BlackBerry Tries, Tries Again to Remake Its Brand

BlackBerry is trying to rebuild itself by remaking its brand. A successful brand is one of the most important parts of any success story. However once a brand has sprouted roots, it’s very difficult to remake it. It’s easier to start from scratch. So what is the plan at BlackBerry — and will it be successful?

The BlackBerry brand has grown and evolved over the last 10 to 15 years. It started life as a text pager, then eventually added a phone. The company had a growing number of corporate customers and one of the hottest brand names in the wireless industry — for a while, anyway.

Then its leaders got full of themselves and thought they were bulletproof. The last seven years have shown they were not.

Early on, in speeches, columns and media interviews, I warned BlackBerry execs of the coming iPhone and Android growth monster that was threatening their business. They paid no attention to the threat. They thought they were invincible.

Even after they had been struggling for several years I warned them again over a dinner, but my words seemed to go in one ear and out the other. They just couldn’t believe the earth they stood on was that fragile.

However, as we all know, it was. BlackBerry began to collapse and it’s been on life support for the last few years. It tried to remake itself under a new CEO. Its leaders made a valiant effort, but they kept failing. The problem was they stretched far beyond what their customers wanted.

Another Shot

Now, with new CEO John Chen, BlackBerry has another chance. Will it succeed this time? Yes — if its executives can understand their existing customers, and if they can give them exactly what they want. Whether they can is the question.

Chen seems to have stabilized BlackBerry for the time being, but its global market share is less than 1 percent. BlackBerry is a shadow of its former self. However, if he can start to build, then perhaps BlackBerry can start to grow once again.

BlackBerry has to do two things right, not only to survive, but also to grow. One is that it must have products that its current customers really want. Two, it must refresh and reignite its brand fire.

These are two very big jobs.

The technology is key. Sure, it can have several new devices with new thinking, like the BlackBerry Passport, but it had better also have the familiar technology many of its customers still want — like an updated Torch or Bold.

Remember, the majority of BlackBerry customers are longtime loyal users. Many just want an updated BlackBerry they are familiar with — not some totally new design and technology.

There is room for both. However, BlackBerry is heading down the new path exclusively, and that may be a problem. That’s the part that BlackBerry missed over the last several years. It’s not too late — if the company gets it.

The brand is the other key. BlackBerry’s brand evolution over the first decade was a result of growth with customers and technology. If BlackBerry is going to try and re-cast itself to win today, it must reach for new growth — but at the same time make sure its existing customers are comfortable.

That’s difficult, but it can be done. Whether BlackBerry will be able to do it is the question.

Missing Pieces

BlackBerry has tapped the skills of a B2B agency, Gyro, in an effort to remake its brand and start the growth engines once again. It used to work with BBDO.

BlackBerry wants to focus on the enterprise side to start, which is a good move. It has been out of the mainstream long enough. It has a new opportunity to remake its brand in the hearts and minds of its customers.

I have asked many in the industry, and most don’t think BlackBerry will ever recapture its growth. I hope they are wrong, because BlackBerry still can be an important piece of the puzzle going forward, if it can get that growth spark back once again.

As far as anyone knows, BlackBerry still may be the most secure technology. That would be a key feature to stress in its advertising and marketing — something I have been advising for years. Offering a wider variety of devices and technologies would be another key.

That means offering devices that reflect new thinking, like the Passport, alongside traditional, updated devices like the Bold and Torch models.

BlackBerry also must reach the marketplace in a variety of new ways, including advertising, media and the analyst community. This is key.

Like other analysts, I get email press releases from BlackBerry, but the company very seldom ever goes beyond that.

That screams that BlackBerry still does not understand the market and the basics of achieving success going forward — not yet, anyway.

It takes more than a new ad agency to build a successful brand. Yet that’s all BlackBerry seems to be hedging its bets on. That is my concern for the company.

I want BlackBerry to win going forward. There is room in the industry for BlackBerry as a meaningful competitor. Whether the company ever gets it is still the question.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a technologyindustry analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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