Is rebranding the key to reversing BlackBerry's fortunes?

Last month here we observed that there is a chasm between the world of trade marks and branding. There is no industry where branding appears more front-and-centre in the efforts of each of the leading players to distingush itself from its competitors than the smartphone business. Without dismissing other participants in this market, it seems that the real branding war is between Reseach in Motion (RIM) and its flagship BlackBerry product, the iPhone, which just this week saw the release of a new version, and the open source Android platform, which is finding itself increasingly in manufacturer-labelled devices.

Against that backdrop, a recent blog post that appeared on TechCrunch, entitled "How RIM Can Bring the Sexy Back to BlackBerry: A Five-Point Marketing Plan", written by Vijay Chatta, caught my eye here. The occcasion for the article seems to be the fact that, while RIM's sales continue to be robust, its stock price continues to plummet. "People are buying BlackBerries, but investors are not buying RIM. Why? Short answer. No buzz. Despite otninuing to reign supreme as American's smartphone of choice, RIM's BlackBerry devices are not creating enough excitement in the market."

As a result, RIM's market share vis-à-vis the iPhone and Android-based devices appears to continue to decline. Promises by RIM that, at some time in the unspecified future, they will come out with an "iPhone killer" are too distant to provide the jump the company needs now. The solution--five ways that RIM "can boost their hopes and bring sexy to BlackBerry." Let's look at them, one by one.

1. Leverage Obama. The suggestion derives from the President's reported devotion to the BlackBerry device. The solution--run a campaign along the lines of "If the President of the United States trust the security of the RIM operating system, shouldn't you." That seems like a far-fetched idea, even if it is not tongue-in-cheek. If the idea is to create a more sexy image in order to generate buzz, the a veiled endorsement resting on U.S. security seems the wrong way to go about it. More generally, promoting a product by means of appealling to the brand appeal of someone else seems a risky way to accomplish one's goal, given how little control one has over the veiled endorsee.

2. Launch your Silicon Valley-based presence. The thought here is that buzz is Silicon-Valley-centric, and a company whose centre is in the staid Province of Ontario is at best at the periphery of the buzz-creating machine. After establishing a massive presence in the Valley, "there should be free food and Molson Beer flowing round the clock." In particular, with both Android and iPhone being Valley-based, RIM needs to become the natural third side of any smartphone discussion. Perhaps--but it still leaves open what is the message that is supposed to emanate from the Valley location. It seems to me that an ineffective message that is focused on the Valley is worse than the current situation where RIM is the outsider, even if a bit staid.

3. Buy Hollywood. Quite simply, Apple is a master of the product placement game in Hollywood. By comparison, when is the last time one saw a BlackBerry in a movie or tv episode?In the words of the blog, "RIM needs to step up and put a BlackBerry in the hand of damn near every 'connected influencer" character out there." I am sympathetic about product placements as a brand-enhancing step, provided that the placements serve the larger image that the product wishes to convey.

4. Scrap Your Apps. The assertion here is that BlackBerry App World is a failure, both with developers and the ease of use of the platform. The role of apps is an interesting one. While Apple is consistently praised for its apps and the killer ecosystem that it has created, the truth is that Apple makes little from revenue shares from apps. At the end of the day, its ecosystem is a means to sell its hardware products. The advice, therefore, for RIM is to give up any strategy of actually making money from its apps. Instead, it should be a loss-leader. In that context, the biggest challenge is massively to improve its relationship with its developers.

The issue of apps is not merely a marketing matter, as the blog itself admits. It is however a strategy question that goes here to the success of the iPhone. I am sure that RIM is considering how to respond to this strategic challenge. This suggestion seems out of place in this list, at once much more sombre and much more critical.

5. Focus on an iTunes Killer, not an iPhone-Killer. The author quite correctly points out that "iTunes is the true barrier to entry in the smartphone race." The solution? First, RIM should offer a music option for its device, such as Spotify, adding another customer billing entry point. Beyond that? The blogpost is effectively silent.

iTune Killer?

In considering these five suggestions, in moving from the tongue-in-cheek to the more substantial, the message seems to be that RIM and the BlackBerry need to become more like iPhone. If so, I don't quite get the message. The BlackBerry is not an iPhone. At the end of the day, that may be good or it may be bad for RIM. However, converging on the iPhone message, rather than seeking to sharpen its brand image, seems to me the wrong way to go. Continuing development, correct strategic choices, and -- perhaps, just perhaps -- more buzz about the BlackBerry seem the better bet for strengthening the BlackBerry brand.

More on Spotify here.

Is rebranding the key to reversing BlackBerry's fortunes? Is rebranding the key to reversing BlackBerry's fortunes? Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Friday, July 02, 2010 Rating: 5


  1. 'Android-based devices appears to continue to decline', must be wishful-thinking. By XPERIA (Android-based) Sony-Ericson has brought ‘the Sexy Back’ to this former less sexy manufacturer.

  2. Anonymous at 7:50 - read the whole sentence: it is RIMs market share that appears to be in decline.

  3. It doesn't seem too difficult, Apple have managed to avoid the price of its products moving to their long run marginal cost (which, if the various tech disassembly-into-bill-of-materials sites are to be believed) is "not much" so Apple generates a high ROI which translates to a high share price. Something it has got good track record on.

    As I understand it, Blackberry positioned itself as a no fluff business gadget.

    Android attaches the brand of Google to Free/Open Source Software (which captures the innovation of the bazaar), to anybody's hardware, so it can be fluffier and cheaper, but still give good ROI.

    All three products have made their bed, it seems to me, and repositioning would require considerable amounts of strategy boutique whale song and incense but not necessarily much success.

    Look at the other software driven company that continually tries to get down with the kids but fails.

  4. My marketing tip for Blackberry: forget sexy - boast about battery life. Apple will start shaking in their boots.

  5. "People are buying BlackBerries, but investors are not buying RIM. Why? Short answer. No buzz. Despite otninuing to reign supreme as American's smartphone of choice, RIM's BlackBerry devices are not creating enough excitement in the market."

    Not enough bubble and irrational exuberance in RIM's stock price. Oh my.


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