Public relations has a bad reputation. Often, with good reason. But in some circumstances companies employ a PR company only to have them do what they want, rather than taking their advice. Would you get on an airplane and try telling the pilot how to fly it?
Today I have a plea to anybody using a PR company. Let them do the job you employed them to do, listen to the advice they give you and judge them on their ability to deliver, rather than having them do what you want and then asking them why you didn’t get the results you wanted.
Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: If you don’t trust your PR company enough to take their advice FIRE them and find a company you do trust. Bad advice may be ruining your PR company’s reputation, but it’s doing damage to your business and your cash flow.
The BlackBerry Passport launches tomorrow. The question is will anybody care?
The company has, yet again, failed to build the relationships it needed to change the perception of the company, and its marketing around the launch of the new handset has been woeful. Again.
I wrote 18 months ago about my launch plan for the company’s BB10 devices and have been reflecting on what I would do differently for Passport. In reality, much of my BB10 remains unimplemented and would have give the company a better chance of success than anything I’ve seen to date.
The only thing I would change from my original plan would be the device cost. Announced yesterday, $599 dollars off contract is too much. A 50 dollar difference between the Passport and the iPhone 6 won’t persuade people to give BlackBerry another chance. Many wouldn’t switch if the price differential was $500. It’s not so much about the handset, although the Passport is an acquired style choice, but about the brand image.
There are those that have claimed, ‘market share is not BlackBerry’s game’. Some have said it’s about margin. Some who say the company is focused on Enterprise, not consumers.
So why even mention the price differential to the competitors? Why mention the comparative size of the screen? Make a clear statement that you’re focused on a different market.
Lastly, and most importantly, BlackBerry has failed to communicate these clearly via PR and marketing to build relationships and get people to take the action you want them to. BlackBerry has failed on all counts and it’s running out of runway.
Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: Don’t get distracted by the competition. Don’t be scared to sell on differentiators. Be prepared to trade on the value you deliver in the eyes of your customers and prospects – and if that doesn’t work… it’s over.
If the response to the BlackBerry Passport, which launches next Tuesday in Toronto, Dubai and London, is the same as the one that met the company’s BlackBerry 10 announcement the company’s turnaround will likely fail. Over recent weeks I’ve been analyzing the communications portions of the Passport pre-launch, as well as following the rumours and speculation to see what the company has learned from its recent failures.
While there have been some improvements – there can be no doubt that John Chen has done an amazing job stabilizing a critically ill patient: cutting costs and reducing headcount has been the easy part. Now, the company must show it can overcome the more difficult part of the turnaround – repairing the company’s brand and reputation, as well as selling the device in large volumes.
There are still some worrying signs that tell me BlackBerry will struggle – and it has just seven days to fix them. Here’s my take on the PR and marketing efforts to date, and what I believe the company needs to do on Tuesday. If it fails, the turnaround will be fail.
Let’s start with the advert BlackBerry ran in the Globe and Mail last week.
With the headline, “Canadians Love A Good Comeback” the body copy reads, “At BlackBerry we’re proud of our Canadian Heritage. It’s what pushes us to continuously push security and productivity boundaries, allowing those with unstoppable energy to work smarter, collaborate better and accomplish more. The soon-to-be-released BlackBerry Passport is further proof of our commitment to serious mobility for serious business.”
It’s wordy. It also doesn’t make a lot of sense. Being Canadian pushes the company to push security and productivity boundaries? I don’t see the link – or why it matters. While it’s in a Canadian newspaper [the company playing to a home audience], the advert has been shared globally. Perhaps I’m nit-picking! Given the obvious associations with travel something more global would perhaps have played better.
The company says the upcoming Passport is further proof of its commitment to serious mobility for serious business… again, I’m not sure that there’s been much proof of that lately.
Serious mobility for serious business appears to be the strapline under which the Passport will be launched. It’s not bad. But it’s not great. It’s something that would have worked had it been the company’s strapline back in 2006 – differentiating itself from consumer-chasing handsets like the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S-Series. Now it seems more like a defensive tool to protect from competitors that, having captured consumers have now focused their attentions on BlackBerry’s supposed core market. BlackBerry is back-peddling.
Then there’s the web form used to sign up for more information on the Passport, which has been circulating in recent weeks.
The subhead reads “Don’t limit yourself to the narrow world of today’s phones. See the bigger picture.”, followed by three bullets [the power of three!] focusing on a large, square touch screen, an innovative touch keyboard and a day-long battery life.
That’s it BlackBerry? That’s the best you’ve got? The reasons for buying a PassPort over a competitor handset is a square screen, an innovative touch keyboard and a day-long battery life?!
Let’s look at the launch invite. Save The Date. See the Bigger Picture. OK. What about references, either explicitly, to a Passport? I didn’t receive an invite, so perhaps they sent invites that were passport-like? The biggest issue for me here is that there is no US launch which, many, have interpreted as meaning the handset will not be available there at launch. We know about T-Mobile [the obvious partner for BlackBerry] and the delays in persuading US carriers to carry BB10 devices 18 months ago, but if true this is a major blow to the launch.
The map on the invoice is slightly strange. Most recipients will likely know where London, Dubai and Toronto are. The plane’s route on invite is also bizarre. Is it recognition that the company’s journey has been less than direct?
Now on to the real problem. The price. Many have rumoured it to be around $ 800 and GBP 500 [I can’t find a Dirham price]. If this is accurate, the company will be pricing it alongside some very popular and established devices. This could prove to be the biggest sticking point for the company whose handsets are, let’s say, less than fashionable right now. That may not – and, I’d argue, should not matter – but it will. Perhaps not to BlackBerry’s core market – the loyal ones that have kept faith with the company and are not worried about the stigma that has been attached to being a BlackBerry user in recent years. But, it matters if the company is to attract some of the defectors back; they are the people who the company needs to be targeting if it is to turn around its long-term fortunes.
BlackBerry needs to show that it is taking care of business. It needs to show that, in addition to operational and cost-savings it can sell devices. That requires it to rebuild relationships with customers that chose competitor devices; it requires the communication of a clear value proposition; it requires the company to inspire potential customers; it needs clear and effective marketing. Come to think of it the recent Globe and Mail advert should simply have said, “BlackBerry Passport: Taking Care of Business” or “BlackBerry Passport: Business Class”.
To date, I’ve seen none of this. BlackBerry has just seven days to turn things around or its turnaround could be taking on water within the week.
Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: experiment using small test groups of customers, prospects and those that buy from your competition until you find a value proposition and message that works.
Despite reaction to the product announcements at Apple’s latest keynote have been, at best, lukewarm there’s not doubt both the iPhones and Apple Watch will sell. So, what’s to worry about? If you’re an Apple executive or investor the answer is lots.
By far the biggest loser from the event was Apple and its reputation. Having hyped the keynote, according to media reports, far more than usual and with ABC positioning it as featuring a ‘historic’ announcement its failure to live up to top billing, the unveiling of solid, rather than revolutionary product point updates and a smartwatch that has seriously underwhelmed fans that have waited years for a wearable device, it has seriously damaged the company’s brand.
Here are three mistakes Apple made and what you can learn from them to avoid damaging your reputation and the reputation of your business:
Apple over promised and under-delivered. With new product launches and media announcements there’s always the temptation to hype, hype, hype. Traditionally understated, media reports suggest Apple got carried away in the weeks and days before the latest keynote and then failed to deliver on the raised expectations.
One of the central pieces of the Apple launch machine under Steve Jobs was that everything… OK, almost everything, was a surprise. Watch any of the keynotes from Steve’s time at the company and watch audiences go crazy when there was ‘One More Thing’. It’s always better to deliver something unexpected than fail to deliver what is expected.
Apple now appears to be taking its customers for granted. Two new, larger, iPhones that look similar to the handsets they’ve been selling for the last three years. Yes, they are thinner, they have a few new bells and whistles [nothing that the competition hasn’t already launched] but they’re is little sign of the innovation that got customers standing in line for days ahead of launch.
The Apple Watch is another example of this complacency. Having been rumoured for years the final [first generation] product was not what most had expected; it definitely wasn’t something that fits easily within the Apple product portfolio.
Apple now believes its own hype. It’s a dangerous position to be in and is the starting point for a fall from grace for Apple. Whether the company believes it or just wants you to think that it does it sends out the wrong messages – internally and externally. Tim Cook’s over enthusiasm for what added up to less than historic… less than exciting product features and functions like the fact the iPhone 6 is 50% faster than the original [think of Moore’s law and the advances in processing power since the first iPhone was announced and then compare it with a 50% speed bump and tell me whether you’re still impressed] or the glee with which he announced it had trimmed a millimetre or two off of the height of the handset… Apple fanboys are starting to see through the reality distortion field.
The only people that don’t see through it appear to work for Apple.
Hyped more than any Apple event that I can remember. Dubbed a ‘Historic Announcement’ by the media. Apple’s iPhone 6/Apple Pay/Apple Watch keynote will do untold damage to the company. Here’s why.
First, the live stream was a disaster. I failed to stream from the start; frequently displayed the test page; had simultaneous translation that competed with Tim Cook [on an already quiet audio stream]; returned to the start… This is not the slick, composed and seamless company with an abnormal attention-to-detail that we’ve become accustomed to.
Second, the announcements. A new iPhone that had been ‘leaked’ by just about every technology publication in the last month. Apple Pay, a contactless payment application [NFC and contactless payment have both been around for more than a decade] and the much anticipated Apple Watch that, well, let’s just say, it’s not pretty and, while it has some nice design tweaks and technology, it’s not exactly historic. None of the announcements were exactly new [remember Galaxy Gear, Pebble, Android Wear?!]
Three all of the announcements were positioned as being Apple innovations. Apple’s credibility starts to wear a little thin on this one. It had a six and a half minute pseudo intellectual video about the iWatch and another [shorter] video about its Activity app.
But, and here is the real problem… Apple hyped this event to the point of calling it historic. I’ll say it again… Apple claimed the event would include a historic announcement. While it delivered some nice products to add to its portfolio it failed to deliver anything that could realistically be considered historic. Not even close.
It’s not the first time. Apple has, in recent years, has been expected to deliver revolutionary new products but has failed. It’s lost ground to the competition and, given its notoriously strict and predictable release cycle looks set to lose further ground. This is not good news for the company or its investors. It does not bode well for future events… how long will people believe the hype? How long will the fanboys and the media supporters be prepared to continue to support a company turning out what are “me-too” products [nice ones, admittedly] but not industry leading or historic.
This could do serious long-term damage to the relationships that Apple has built over the last decade with customers around the world as part of a relentless and meticulous public relations program. Apple has built relationships with customers based on trust – and over-hyping events like it did for today’s keynote will quickly erode it. Why does this matter? It is these relationships that have resulted in hundreds of millions of sales and record share prices. Today’s event could be the first – and a major – backward step Apple has made in the last decade – likely undermining the trust the company has built in the its claims.
Once this process starts, it’s almost impossible to recover.
The degree to which Apple is, I’d suggest, as much a victim of the reality distortion field as its loyal customers ever were, was Tim Cook’s claim, ‘Isn’t that the best single you’ve ever heard’ as U2 played. It was alright, but not that good! Certainly not the best I’ve ever heard. I suspect I wasn’t the only one.
[…and before you accuse me of being anti-Apple, this post was written on a Mac!]
Startup and PR marketing and PR tip: when you’re streaming video make sure you have the infrastructure that scales.
Apple – once the master communicator – is playing a dangerous game. It’s also in danger of looking like just another technology company – falling in to the trap of over-hyping new product announcements and then failing to deliver on the promise. For a company that was the master of understatement; a company known for the secrecy surrounding new product launches under former CEO Steve Jobs; a company that had fan boys and the media on the edge of their seats hoping for ‘one more thing’, it now runs the risk of failing to deliver on the promises it makes.
The Apple publicity machine appears to have gone in to overdrive tonight, with ABC news previewing a ‘historic announcement’ from Apple tomorrow – claiming to have the only anchor at the event. What use having an anchor at the event is, I’m not sure. Short of being part of the presentation and broadcasting live from the stage I’m not sure what could be historic. I’ve speculated that it’s a holographic Steve Jobs giving the keynote address or Steve in person [yes, I know it’s a crazy suggestion, but… historic is a bold claim!].
And, that leads me to another failing of Apple’s recent communications strategy. One of the most effective communications tools is the element of surprise. Those moments that made you smile because you don’t see what’s coming. The ‘one more thing’s that left you speechless or waiting with bated breath. The company has forgotten how to use surprise and the power of anticipation in its product launches.
Apple, under Steve Jobs, was a master of using surprise to amaze audiences. The wall of silence and secrecy created its own sense of anticipation amongst its audience. Under Tim Cook, launches have been preceded by a series of leaks and teases that have largely taken away the need to watch the keynote. There is no ‘one more thing’. There’s no “wow” factor as the latest iProduct is revealed because it’s another tweaked version of a product we’ve seen before. The media are now used to create the hysteria before new product launches – and it’s become predictable.
And, it’s not just the launches. The product marketing has progressively weakened since Jobs handed over control of the company just over three years ago. The tag lines have become more predictable; more wordy; less memorable. Less believable. More self-congratulatory. Increasingly contrived.
I’m hoping that Apple doesn’t disappoint – again. A ‘historic announcement’ is a pretty bold statement – whether the words of Apple or ABC [likely encouraged by Apple]. A new iPhone and, if rumours are correct, the much-anticipated iWatch will be great… but historic it will not be!
If Apple fails to deliver on its promise tomorrow it risks becoming just another technology company that makes bold promises and yet, all too often, fails to deliver on them.