Nokia puts on a smile: UK sales are “excellent”

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Nokia just can’t catch a break right now: In the hours after reports swirled around the web about one analyst cutting sales estimates for the new Lumia handsets, the Finnish company’s share price plummeted by nearly 10 percent.

Faced with this, the company has fired back with an attempt to lift its spirits. As
Reuters reports:

Nokia said sales of its first Windows Phone model, the Lumia 800, were off to an excellent start in Britain . . .

“Lumia 800 sales in the U.K. are off to an excellent start,” Nokia said in a statement. “Based on earliest data the sales start of the Lumia 800 is the best ever first week of Nokia smartphone sales in the U.K. in recent history.

“By our measures, we have gained significant smartphone sell-out share in the channels in which we are operating in the U.K.,” Nokia said.

There are plenty of qualifications in there: “An excellent start” is fairly unquantifiable; we don’t know what the “earliest data” is; and “in recent history” is vague enough to feel like a piece of spin speak. But with so many writing the whole enterprise off on the back of a limited launch and a handful of reports, you can’t blame Nokia for wanting to put out a different message.

The thing is, the claim and counterclaims make for easy headlines, but they almost all overlook what this situation is really about for Nokia.

The Lumia certainly isn’t about winning, at least not in the short term: It’s about reclaiming ground. It’s about stopping the rot, making products that some people love — perhaps not everybody. It’s about plotting a strategy and creating things that will drip down into the markets where Nokia is strongest over the next few years.

The share price drop suggests we have learned nothing from the short-termism of the financial crisis. Our distorted sense of what constitutes success creates these boom-or-bust moments that often ignore reality and increase the volatility in the market. Our increasingly frenzied news cycles pick up on small pieces of data and magnify them beyond all reasonable proportion.

After all, how many of us had heard of Pacific Crest (the analyst firm that estimated Nokia would sell) before yesterday? How many investors who saw reports that the Lumia launch was “a bust”┬árealize that the reports are based on somebody looking at Google Trends? How many of us even trust analysts to get it right?

Don’t get me wrong: The stakes are tremendously high for Nokia here. Every statistic deserves to be scrutinized, every announcement should be pored over, every report has some weight to it — and if Nokia gets this totally wrong, it could be a long-term problem that is near impossible to recover from.

But turnarounds — if they happen at all — don’t happen overnight. Maybe we should stop behaving as if they do.

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