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.

BlackBerry Is Dead

You’re a company on its knees. Your future depends on selling significant volumes of a new product in one particular territory. You have an opportunity to tell your target audience why they should buy your new product.

You spend millions buying air time. And then you develop this 30 second spot…

BlackBerry called it an ‘execution’. I’m calling it suicide. It’ll be studied by marketing students for generations to come. As a marketer I can’t even begin to understand why somebody at the company thought this was a good idea!

I’ve been saying that it would be the marketing that killed RIM [now rebranded BlackBerry] and it’s new BlackBerry10 operating system. If this doesn’t convince those that told me I was wrong, I don’t know what will. I didn’t think it could get any worse than the ponytail cutting that preceded the launch of BlackBerry10 last week. I was wrong.

BlackBerry’s Marketing Director, Frank Boulben, should be fired. Whoever developed the creative for the advert should never be allowed to practice again. Anybody who saw the advert before it ran and didn’t say anything deserves everything they get!

I’m calling it now. BlackBerry. Is. Dead. #RIPBlackBerry

You can read my previous posts about RIM/BlackBerry/BlackBerry10 here


BlackBerry [$BBRY] stock rose more than 15% on the first day of trading under its new ticker symbol and is up 5% in pre-market activity at the time of writing this.  This does not change my fundamental view that BlackBerry will fail as a result of an inability to market its products and differentiate against its competition.

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.


10 years?! #BB10 won’t see RIM through the next 10 weeks!

RIM CEO Thorsten Heins has been quoted recently as saying that he believes that the handset maker’s new BlackBerry 10 [#BB10] operating system, now slated for release in early 2013, will serve the company for the next ten years.  I have no doubt that he believes this, but I don’t think it’ll serve the company for the next ten weeks – let alone the next decade.   If, as has been predicted by the technology press, Apple releases the iPhone 5, running iOS 6 on September 12th, BB10 will be dead.

iPhone 5 aside, Apple will have launched 10 versions of its iOS operating system in just over 5 years.  Google has released the same number of versions of its Android platform since it was launched in September 2008. BlackBerry, on the other hand, has launched just four versions of its smartphone OS since 2002.  If, as Heins predicts, BB10 will serve the company for the next decade it will have updated the foundations of its mobile business just five times in 20 years.

Aside from the technical folly of this approach, the marketing impact is huge.  Both Apple and Google have had ten high profile opportunities to tell customers [and prospective customers] about new functionality and how they’ve fixed existing bugs.  They’ve had ten opportunities to woo the press, set out their vision, communicate key messages and build strong relationships.  They’ve had ten opportunities to create a sense of anticipation in the market: Apple whips fans into near frenzy in the run up to a new product launch based on rumour and speculation alone!  RIM has had just five of these opportunities… in ten years.

Even if RIM survives long enough, #BB10 arrives on time and it is the technological leviathan that Heins claims, it’s a one shot chance.  A once-in-a-decade chance to turn the company around… what are the odds? My bet is that Apple will announce all of the key, ‘killer’, functionality planned for BlackBerry 10 when it launches its new iPhone early next month and RIM’s revolutionary new OS will be dead on arrival.

Sad but, likely, true.

Update:  Now James Faucette of analysts Pacific Crest agrees

Read my other posts about Research In Motion here