Can the Shriveling BlackBerry Brand Be Saved?

Research In Motion is the successful, but aging grandpa in the wireless business, and lately it has encountered some big problems — but that doesn’t mean the company can’t turn around. I’ll get into its challenges and some ideas about how it can surmount them first.

Then, in my Pick of the Week section, I’ll look at Cox Communications, its brand challenge, and why it is reviewing its US$100 million media account.

RIM’s Turning Point

RIM had a tough week with another outage. This time, I am afraid it will cost them customers. RIM is at a crossroads. It has a choice. Only one way is the right way toward success. Does RIM know what to do? Has its leadership learned the right lesson? The next steps will either heal the company and it will succeed again, or it will continue to drop like a rock.

It’s all about bringing the brand up to date — something RIM has not done as yet. It’s about having the brand say the right things.

BlackBerry outages at RIM are nothing new. Over the last decade, we have experienced so many outages it makes your head spin. It would have put a lesser company out of business. Yet it hasn’t hurt RIM until this time. It kept growing. However, from now on, things will be different. RIM is no longer the bulletproof company it was.

Today, RIM is struggling against fast-growing competitors. Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android have captured the imagination of the marketplace. They have taken over the leadership of the smartphone space.

Since customers have other choices now, I believe this will be the first RIM outage that will result in customer losses.

I have a suggestion for CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis. RIM never paid much attention to public relations, media relations or analyst relations. In its defense, it didn’t have to. Everything was fine. It was the largest. The leader. And it was growing.

However, everything is different. It is not the leader any longer. Like Motorola of a decade ago, and like Nokia today, RIM is struggling.

It would have benefited from paying attention to public relations, media relations and analyst relations all along. It didn’t.

Now the stories about RIM are always negative. So now its execs have to spend their time and energy fighting negative stories just to try and scrape their way back up to neutral. Keeping their head above water to breathe is getting tough. Forget about making progress.

Yesterday, RIM was bulletproof. Even when outage after outage kept shooting it in the foot, RIM never lost business. RIM is the only company that continually experiences these outages. Why? And why can’t it use these outages to help itself?

Other leaders have also faced the same challenge. Some update and create the next Wave and grow. Others don’t. So what will the RIM story be?

Get With the Times

RIM has not updated its technology or their its brand in years. It should have updated its brand and its tech all along. The result is that it is losing customers.

Over the last few years, RIM has watched their marketshare fade. It has watched the PR and media chatter about what’s new and cool shift to its competitors.

RIM did launch a new tablet to much fanfare and high expectations, but it has just not captured the imagination of the marketplace.

Jim and Mike know what is happening. However, they don’t know how to solve the growing problem. Their minds are looking backward to when they led. They are not clearly looking forward at the changed marketplace and the new rules for winning. They are different.

RIM has not yet updated its technology. The BlackBerry device is still very good but still very much the same. New technology found in the iPhone and in the many smartphones running Android is not only exciting and brand new, but it captures the imagination of the media, analysts, customers and investors.

Blackberry apps work great, but there aren’t many compared with Apple and Google. Compare several hundred to several hundred thousand. RIM should have so many more for business and personal use.

The BlackBerry web browser stinks. It always has, but there was nothing better. Today Apple synchronizes your favorite sites from your laptop Web browser. That way you can easily search the Web on your iPhone just like on your computer. Why can’t BlackBerry do that?

BlackBerry public relations, media relations and analyst relations are terrible. RIM doesn’t have an understanding of how this works, and that is costing the company.

RIM has tried to expand the BlackBerry beyond business into the consumer side. It tried to compete against Google and Apple. It failed. Instead, it should focus on rebuilding and strengthening its brand on the business side. That is its key market. Once that is secure, it can experiment with other sectors, but it needs to strengthen its core first.

Lemon Into Lemonade

BlackBerry can still own the smartphone sector on the business side of the coin if RIM acts now and makes the right updates in technology and its brand.

BlackBerry outages are a problem. The company has to make sure there are no more outages. Period.

However, if that is not possible, it needs to turn the outages into a benefit. How? Have every outage become a giant billboard about the company’s security and its benefits to the business community.

When there is another outage, turn the outage toward the company’s strengths. Explain to the marketplace that the reason for the occasional outages is the amazing and secure email system that no one else has.

Explain how occasionally it has to burp, and we get an outage. Others don’t have this problem because they don’t have this kind of security built in. Occasional outages are a small price to pay for this kind of innovation and security.

Doesn’t that make more sense than the way RIM currently handles these outages? It should turn a problem into an opportunity to remind the world about its strengths.

Every crisis is a public relations opportunity. RIM has not taken advantage of this. It is on the wrong side of this coin. It is fighting to keep its head above water. Instead, it should be leading the thought battle, using outages to its advantage.

When there is an outage, RIM should throw its public relations efforts into high gear. Have a well known and familiar key spokesperson go on television and radio news networks and all the newspapers. Explain the problem. Put out regular press releases.

This is what reporters look at when they write stories that influence the entire marketplace.

An apology is necessary, of course. Then RIM should explain the technology and how secure it is and how it is more advanced than others. Explain how these occasional outages are a small price to pay.

RIM needs to get back on the radar with innovations. Wouldn’t it be great to see users anxiously awaiting the next version of BlackBerry and the media talking about what’s new?

RIM is at a crossroads. One way is success and growth. The other is failure. Whether it is a player going forward depends on the steps it takes right now.

This is the moment in RIM history that we will look back at and say was its turning point. Will it be? Do RIM’s leaders get it? Do they know the direction to head?

RIM needs to re-invent itself around technology and the brand. It’s time to hit the refresh button.

Let me say that RIM has done an incredible job of building the smartphone industry over the last decade. But the world is changing. The Wave has just about passed RIM by. Either it creates the next Wave, or it will continue to shrink over the next decade. and brand if it is going to continue to succeed. If it doesn’t change, it falls backwards.

Cox’s leaders realize it can be more efficient to work closely with one key marketing team than to spread their attention across many teams in many areas.

It’s all about strengthening the brand in a noisy marketplace. It’s about taking the shortest and most effective path to connect on an emotional level with customers and prospects and investors.

Currently, Cox is all over the place. It operates in 18 different markets and uses nine different agencies. Each operates independently. How can its execs effectively wrap their minds around that? That’s no way to get unity of message and discounts for the wallet.

I think this new path is so right, the company should have taken it years ago.

One tenth of its revenue comes from small business. This is a great opportunity if it can improve and update its brand identity.

Cox Communications is a cable television company, but it is trying to build a presence in wireless. The problem is, we don’t hear much about that. Wireless is a big opportunity IF it can strike the right chord in the marketplace.

Cox is a well-run company and customers generally like it. Cox has always been a quiet and low-key player. However, the marketplace is getting noisier and rowdier all the time. It needs to be heard, or else it will be lost.

Companies need to adjust, or they run the risk of running off the track. This is where Cox is now. If it successfully makes this next move, I think it will continue to succeed. That is its challenge. We should keep our eyes on Cox.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a tech 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].

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

Related Stories

E-Commerce Times Channels