Saturday, June 14, 2008

Nokia laments that world knows it only as a brand

NOKIA (SOUTH-WEST FINLAND): Listen up. Nokia is more than just the phone in your pocket. Even though nearly two billion people around the world rely on and recognise the brand because they own the mobile, few know its story began in a town called Nokia.

Even fewer know that this quiet conurbation of 30,000 people, three hours away from Helsinki, is not just the birthplace of the sprawling multi-national Nokia Corporation, but the very roots of Finland’s industrialisation. And that there may be some corporate magic still in the heavily-wooded, green surrounds of Nokia town, fed by an important river and carpeted with wands of lupins growing wild.

For Nokia town continues, as it did back in 1868 when Nokia company began as a groundwood mill, to nurture unlikely global success stories and great corporate ambition.

It manufactures the world-beating winter tyre, the Hakkapeliitta. Its locally-produced Nanso clothes and Nabo leather bags are brand leaders in Finland and Scandinavia. The local paper mill produces the widely-used Lotus brand of face tissues and toilet paper. And it is home to Molok, the company that invented the eponymous revolutionary deep-waste collection bins now sold in their hundreds of thousands throughout the world from China to Canada, Australia to Europe and possibly coming soon to an Indian airport near you.

“We call Nokia town and nearby Tampere the Manse or Manchester of the Nordic world,” says Johanna Saksala of Molok. But she adds, in a lament increasingly heard of late in this town, “yet, few know about the town, few know that it is both a town and a brand name. Nokia town should advertise itself more, tell the world that this is where the phone company came from. It should get more out of the name”.

Marjo Paaskynkivi, who works for an aluminium company that feeds Molok’s busy and expanding Nokia factory, says the Nokia town should encourage tourism because visitors mean the chance to make connections and spread the word.

The complaint that Nokia town is failing to connect with the world sits oddly with its famous namesake’s advertising tagline, “connecting people”. But the local press is increasingly pointing out the town’s profit-less anonymity even as the brand continues to be the world’s largest mobile manufacturer. Two-fifths of the 3.3 billion handsets currently in use worldwide are Nokia but locals say the town whose name is now a trademark gets little recognition.

Paaskynkivi says the phone company’s success story may not have been possible elsewhere. The Nokia river, she points out, connects two lakes, which allowed the newly-founded Nokia company to expand on either fertile bank in the late 19th century. Crucially, it was able to grow food for its workers. This kept Nokia company’s labour costs low and gave it a stable workforce, allowing it to grow from fledgling paper factory and rubber-tyre manufacturer into the behemoth that bestrides the world. In a reflection of local angst Paaskynkivi says “Some here believe Nokia’s mobile phone success was paid for by Nokia paper factory”.

Archaeologist Vadim Adel is currently excavating the grounds of Nokia Manor, where the company’s founder Knut Fredrik Idestam lived within a stone’s throw of Factory Island, the place its first ‘global’ headquarters was built in 1908. He believes the Nokia Manor “is a very important archaeological site — there was activity in the stone age, metal age and early middle ages”. And now, the information Age.

The Manor continues to be owned by Nokia corporation, which still flies its top executives in for meetings to the place where it all began.

But even though the company has shifted its loyalties by moving headquarters to the capital Helsinki, Nokia town continues to be partisan about the brand. Says Tommi Heino, owner of the larger of Nokia town’s two mobile phone shops, “more than 95% of the phones we sell are Nokia”.

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