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BlackBerry: Just Because You're a Fruit, Doesn't Make You an Apple

Alan Brew

Research in Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, has finally bowed to the inevitable and changed its corporate name to BlackBerry. It was a logical move, but one that may have come either too early or too late to save the company.

As Research In Motion, or RIM, the company struck gold when it developed a portable wireless device that allowed users to access and send e-mail, make calls and browse the Internet. The BlackBerry — so named because the keyboard looked liked a collection of seeds — quickly became the communications device of choice for professionals. It came to define RIM and generate the bulk of its profits. Then came Apple’s iPhone and the game abruptly changed. It was no longer about device functionality. Apple’s user experience ecosystem and design aesthetic simply overwhelmed the telecommunications market. RIM — along with Nokia — was blind-sided.

After a series of mismanaged new product releases, bungled marketing efforts, and a plummeting stock price, the message about RIM was one of a floundering company falling behind the times in the fast-paced smartphone wars. BlackBerry was suddenly a gooseberry. Something had to be done. Enter new CEO Thorsten Heins. High on his list of priorities was the hiring of a Chief Marketing Officer and Frank Boulben was duly appointed CMO in May 2012.

The company has clearly made a significant commitment to him and the role of marketing. Focusing on a brand name was an easy call. The company was RIM, the phones were BlackBerrys and no one outside the IT guys supporting the phones and the rabid business types using them could, or would, keep it all straight.
The long-awaited and delayed BlackBerry 10 operating system and Z10 and Q10 handsets have been positively received, but a Superbowl ad and the appointment of singer Alicia Keys as Global Creative Director to deliver the cool factor smacks of dot com hype. It suggests that marketing has gotten dangerously ahead of reality at BlackBerry.

For a company that held 44.5 percent of the domestic market and watched as it slipped to 8.4 percent, it’s a massive effort to just play catch-up with Apple and Google. They have already moved on. BlackBerry’s branding challenge is far from over. It has only just started.

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