During my recent trip to my hometown, the city of Karachi in Pakistan, I decided to buy a mobile phone for use while within the country.

I went to one of the mobile phone shops in the city and asked them for the cheapest available smartphone that they had. Remember, I just needed it for a few days while in town. The cheapest available option was Nokia! Yes, the same brand that ruled the world some years ago was now being sold cheaper than an unknown Chinese smartphone brand.

When I brought it home, my 16-year-old son, who is a tech enthusiast, excitedly asked me which smartphone I should buy. When I told him, his immediate reaction was “ Yuck, why Nokia ??”

This experience got me thinking of how this beloved brand fell from the top of the world to now being the cheapest and a yucky brand.

The lessons from the demise of Nokia are relevant for any marketer and business strategist who is looking to grow the business. Whether you are in the B2C or B2B sectors, the lessons are important for everyone.

So what went wrong with this once global number 1 brand?

Brand strength alone will not save you

Nokia was #1 and the gold standard for mobile phones. Most of us remember the legendary Nokia 3310 phone.

The front cover of Forbes magazine in November 2007, had this to say about Nokia “Nokia- 1 billion customers. Can anyone catch the cell phone King?”

But this fame and leadership came at a cost. They refused to acknowledge the changing landscape and customer expectations.

They were super slow in adapting to the changing smartphone segment which was moving towards touch screens and app stores. Their arrogance led them to believe that the future will continue to be driven by feature phones and not smartphones.

They rested on their laurels and tried to play it safe. 

When they did end up coming out with smartphones, they assumed that people would flock to the stores to buy just because of the brand name Nokia. It was a pure disaster.

Lack of Vision with a touch of Arrogance

Nokia refused to move to the Android operating system as its leadership assumed that Android was not the future and customers would not move to it. 

Stephen Elop Nokia’s CEO in 2010 made several decisions that eroded what was left of Nokia’s dominance — he announced that Nokia would abandon its Symbian operating systems for Microsoft’s Windows phone operating system.

Why would Nokia ditch the Andriod OS is a mystery. The only reason I can think of is the arrogance of the leadership team and the “we know it all mindset” that prevails in many organizations.

One of the former CEOs of Microsoft Steve Ballmer thought the iPhone was a waste of money.

“Five hundred dollars? Fully subsidized? With a plan? that is the most expensive phone in the world,” Ballmer said about the first iPhone. 

“And it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard. Which makes it not a very good email machine.”

It reminds me of the similar arrogance of the CEO of movie rental company Block Buster who said in 2008 , “Neither RedBox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition,”.

Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy 2 years later!

As the legendary Peter Drucker famously said “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic”


In summary, a once beloved and global brand like Nokia is now in the dumps when it comes to smartphones because it failed to innovate and adapt.

As a marketer and someone who loves business strategy, the key learnings for me here are:

  • Keep a pulse on changing customer expectations.
  • Watch out for small companies/startups who have the potential to disrupt your industry.
  • Sometimes your main competition can come from outside the traditional industry.
  • Brand power alone can not make a poor product survive.
  • Don’t resist change. 
  • Continue to innovate. 

Don’t let your brand turn into a “ Yuck , why ( insert brand name here ) ”

PS: The opinions expressed here are my personal views.