BlackBerry Has Lost Control

Update: An unsubstantiated rumour on May 11 2015 that Apple could be interested in acquiring all, or part, of BlackBerry caused the Waterloo-based company’s stock price to skyrocket.

Yesterday I explained that BlackBerry is facing its biggest challenge yet as it looks to turn the business around: an increasing number of people, including once loyal users, appear not to care.  Shortly before the markets closed yesterday a report surfaced claiming Samsung had approached the Waterloo-based company about a takeover.  The share price rocketed before falling back in after hours trading as the approach was denied by BlackBerry.

It’s another demonstration of a company’s future [and stock price] is in the hands of others.  The fact that the only people who appear  interested in BlackBerry are investors, looking to make a quick buck on M&A rumours, rather than a long-term recovery of the business through selling products customers – it has been reported the company is having trouble winning back corporate customers] want to buy then it reinforces the point I made in my earlier post.

The company has lost control of its own destiny.  It is at the mercy of its news agenda.  It cannot control [I would argue it is unable to define a clear brand or value proposition] its own destiny. It’s the last place a company ever wants to be and it appears not to know how to regain control.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?  Tell me in the comments below.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: whatever you do, retain control of your brand and its perception.  When a third-party has control your business is almost certainly doomed.

BlackBerry’s Biggest Problem: Nobody Cares

I’ve been talking about what I perceive are the reasons for BlackBerry’s demise in recent years.  There’s a long list from product market fit to a failure to grasp the fundamental shifts in consumer tastes; a failure to understand what its customers wanted to abysmal marketing and PR strategies.  But BlackBerry faces its biggest problem yet.  One that no company wants to find itself in.  It is almost always fatal.

*NASDAQ stock price at time of recording was $9. 40

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip:  Stay focused on the value you deliver that nobody else can and reinforce this wherever possible. When nobody cares about your company it’s over.

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

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.

Was the #BlackBerry10 launch was a success or a failure?

Sadly, after a long wait, it was an unmitigated failure.  RIM… sorry, BlackBerry, needed something a little special as it launched the product that it believes will see it through the next decade – but what we got was more of the same.  While we won’t know for sure what impact the launch of #BlackBerry10 will have on sales – my prediction is that it won’t be positive – here are some specifics about why the launch was a car crash for RIM.

It started late.  The event was scheduled for a 10am ET start, but didn’t get going until 10.15.  The video stream started at 10, but it was a series of interviews with the product development team and a haircut for Kevin Michaluk – otherwise known as Crackberry Kevin.

It was preluded by somebody having their ponytail cut off!  I’ve done a few product launches in my time – and I’ve studied more than I can count – but it’s the first I’ve see where the main event involve somebody getting a hair cut!  I’m guessing it will also be the last one I see.

It was presented by Thorsten Heins.  It shouldn’t have been.  Given the company announced Alicia Keys as Global Creative Director why not make the announcement  before the main product announcements and have Ms. Keys do the launch?

It was held on the wrong date.  Given the company has invested in an expensive Superbowl advert why hold the launch four days before?  Especially when the US marketing effort doesn’t start until Sunday.  BlackBerry should have held the event on Monday February 4th.

It was two-speed.  Pedestrian and clunky presentation on stage, interspersed with high tempo video promos – there was no rhythm to the launch.

The products rose from the stage on a music stand.  What was that all about?  They’re pocket-sized… could Thorsten not have taken them out of his pocket?  What was the music stand all about?

The livestream was a tight one shot. Which meant those not at the event missed what was on the screen behind.

The demos were too long and tried to show too many things.  You also felt like you were eavesdropping on a private conversation between Thorsten and Vivek Bhardwaj.

The response in the room at the New York City launch was muted.  BlackBerry clearly underestimated the lack of enthusiasm they’d get from attendees.  They should have called Rent-A-Crowd in order to ensure a rapturous welcome for each announcement at the BlackBerry10 launch event.

No carrier support.  There were a few carrier contributions in the preamble, but none on stage to support the launch.  With US Carriers being critical to a BlackBerry revival, their absence was worrying.

No app developer support.  They may not have been asked, but if they weren’t… why not?!

No hint at the marketing effort.  RIM has invested in a commercial advert for this weekend’s Superbowl, but there was no hint of what we might expect.  This was the perfect opportunity to get people buzzing about the spot BlackBerry will run.  The marketing, according to reports, starts on Sunday – FOUR DAYS after the official #BlackBerry10 launch.

Alicia Keys.  The way they built it up, I expected to hear that BlackBerry had poached Jonny Ive… or persuaded somebody like Norman Foster or James Dyson to come on board to help their product design efforts as Global Creative Director.  Aside from the why… why announce it at the end?  Why not have Ms. Keys do the presentation – she knows how to command an audience and there would have been hundreds of press images of her with the new devices.  Sure, there were some taken after the event, but she didn’t touch one of the handsets during the launch.  A huge mistake.

Keep Moving.  Less than 30 seconds was spent on this.  It sounded interesting and, presumably, will be a large part of the company’s marketing efforts.  Why not at least show a preview or name some of the athletes involved.  Could this be the Superbowl spot?  [I had to Google ‘BB10 Keep Moving’ to find the video]

It just kind of fizzled out.  There was no summary that told viewers they’d reached the end of the launch.  The screen on the webcast just faded to black [or blue].

Based on the #BlackBerry10 launch, if the company avoids oblivion it’ll be more luck than judgement.


BlackBerry 10 will be Windows’ 8

When I suggested that BlackBerry10 would be dead on arrival it created some passionate responses. BlackBerry 10 is GREAT technology, I was told. I never said it wasn’t [I actually don’t know how good or bad it is yet].  I was told my view was sour grapes because I hadn’t been given a sneak preview. I’m not a developer or an analyst – or a mobile industry influencer. I’m a marketeer [so, there is no reason for RIM to give me a sneak preview]. I was told that RIM was marketing to the developer community [this isn’t going to persuade any end-users to choose a BlackBerry10 device over an iPhone or Android handset], and that it was too early to market for a launch, which – at that point – was still only defined as ‘Q1 2013’ [this misunderstands the scale of RIM’s problem].

The reason for taking the position that I did was based solely on what I was seeing [or wasn’t seeing] from RIM in terms of marketing to end-users. People like me. RIM has a much larger problem than BlackBerry 10 – it’s called perception.  People don’t think the company, or its handsets, are cool.  Heck, new Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer doesn’t even think they are smartphones

So, when I read this story from Business Insider – about sales of Microsoft’s Windows 8 in its first month and it’s exactly what I was talking about when I talked about BlackBerry 10.  Sales of Windows 8 are awful – down 21% year-on-year. Windows 8 tablet sales are “almost non-existent’ – just 1% of total sales. Why? It’s not the product… the product is, I’m reliably told by people who know, good. It’s very good.

And this despite a comprehensive and expensive multi-channel marketing and PR campaign.  The problem is, the problem is the marketing.

Here’s a couple of examples:

It’s not the execution.  Or the idea per se.  The concept of a single operating system for both laptop and tablet devices is quite clever. Many would argue it makes sense.  But, Microsoft has failed to do do the one thing that would make Windows 8 a success – it failed to give consumers a reason to buy either the operating system, or hardware running it. Or both.  And, as a result, it has failed to create demand.

It’s ‘Everything At Once’ strap line has failed to differentiate between the new desktop, tablet and mobile OS.  Windows 8 is a radical shift for Windows PC users and, as yet, Microsoft has failed to convince them to vote with their hard-earned cash.  It’s unclear from the commercials and PR whether you need to buy a new device in order to use Windows 8 [the ones I’ve seen give you the impression that Windows 8 is all about a new hardware and software package].

There’s nothing to suggest that you can use it on existing machines, or that Windows 8 offers users the ability to revert to traditional desktop view.  Microsoft has not provided customers or prospects with an easy – or cost-effective – migration from 7 to 8 either way.  When you realize it can be used on some existing PCs Microsoft wants you to download an ‘upgrade assistant’ to tell you whether your existing system is suitable for upgrade. A download to find out if you can download something else!

Things may and, based on a brief play on a new Windows 8 machine this weekend, should improve for Microsoft but Microsoft has missed a huge opportunity to make a splash with its new operating system.  I fear it’ll be the same for BlackBerry when 10 arrives at the end of January.

Read my other posts on BlackBerry

Apple Will Be The Next BlackBerry!

Maybe not today; maybe not tomorrow; but one day and for the rest of it’s life…

Apple is another BlackBerry just waiting to happen.

Before you say it, yes, I know that the iPhone 5 sold in record numbers. I know that Apple’s stock price recently hit record highs and is currently anywhere between $650 and $700 a share. My view is also not based on high profile problem with Apple maps, or the fact that the iPhone 5 sales fell short of expectations. I’m saying it because a company that, under Steve Jobs, knew how to market – under Tim Cook seems to have forgotten everything it knew.

It started with the marketing of the iPhone 4, didn’t improve with the 4S and with the 5 – well, let’s not talk about the marketing for the iPhone 5!  If you don’t believe me, here are just a few examples:

  • Apple posted a 6 minute video making the point that the iPhone 5 has been ‘completely redesigned’, even though it looks exactly like the iPhone 4/4S – just a bit longer and thinner.
  • The Apple “design” video seems more like a parody than many of the parody videos out there!
  • Apple is now using phrases like “cross-collaborative effort”, “seamless integration between hardware and software”, “manufacturing processes that are our most complex and ambitious” and “the variances between products we now measure in microns” that justify the process rather than explain why consumers should buy its products.
  • The iPhone 5 TV adverts are awful!
  • “Our all new maps application is fantastic.” Really?! Are you sure about that?! – Actually, they were not… Tim Cook now suggests you download another maps app until they sort theirs out!
  • Apple’s response to the maps disaster was a shambles. Tim Cook’s apology was too little, too late, and the message – see point above – was pitiful.
  • Steve Jobs would never have apologized for the Apple maps disaster. Steve Jobs would have never shipped Apple Maps until it was ready.
  • Apple claims Siri can do more… that is, I assume, if it can understand you!
  • The iPhone 5 was, if we believe the rumours, two years in the making. Two years, and the best they could come up with as reasons to buy were changes measured in microns?!
  • What happened to the legendary Apple secrecy around new products.  Anybody would think that the marketing team had been spending too much time in bars these days.
  • Apple is using the same excuses in response to complaints about purple flares that it did about the antenna problems on the 4. Telling consumers “you’re holding it wrong” every time there’s a problem just won’t wash.

Apple can, and I suspect, will continue to develop products that people want to buy for the foreseeable future. How much longer they’ll be able to persuade consumers that their products are superior to those of their competitors is another thing entirely. While this won’t matter in the short term – hundreds of millions of consumers are paid up members of the Apple ecosystem and will find it incredibly difficult to leave any time soon. But, unless the company rediscovers its marketing magic – and quickly – many will do so, albeit grudgingly. Just ask my wife. Disquiet and dis-satisfaction with the brand will grow, moving it slowly towards a tipping point that will result in a sudden and very dramatic collapse.

For a company that used marketing so effectively to create a “Reality Distortion Field” that could persuade people they needed products they didn’t realize they needed, this is serious. When people start to see behind the distortion field – think about the Wizard of Oz – the magic evaporates very quickly. For a business like Apple, that sells on magic, it’s a precarious position to be in. When consumers stop ‘buying’ the magic, they stop purchasing the products. If, or more likely, when that happens, Apple is toast!

Other posts you might enjoy:

Apple iPhone Design Videos, Side-by-Side

Apple HAS lost it’s competitive advantage

RIM: It was ALWAYS going to come to this

Unrequited Love, or The Start of Something Beautiful at RIM?

Having criticized RIM for its lack of marketing innovation I wanted to share this video, made for the company’s BlackBerry Jam currently taking place in San Jose.  The event – a developer conference – hopes to encourage developers to create new applications for the next generation of handsets running BlackBerry 10 [BB10] slated for launch in Q1 2013.  The video is a spoof of the REO Speedwagon hit “Keep on Loving You”, “performed” by a band of three senior RIM executives – including Alec Saunders, VP of Developer Relations. Somebody has spent days rewriting the lyrics to fit the BlackBerry message.

While this one video alone won’t turn around RIM’s fortunes in the smartphone market, it is at least a sign that it’s prepared to take risks with the marketing around the BB10 launch.  I’m not sure that it will hit the mark with its target audience [developers] but does demonstrate that BlackBerry is thinking creatively [at last] about how it communicates.  When the company starts communicating with customers and prospective BB10 buyers it’s going to need to do something amazing – certainly better than this.

The video has got me thinking about what the next song that band could be.  BlackBerry Magic Woman? Anything from the Stevie Wonder album Songs In The Qwerty Keyboard of Life? Paint It BlackBerry?  Why not share your ideas in the comments section below?