2006

Nair turns Nokia’s attention towards online|~|Nair,-Sudhir200.jpg|~|Nair… ‘Show me a guy who wants to browse or download a ring tone who does not go to the internet’|~|Sudhir Nair admits to being slightly embarrassed at being ranked number 14 in Campaign’s Power 50 list. Not for him the airs and graces associated with the bigwigs of our industry. He fetches his own coffee from a machine in the corridor, rather than having it delivered on an elaborate silver tray. And rather than facing me down over a large mahogany desk, he insists on chatting in a humble meeting room downstairs. But power he has. In the UAE alone, Nokia spent US$20 million on advertising last year, putting it clear of big spenders like Dubai Holding, Emaar and Nakheel. “We are by far the biggest selling mobile phone manufacturer in the region. If you look at the rest and put them together they are not even near to us,” says Nair. “In every market in the Middle East and Africa we are the market leaders.” He is a man that every agency boss wants to have lunch with. Nair, whose title is senior marketing manager for the Middle and Near East, lives and breathes Nokia phones, making anyone whose mobile does not include a two mega-pixel camera and push e-mail feel quite inadequate. During our meeting he introduces three handsets that look more like pocket computers. My wimp of a Sony Ericsson is buried firmly at the bottom of my bag. The former Zubair Telecom and Samsung man has worked in the region’s mobile phone industry since the advent of the first chunky handsets and has spent more than ten years living in the Middle East. Grey Worldwide and Mediacom are the agencies currently charged with handling Nokia’s advertising and media business in the Middle East, although Nokia is understood to be in the early stages of talks at a global level with a variety of networks to discuss offerings and terms, which may have a knock-on effect for this region. Nokia and Siemens announced last week that they will be merging their mobile network operations. But Nair is primarily concerned with selling handsets. “We try to have a good balance between a global and a local need. We are a global brand with a local touch and feel,” explains Nair, when asked about how he approaches marketing Nokia. Nair says Nokia has a “holistic” approach to advertising. The mix includes everything from TV commercials — featuring the love-it-or-loathe-it Nokia jingle — to roadshows and retail promotions, designed to get phones into hands. Walk into any mobile phone retailer and you will find shoppers picking up phones and weighing them in their hand. It’s the telecoms equivalent of squeezing a loaf of bread to see if it is fresh. Data from the Pan Arab Research Center shows that Nokia favours newspaper advertising, followed by TV and magazines, but Nair is looking to direct more of his budget towards the internet. “Online will boom. Mobile phone users are into browsing,” he explains. “Show me a guy who wants to browse or download a ring tone who does not go to the internet. “But we are still not using the full potential of the online media. I want to make sure that we have good presence in this media, capturing these guys while they are browsing.” Nokia has predicted that the Middle East and Africa will have the highest growth in the whole world over the next four years, putting the figure — worryingly precisely — at 133% to 165% . The Middle East region used to fall under the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa banner) but on 1 January, Nokia separated the E from the MEA in recognition of the region’s growth potential. The MEA region is split into three sections. Nair’s Dubai office handles the Middle and Near East (MNE); Casablanca handles North-West Africa; and Johannesburg looks after South East Africa. Nair explains the thinking: “Being a separate region we need to get closer to the consumer. We do this by setting up offices in as many locations as possible. Getting your sales and logistics team into each market.” And wherever Nokia goes, Grey Worldwide and Mediacom go too. The agencies will have representatives everywhere that Nokia does. “The advantage of that is that we get direct insights into these markets,” says Nair. For the Gulf region, the Nokia Communicator phone has become the corporate toy de rigeur. The brick-like handset flips open to reveal a second screen that enables users to access their e-mail while on the move. “This is the maturity of the market. Communicators and other PDAs are really booming.” Now the hand-held phenomenon that has swept the United States and Europe, BlackBerry, is readying itself for launch in the UAE. The device is similar to a Communicator in that it allows users to check their e-mail when they are away from the office. Nair says BlackBerry is a “big opportunity” for Nokia. “It has its own handsets but we can support the BlackBerry software on ours,” he says. Mobile phones have always been seen as fashion accessories, and Nair firmly believes that this is the case in the Middle East too. “Saudi Arabia falls in the top three countries when it comes to demand for high end phones,” says Nair. “Yet if you look at the usage it may not be as technical in Saudi. It’s the prestige. It’s the feel of owning a high-end phone. “People are looking for a brand that they feel is part of their personality. They want to keep it on the table to say ‘look at this’. “In Europe people choose a phone for purely business purposes or a particular camera but that is not the case in this part of the world. Word of mouth matters a lot. If you look at UAE nationals and Saudi nationals, once they know that their friend has got a phone and it is a really good one, they want one too.” As for the future, the word is multimedia, with Nokia parking its tanks on the lawn of companies like Canon and even Apple. “If we are able to provide four gigabytes of in-built memory into a phone, it is as good as an iPod. If you are also able to give the quality, what else do you need? You don’t need to carry two devices,” argues Nair. He adds: “Nokia is the biggest camera manufacturer in the world in terms of volume.” Biggest advertiser; biggest mobile phone maker; biggest camera manufacturer. Now that’s power.||**||

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