Blether #3: Nokia x Burton – A personal perspective

Technology is so frighteningly accurate. For instance, 8th January 2010 at 5.34pm. This, according to my laptop, is when I finished the first draft of a proposal for a partnership between Nokia and Burton.

The project had started a few days earlier; the presentation that I saved on that Friday night was nothing but the result of the corridor conversation between my boss and me.

He had said that we should review partnerships for our flagship products and asked if  I would look into it. My mind was still in the mountains following a trip to Morzine but replied, of course, that I’d love to.

I didn’t come at this trying to find a way to work with Burton and only them. Truth be known, I have been snowboarding for some years now and my mix of brands includes Foursquare (arguably Burton), Bonfire, Lib Tech, Dakine and also the ubiquitous Burton (a pair of Mission bindings in case you’re wondering).

What attracted me to Burton was a combination of factors. Compared to Nokia they’re a small company, but there are a lot more similarities than differences.

Like Nokia, Burton was a business that was started with a pioneering spirit and a willingness to bet the farm on a new, uncharted product territory.

Also like Nokia, Burton benefits by having a belief in innovation and driving its category forward.  (As an aside, it may sound odd for me to claim innovation as a core belief of Nokia – but this is one of the many challenges of being a marketer in the company at the moment. We invested around 40 billion euros in R&D over the last two decades and registered no less than 11,000 patent ‘families’; we just haven’t been great at telling that story).

Both brands have a truly global reach and had built up a global community of fans, critics and others somewhere in-between. In other words, people we can engage with.

As part of the presentation there were some initial thoughts of how the two brands could work together.  These ranged from a mobile Web TV app to showcase their tons of content through to an idea that we called “Board’s eye view” (NEVER underestimate the power of a pun in a presentation….); a project that would allow you to see a rider’s journey through the half-pipe using the technology found in one of our devices; gyroscope, GPS, cameras, wi-fi and so on.

The Board’s Eye View project was initially a joining of some dots.

Dot 1: The successful Push N900 project had produced a skate hack, which brought together the physical skate world and its virtual gaming world cousin; literally identifying a skateboarder’s trick (from a list of pre-programmed tricks) and assigning a score for a successful Ollie (or whatever).

Dot 2: More and more the work I’m doing is about continual consumer engagement, which involves communities doing something that they are passionate about with our devices and then getting their deserved kudos for doing it.

Dot 3: We were looking for like-minded brands to partner in our marketing in 2010 and 2011.

Dot 4:  We had a powerful device coming to market (the N8) that’s packed with technology and we needed to demonstrate that.

Dot 5: On a purely selfish level, Helsinki had been -20c for the last two months and I needed to get out of the cold and darkness. And hell, if Vermont was good enough for Ben & Jerry’s then it was going to work for me.

So I temporarily escaped Finland and we pitched ourselves to the guys at Burton.

Burlington sunset

I’ll never forget that first meeting. Five of the team (three from Nokia and two from our agency, Hyper) trooped into the marketing meeting room at Burton Headquarters in Burlington, Vermont.

We presented from the slides we’d carefully crafted and, frankly, were met with a rich mix of amazement, wonder, suspicion and scepticism.  “You guys really think you can do that?!” seemed to be the response we were met with. However, to their credit the Burton team saw the potential of what we were talking about and wanted to join forces.

From there we worked through the summer, investing seed funding towards hiring a brilliant team of product developers and starting to assemble some idea of what was possible.

As we worked on the project we refined our thoughts on what we wanted it to be and not to be.  A lot of the discussion was around how the project would complement a lot of what’s already happening in the sport and also make it even more fun for the people that would opt to use it (if we got to mass production stage).  We also want it to have the potential to allow anyone to get involved – so we’ve already released the test data and we’re producing a framework to make it easy for developers to create apps, games or whatever their imagination comes up with (huge thanks to Clovis for his work on this). Again, the mass participation of this will probably rely on taking the well-crafted hardware protos that we’re making and turn them into a commercially viable product.

At the same time, we acknowledged and embraced the thought that this isn’t designed to replace some very human aspects of boarding; the judges’ eyes and opinion in competition and the very basic, but hugely important, fact that some people’s enjoyment on the mountain is about getting AWAY from technology and closer to nature. We respect that and are not about to try to change it.

The launch event was held at Nokia World 2010. The reason for choosing this event was that we wanted the developer community to appreciate how serious we are about doing this and, as further incentive, we announced a competition to find a top-notch developer to work with us as a member of the team.

Testing in Kaunertal, Austria

Testing in Kaunertal, Austria

Our first full testing session was in early November and (praise the lord) it was a real success – check out the films on the blog soon.

That pretty much take us up to date.

And that, in a way, is the beauty of this project. It’s current. So scarily contemporary that the narrative is being written as I’m sat on this plane on the way home to Helsinki (only -15c at the moment).

We have a hunch that this will work but we don’t really know. It could go terribly wrong and be ‘car crash marketing 101’ but at the same time it seems to be going well and people have enjoyed the roller-coaster ride so far. Above all, I for one am happy to keep going and seeing where we get to.

So we’ll keep developing, testing, falling, getting back up, testing again and hopefully come to the Burton US Open with something that shows the brilliance of open development, the power of the N8 and the partnership with Burton.

For now, there’s snow in them there hills and I for one am loving it. Just need an app to make me ride a snowboard as good as the kids in Finland……

Follow the project at:

And #pushsnowboarding or @blether on twitter


About Blether

Creativity, snowboarding, music, cycling, photography, travel and sitting on my sofa doing nothing once in a while. All personal views, not Nokia's...
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One Response to Blether #3: Nokia x Burton – A personal perspective

  1. Adrian says:

    Great work Stuart! Love it when you can see the potential synergies between two companies before anyone else 🙂

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