A "Nokia Army" is infiltrating AT&T retail stores in order to pump up the carrier's flabby sales efforts, when it comes to moving Lumia smartphones.
Hundreds of members of Nokia's U.S. staff are volunteering to work alongside AT&T sales staff, in order to educate both them and their customers on the features and benefits of Nokia's Lumia line of smartphonesthe success of which will largely determine the fate of the phone maker, according to an Aug. 6 report from Bloomberg.
In Feb. 2011, Nokia turned its focus to Microsoft's Windows Phone OS in an effort to reinvent the brand and save the company, and the Lumia smartphones were the early results of the partnership. While analysts have forecast that Windows Phone can look forward to support from the carriers, which would like to lessen their dependence on the Apple iPhone and high-end Android smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S III, that support will have to wait for the next iteration of the OS, Windows Phone 8.
Tellingly, the Bloomberg article begins with an anecdote about an AT&T subscriber visiting the store and having no chance of being talked into a Lumia handset, as none were on display.
Such stories are not uncommon enough.
In April, Forrester analyst Sarah Rottman Epps blogged about shopping for a device running Windows Phonethe Microsoft OS that Nokia switched to two years ago in an effort to reinvent the brand and save the company. At a Verizon store, Rottman Epps wrote, she was dissuaded from a Windows Phone and given the hard sell on a 4G Droid smartphone; at an AT&T store, a salesperson was more enthusiastic about the OS, butas in the Bloomberg articlethere were no phones in the store; at a T-Mobile store, images of Lumia handsets were "plastered everywhere."
Marketing dollars, Rottman Epps concluded, will determine this game's winner.
Indeed, Microsoft will launch Windows Phone 8, the newest version of the operating system, this fall, and the marketing campaign that accompanies it is expected to give Nokia's Lumia smartphones a boost.
Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, during the company's second-quarter earnings call July 19, said that Nokia sold 4 million Lumia handsets during its second quarterwhich was twice what it sold during its first quarter, but a fraction of the 35.1 million iPhones Apple sold during its first quarter.
Elop went on to say that Nokia also expects Windows 8, an OS for laptops and tablets that will familiarize millions of people with the Windows Phone 8 look and feel, "to be a catalyst for Lumia."
"Plus, we anticipate that Microsoft will launch a bold and aggressive marketing campaign for Windows 8, which we believe will have a halo effect for Lumia," Elop continued. "And as the lead mobile partner for Microsoft, we plan to deliver competitive smartphones with Windows Phone. We intend to broaden the price point range of Lumia devices to price points both higher for better gross margins and lower for volume. Additionally, we are investing in new materials, new technologies and location-based services for a great consumer experience."
Jo Harlow, Nokia's executive vice president of smart devices, seconded the suggestion that considerable numbers of devices are imminent, telling Bloomberg that Nokia has to "keep Windows Phones in front of consumers every quarter with new products, new features, new variants."
At Nokia World 2012, an invitation-only event that will take place Sept. 5 and 6, Bloomberg unsurprisingly reported that Nokia will unveil Windows Phone 8 devices, ahead of the rumored Sept. 12 introduction of the next iPhone.
Paris-based analyst Arnaud Bauduin told Bloomberg that Nokia, in order to succeed, will have to benefit from Microsoft's success and make its brand cool againtwo more non-surprises. Whether it can manage both is anyone's guess, though to do so will no doubt require carriers to behave more like true partners.