Nokia's Valerie Buckingham on Comebacks, Changes and That Endorsement From Siri

'One of Those Days When It's Really Fun To Be a Marketer'

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Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported that Verizon Wireless will sell a new Nokia phone, welcome news for the Finland-based company that once dominated the market for mobile handsets but has in recent years struggled to get consumers, especially American ones, excited about its products in an Android and iPhone world. The Verizon news is just part of a big autumn for Nokia, which in September is expected to announce a new Windows 8-based lineup, perhaps at a press event scheduled for September 5.

Valerie Buckingham
Valerie Buckingham

Valerie Buckingham, head of North America marketing for Nokia, will be a speaker at Ad Age 's Digital Conference in San Francisco on September 20. Here she gives us a look-ahead at her content for the conference, talks about how the handset-maker uses third-party endorsers, and fills us in on one of Nokia's more unexpected fans: Apple's Siri.

Advertising Age: You'll be talking about the role of the corporate website. Is the corporate website dead in the age of social media?

Valerie Buckingham: It's not dead, but it's living a brand-new life, shall we say. Big brands used to have the mentality that what was important happened in our place, which was our dot-com. There's no way to develop a marketing strategy without understanding that your brand is happening everywhere. The corporate website continues to be an important place for a certain kind of information. But there are innumerable other places where your brand is happening and it's important to be there and influence the conversations there.

Ad Age : Nokia 's marketing strategy has focused on third-party advocates. How do you find these advocates and what do you do once you've got them?

Ms. Buckingham: We're the comeback kid in North America. We're in the middle of our turnaround story and relaunch. When you're focused on your brand and relevance, you're looking for the fans you have, the people that love your brand. There's nothing more important than building love for brand than to leverage people that already have the religion. When we look at our influencers, we segment them. There's the long-tail fan base and we're constantly monitoring social media, reaching out to them personally. And we're looking at celebrities that have a stylistic or tone affinity with Nokia and reaching out to them. Sometimes it's with celebrities we're working with as part of our marketing initiatives. We're always looking for authentic affinity. One of the things that 's great about social media is that it ensures everyone stays authentic. There's nothing that propagates faster than when there's fake talk going on.

Ad Age : Have you been surprised by a celebrity who's a Nokia fan?

Ms. Buckingham: There are many relationships that have caught momentum. Flo Rida first featured the Lumia in a music video. That created tons of engagement and things have taken on a life of our own. We've had that happen with product placement, where it started out small and then grows. At the end of the day, a personal relationship is what these things grow from. They work when the relationship is real and they're hard to keep alive when it's something you've paid for.

Ad Age : Has it been difficult to get your agencies to think along these lines?

Ms. Buckingham: It's a new way of working in the last couple years. To be effective, all the people on your team or at your agencies have to have a true 360 plan that isn't about the stuff that you control. That's the shift in mentality. Your customer doesn't live in your box; they live in a giant ecosystem. It's a fun creative challenge. We've got great relationships across agencies, and we make sure we've got incentives right so they're not stepping on each others' toes. We have a model where we can create one integrated plan together. It's not a muscle everyone's used to flexing all the time. When you get it right, you notice right away. And when new things come up, there's a great context to slap them into.

Ad Age : Speaking of third-party advocates, Apple's Siri was, at least for a time, a big a fan of the Nokia Lumia. When a blogger asked the voice-recognition technology for the best smartphone, the result was the Lumia 900. It turned out that this was because the results were based on Wolfram Alpha's results, which were based on product ratings on Best Can you buy better endorsement than that ?

Ms. Buckingham: All I can say is there's nothing like authenticity. That was one of those days when it's really fun to be a marketer. We had a lot of fun with it. It was a cute story. What's underlying it is a core consumer truth. Wolfram Alpha's hopping off review. The fact is , there are a lot of great reviews for the 900. We take the ecosystem of people reviewing our products pretty seriously.

Ad Age : Nokia and Microsoft made a lot of headlines for scheduling a press conference a week ahead of Apple's expected announcement of the new iPhone. Were you trying to steal some of Cupertino's thunder?

Ms. Buckingham: When we throw a party, we're entirely focused on our own party planning. That's all I can say.

Ad Age : What can you tell us about Nokia's Windows 8 lineup?

Ms. Buckingham: We won't comment on future products. We're focused on solid relationships with all the influential operators. This market for smartphones means that a significant majority of business goes through operators. So we're laser-focused on those relationships.

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