I remember falling in love with the early smartphones like the Palm Treo and especially the BlackBerry 7200 series. These brands exemplified everything I wanted in a mobile phone and its users were people that I admired and identified with, professionals who had nice cars and well-tailored suits, young and successful. Although much time elapsed after first deciding that I would be a BlackBerry (BB) user and actually becoming one, I purchased my first Berry over two years ago and have been a user since.
Lately I’ve considered jumping ship to the iPhone, the only other phone that has the aesthetically pleasing characteristics and business utility that I desire. How did it come to this?
Over the past two years, Research In Motion (RIM), the Canadian company that manufactures BlackBerry phones, fell under the pressure to take part of the “#1 Smartphone” race and attain the most users/activations. As a public company with shareholders to please, it was a logical course of action. However, its tactics have been less to speak of. To make BB more accessible to a lager demographic, they began by lowering their prices and reconciled that by designing Berries that were smaller and much more cheaply made, with plastic and rubber, rather than the silver finish and robust appearance of past BB phones. They made a cool “everybody” phone and began to neglect their business consumers, ironically losing the cool factor they once had. They promoted popular uses of smartphones like playing music and Facebook while making it a lifestyle phone, rather than its uses for business. These actions only intensified their descent, allowing Apple and Android the leeway to enter the business realm that RIM once ruled.
The best way to battle the pressure to gain market share in this case is by separating from the competition and entering into a category that BB can be #1 in. It may seem like selling a phone to everyone may be a good idea, but in a congested market headed towards maturity like the smartphone market, marketing guru Seth Godin says it best, “most companies selling to nobody outperform those that are trying to sell to everyone.” The BlackBerry is simply not meant to be an “everybody” smartphone. In The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by marketing experts, Al Ries and Jack Trout, the second law, “The Law of Category,” states that “If you can’t be first in category, create a category you can be first in.” Fortunately, BlackBerry is already number one in the business phone category; however, its illusions of grandeur have allowed its competitors like Apple to successfully penetrate the market that it leads. RIM needs to solidify its place in this world by repositioning and focusing the brand on its business consumers. In the book, “The Law of Perception” says that “marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perceptions.” RIM dropped the ball on the BlackBerry’s perception by attempting to make it a phone for everyone, but it is already so entrenched in the business world that it can reclaim its former esteem.
They should revive the prestige once held by the classic Bold 9000 – arguably its most popular and beautiful phone to date – and the sleek but robust BB 8800 model. Indeed, it is wise to pay attention to the competition and not fall behind technological advancements in mobile devices but it is also important to present those new technologies in a manner that is unique to BlackBerry. Their approach of blending touch-screen utility with their signature QWERTY keypad on the Torch and the upcoming Bold 9900 is a step in the right direction.
As far as promotional activities are concerned, the BlackBerry does not have to position itself as just another boring or lame business tool; it can still be perceived as cool. Appealing to businesspeople, entrepreneurs, and those that aspire to be like them is a potential gold mine for RIM. When you think of business and the people who embody it, it ranges far beyond accountants, Wall Street, and executives of companies like pharmaceuticals that most would not find exciting. In the realm of creative and entertainment professionals the BB is still prevalent. What do the fictitious Ari Gold, Jay-Z, Drake and Fabolous have in common? They are all avid BlackBerry users. On one of the first posts on his blog/website, Life and Times, affluent rapper and Hip-Hop mogul Jay-Z reviews and raves about them and their most recent successful release, the Torch 9800. Another rapper, Drake is infamous for his BlackBerry “freestyles” and writing all of his music on any BB phone that is at his disposal. As one of the most fashionably influential rappers of the last decade, Fabolous is a true trendsetter. In a number of his past interviews, he has discussed his obsession with BlackBerry phones including on the nationally broadcasted, fan-favorite BET show, 106th and Park. Although Ari Gold is a fictitious character in the hit HBO show Entourage, his cool factor as an entertainment business professional is unmatched. The character played by actor Jeremy Piven is highly regarded as the fan-favorite of all the characters of the show. In the show, he is infamous for always having his BlackBerry on at all times, even using it during family outings and while having sex with his wife!
Why not co-brand with any or all of these people? Through advertising, the Ari Gold character can be revived as the perfect spokesperson for BB. Even creating a “Mogul Edition” of the BlackBerry for Jay-Z, Donald Trump and other young media and entertainment business professionals like James Murdoch would be a great co-branding opportunity. RIM can revisit the advertising tagline of the BB 8800, “a stylish way to get things done.” This is the position that the BlackBerry will hold in the minds of the business consumer and it would be realized through sophisticated design, high prices and exclusivity.
Through superb design and positioning as an elite business product, RIM can achieve status beyond what BlackBerry had in the past, thenceforth renowned as the ultimate smartphone for the business user. The exclusive and versatile phone will be suitable for professionals of all kinds whether they work in Advertising, Finance or Fashion. Finally, aspiring businesspeople like myself will long for the benchmark of excellence in a business phone and feel one step closer to the success of the business leaders we admire.