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.
Tomorrow, I’ll explain how I would launch the BlackBerry Passport. Until then, read my plan for the BlackBerry 10 launch