BlackBerry has a death wish!

$BBRY, BlackBerry, Mobile, Telecommunications

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.

I wrote almost three years ago that BlackBerry was its own worst enemy.  Nothing I’ve seen since convinces me otherwise!

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.

BlackBerry: the easy part is over. Now the hard work begins.

Blackberry’s stock has rallied in recent days.  Buoyed by John Chen’s announcement that the restructuring of the company is over, many people have started to talk about turnaround and of better days ahead.  The reality is that the restructure was the easy bit.  The hard part – selling devices and in increasing volumes than in recent years – may yet consign the company to the mobile telecommunications history books.  It’s a part of the jigsaw puzzle that the company has been notably poor at in recent years. 

The nadir being had to be the company’s Super Bowl advert that left many scratching their heads at what they had witnessed.

The Blackberry YouTube account shows more than 1.2 million views – some would claim this to be a success because it created ‘buzz’. But when the advert served no valuable purpose it did far more damage than good.

In order for Blackberry to complete the turnaround that Chen now says he
believes is 80:20 in favor of successfully being executed it needs to retain its existing customer base and start to capture those that have in recent years abandoned the company.   That is going to require a PR and marketing campaign the likes of which the company hasn’t seen for at least a decade.  I’d even suggest it would take a campaign to
rival the one credited with turning around a failing Apple Computer in 1998.
 Blackberry needs to beat the master marketer, Steve Jobs, at his own game.

Before you start, I’m not suggesting that Blackberry go after iPhone customers.
 I think to continue down that path would be the death knell for the company.
 What I’m talking about is something that gives Blackberry diehards, and those
that could be tempted back, a reason to buy a new Blackberry over any of an
increasing number of attractive alternatives.  The company needs to be clear about what it stands for – and why people should care.  

In order to do this the company needs first to identify who its audience is and start to rebuild some of the burned bridges with a PR program.  Its value proposition needs to be clear and its message compelling.  It also needs to deliver it in a consistent way across
multiple platforms, both directly and via traditional, online and social media
channels.  This is something that the company has struggled to do, despite it being one of the most important parts of a successful turnaround.

Unless the company can successfully rebuild relationships and deliver marketing that encourages consumers [B2B or B2C] to take action then the company is doomed, no matter what their financial position is.  They’ll be consigned to the lower leagues of the mobile telecommunications marketplace – something they’ve been trying to avoid ever since Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone.

Do you think Blackberry will make it?

Read my continuing analysis of BlackBerry’s turbulent struggle

BlackBerry [$BBRY] Still Doesn’t Get Public Relations

$BBRY, public relations

I’ve written about the problems at BlackBerry frequently.  I wrote back in early 2012 that unless the company fixed it’s perception problems it was effectively dead.  I commented on the botched BlackBerry 10 launch that former CEO Thorsten Heins claimed would turnaround the company’s fortunes.  More recently, I’ve watched as the company’s stock price has gone violently up and down on one announcement or other: up on the perception of positive news and down on stories that were seen as negative. All major public relations fails.

Fig 1. BlackBerry stock price Feb 24 – 28 2014

$BBRY, BlackBerry

 

Fig 2. BlackBerry 2000 – present

 

 

$BBRY stock chart from 2000 through 2014

Despite what most of my peers think, public relations isn’t about press coverage.  It’s about relationship building.  The stronger the relationships the easier managing perception becomes – and vice versa… and this is something that BlackBerry has still failed to grasp.  Had it spent time building the strong relationships with its Enterprise customer base, operator partners, journalists and analysts [industry and financial] it wouldn’t be where it finds itself today.  Had BlackBerry worked on fixing its perception as a company in mortal danger and at the mercy of its competition’s every move its stock price profile over the last 6, 12 and 18 months wouldn’t resemble a range of mountains.

Is it too late for BlackBerry?  Probably.  But if they ditched the BlackBerry name – using it only for the cellular devices rather than company -, renamed the company QNX and started using public relations to build relationships with the people late matter most to their business. $BBRy should work on rebuilding relationships with Enterprise CIOs, making decisions on BYOD and security technologies within the largest Blackberry adopters/installs; they should ditch their consumer market play – and their virtual keyboard handsets and focus on the Q10,

$BBRY should also focus on developing an Enterprise ecosystem that works as well for large organizations as it does for small businesses and startups.  Help an entrepreneur start to build their business and he/she is unlikely to ever forget it.  Trust me – it’s likely to be loyalty for life!

But, what $BBRY needs to get started on creating and rolling out a very targeted strategic and tactical public relations program.  It needs to identify who the key people are that it needs to build relationships with, what it needs to say and do to in order to change their perception of the company – and it needs to do it soon.  It may be too late to do anything before the company’s next earnings report on March 28th but if the company has any chance of long-term survival then changing the perception of the company has to be priority number one.

BlackBerry MUST Die!

$BBRY, BlackBerry, Mobile, Telecommunications
$BBRY, BlackBerry, Mobile, Telecommunications
BlackBerry MUST Die!

Whether Fairfax Financial, Google, Cisco, Samsung, former founder Jim Balsillie or, my favourite, Apple end up with all or part of troubled Canadian telecoms company BlackBerry one thing is clear: the BlackBerry name must die. This won’t be a problem in the event that the company is broken up, but should Balsillie or Fairfax chief Prem Watsa succeed in their bids and take the company private the chances of succeeding will be small unless the new owner changes the name.

Here are three reasons why:

  • The BlackBerry brand is irrevocably damaged. It’s become synonymous with delays, undelivered promises, disappointment and, ultimately, failure. If the company has any chance of successfully re-establishing a serious place in the handset market then it will need a new identity.
  • Once BlackBerry hangs out the ‘under new ownership’ sign the company will likely take on a new direction and that fresh start predicates a new identity. BlackBerry is synonymous with the world of the early 2000s, not the sort that are currently being sold by the likes of Apple, Samsung, Google and, even, Microsoft.
  • BlackBerry says Enterprise. If the new company has visions of providing handsets and services to a wider audience, whether directly, or as a service running on third-party handsets, it needs to shake off those Enterprise perceptions.

The truth is that whatever the company is called, in order for the startup formally called BlackBerry to succeed it needs to go back to the start and re-think its value proposition, target audience and validate its marketing assumptions.  It needs to go back to basics and create an entirely new strategic communications plan.

If you were running the startup formally known as BlackBerry, what would you call it?

New Owner. Same Problems Remain For BlackBerry.

The announcement that BlackBerry has entered in to a tentative agreement to sell the company to its largest investor, Fairfax Financial might appear on the surface to be good news.  The deal reported to be valued at $4.7 billion – or $9 a share – will take the company private and likely bring about a clean house.  But, while the deal would bring an end to the public bleed-out of the company it is unlikely to change any of the fundamental problems that face the beleaguered brand.

I’ve written regularly about the problems faced by BlackBerry as it planned what was billed as the start of its renaissance.  I’ve criticized the company’s marketing and public relations approach, it’s focus [if you can call it that] on the wrong audience, it’s attempts to chase a consumer market that had moved on and the abandonment of its core customer – the enterprise user, and its bungled BlackBerry 10 playbook.  New owners won’t fix much of this.

A renewed focus on Enterprise customers, a new marketing team and fresh ideas will definitely help.  The delivery of the right message to the right audience at the right time via the right delivery mechanism will also make a difference. But, the company’s biggest asset – it’s name – is now also one of its biggest problems.  BlackBerry’s new owners need a clean slate and must consider renaming the company as part of its turnaround plan.  The BlackBerry brand is, sadly, tarnished beyond redemption.

Another problem that isn’t fixable is timing.  BlackBerry’s long overdue BB10 launch has only served to make the company and its products more irrelevant in the eyes of many smartphone users.  The company was behind the likes of Apple and Samsung when BB10 was announced; by the time it landed Sure, there are the BlackBerry die-hards, but how many of those remain will become clearer when the company reports its latest quarter at the end of the week.  Of those that remain it’ll also be interesting to see how many switch to a competitive platform within the first six months of the company going private.

So, while many see the acquisition as a new dawn I still believe that it is merely an exercise in slowing the blood-loss and preparing for the inevitable – the transplant of many of the company’s most valuable assets in to the companies that need [or, in this case, can afford] them.

I wrote more than a year ago that I expected Apple to acquire BlackBerry for its patents and I still expect to see BES and BBM as a part of the Cupertino-based company’s ecosystem within 18 months.

Read: Why BlackBerry must die if the company is to live

Why BlackBerry needs to start marketing like a startup

By most accounts the Blackberry 10 launch has not been the turnaround success the company had hoped for: sales last quarter were disappointing, the outlook doesn’t look any brighter and most operators have recently made deep cuts to the price of the Z10 and Q10 handsets in a bid to stimulate interest.

I’ve written about the company’s poor marketing and PR over the last 15 months; why it is the fundamental flaw in the Blackberry 10 launch plan; and how I would have done it differently.  On that basis, the only option remaining is for the company to go back to marketing basics and start marketing like a startup.  I believe that by applying lean principles to its public relations and marketing to ensure that it delivers the right message to the right audience at the right time, via the right channel to ensure that it delivers a specific objective.

Here’s what BlackBerry – and you – must do to create effective PR and marketing programs for your startup or small business:

Play to its strengths. Blackberry was always the handset of Enterprise users that valued its secure email capabilities and physical keyboard.  Blackberry is a long way from its roots, and it needs to get back to playing to its strengths.

Identify specific customer groups.  Blackberry’s current target market is ‘hyper-connected users’ with more than one email account.  That pretty much means that anybody buying a smartphone is a potential customer, but it also makes giving them a compelling reason to choose a Blackberry 10 device over one of the competitor handsets incredibly difficult.  My wife, my sister, my father and my best friend would all fall in to the hyper-connected demographic, but we all have very different requirements in smartphones.

Segmenting the audience in to clearly identifiable groups makes marketing far more targeted and this dramatically increases the chances of success.

Rethink the message.  I’m not sure who came up ‘Keep Moving’ but it seems to have encouraged consumers to keep moving past its in-store displays.  Blackberry needs to rethink its message and develop custom messaging for each of its defined target audiences.  Blackberry also claims that the new OS is the future of real mobile computing – but so far that claim looks like a lot of marketing hype, and very little like reality.

Act quickly.  One of the biggest problems is that Blackberry didn’t start PR and marketing for Blackberry 10 until 4 days after the official launch.  Then, it ran a Super Bowl advert months before its new handsets were available in its largest market. Timing is one of the often overlooked elements of a PR and marketing program, but one of the largest factors in the success or failure of it.

Find the right channels.  Blackberry has spent a lot of money on marketing its new devices and OS… but without a defined audience the chances of successfully delivering the right message to the right people is slim.  It’s like rolling dice and hoping the right number comes up.  It’s not a very scientific way to market, and all the indications are that the wrong numbers are coming up far too often.

Validate everything. One of the principles of Lean is to continually validate or disprove hypotheses in order to focus activity and increase the chances of success.  It is clear that Blackberry’s launch plan for Blackberry 10 hasn’t worked and it needs to start testing new marketing and public relations hypotheses if it is to have any chance of remaining a credible player in the smartphone market.

What would you like to see from Blackberry’s marketing and PR programs?

Read my other posts on Blackberry’s marketing problems 

The most important day for BlackBerry since 1999

I wrote early in 2012 that for the BlackBerry10 launch to be the saviour the company hoped for would be more about perception than technology or sales figures. Yesterday I appeared on CTV, ahead of the company’s Q4 2013 earnings report, including the first sales data for its new handsets. I made the point that it would be the most important day in the company’s life since it launched it’s first handset back in 1999.

WTF BlackBerry?!

If anybody needed proof how bad BlackBerry’s marketing is then you need look no further. I’m speechless. I don’t understand the point of this video, nor do I understand its value to the company as it looks to persuade American consumers to switch from their iOS and Android devices to BlackBerry 10. Should I be surprise? Probably not – this is the same company that started marketing for its make-or-break product four days after launch and ran an 30 second spot that, despite now knowing the thinking behind it, I still don’t get.

Here’s my BlackBerry10 launch marketing plan, including a cover of the Ram Jam song Black Betty… all they’d need to do is change two letters and they’d be done!!  Here’s one Forbes contributor who says they think that BlackBerry 10 may have been an enormous, record-breaking flop.  I agree – I forecast that BlackBerry’s 10 would be another Windows 8 at the end of last year.

THINK DIFFERENT[LY] | My marketing plan for #BlackBerry10

I’ve been pretty hard on BlackBerry in recent months.  I’ve criticized their marketing and suggested that it will result in the eventual demise of the company.  I’ve said the launch of  the company’s make-or-break new operating system, BlackBerry 10, was an unmitigated failure and poured scorn on their Super Bowl advert.  So, it’s only fair that now BlackBerry 10 has launched, I share what I would have done differently to try to turn around the ailing company.

Re-brand. While Research In Motion announced it was to become BlackBerry last week at the launch of BlackBerry10, it should have done it when current CEO Thorsten Heins took over at the helm of the company from founders Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie last January.  It would have given the company a full year in which to reposition and rebuild the brand.

Re-message.  BlackBerry has been, the company claims, been “redesigned, re-engineered and reinvented”.  I quite like the message, but the company should have re-launched its message in Q1 or, at latest, Q2 last year.  It would have sent a message to customers and prospects that the company was relevant and encouraged those that were considering Apple’s iPhone 5 or one of the many Android devices a reason to put off their purchase decision.

Focus.  The company needed to define who its target audience was – in detail.  BlackBerry still describes its target audience as ‘hyper-connected’ individuals.  This is everybody… and nobody.  It makes developing a product and marketing it incredibly difficult.  It also makes it difficult for people to identify with the brand – especially given that fewer people identify themselves as BlackBerry users than in the past.

Become the entrepreneurs friend.  Hyper-connected people, and with a real need for a phone that helps them manage their business lives.  They have a finely balanced work-life balance and need a smartphone that helps them to put business first, but also serve their personal lifestyle outside of the office.  There are also, my design or circumstance, more entrepreneurs than at any time in the smartphone era because of the global economic downturn.  The President of The United States of America is a BlackBerry user – and helping Americans and the US economy at a time of need would have been a great PR opportunity.

Find brand ambassadors.  One for each customer demographic would be good.  The company announced Alicia Keys as the company’s Global Creative Director at the BlackBerry10 launch, but it didn’t go far enough.  How about an Enterprise brand ambassador, a sports ambassador, somebody that entrepreneurs can relate to… I don’t know the specific names of the ambassadors, but I’m pretty sure that Alicia Keys won’t help the company sell to retain Enterprise business.

Establish ‘Entrepreneur Bars’.  OK, so the name is not right, but why not establish business centres that can be used, much as Apple has Genius bars, by business customers to get advice on technology, as well as finance, legal, patent, sales and operations experts. Make a friend of an entrepreneur by helping them to build a successful business and, I suspect, they’ll remain loyal.

Establish partnerships.  Incubators and accelerators would be a great opportunity for BlackBerry.  Grants, bursaries, competitions for developers to create apps for the new OS would have been a great way to get the next generation of entrepreneurs on side and talking positively about the new handsets/operating system.  

Free upgrades for existing customers.  If not free, then subsidized.  No matter how long remains on existing contracts I’d suggest all BlackBerry users were given the opportunity to upgrade to a new BlackBerry10 device.  It’d get handsets into the market in bulk and make a brand ambassador of every exiting customer.

Stop Thorsten Heins from doing interviews.  I don’t mean any disrespect, but he’s not able to connect with the company’s major target demographics.  BlackBerry would really shake things up – and set an example for the industry – if it found somebody in their 20s or 30s to do interviews, launches and consumer-focused [I include both B2B and B2C in this] PR.  Thorsten is perfect for investor and partner relations activities so I’d focus his energies on these activities.

One launch.  The launch was effectively one event, from New York City, streamed to viewing parties around the world.  Make it big – think Google I/O skydivers or Apple iPhone the first time around.  If this is the OS on which the fortunes of the business rests then it needed to be memorable – the BlackBerry10 launch wasn’t memorable.

This is just a start – there needs to be a tactical BlackBerry10 launch plan, but I believe the company missed significant opportunities to score easy victories in the run up to the January 30 launch.  Missed opportunities that, I believe, will cost it dear in the coming weeks and months.  Tell me I’m wrong.  I’d love to hear your ideas on what BlackBerry should have done to improve its chances of making 10 a success and saving itself from oblivion.