RIM's sad decline foretells the inevitable destiny of companies that give little more than lip service to marketing. These companies will inevitably be sidelined, a fate for which RIM is likely headed, despite its former superstar status.
BlackBerry's scalable, secure, mobile email was a breakthrough product innovation. The "Sent from my BlackBerry" tagline made mobile email synonymous with the BlackBerry brand. So how did this former smartphone king fall so far and fast?
RIM showed a distinct lack of marketing acumen. In an engineering culture like RIM's, technology innovation and marketing are considered two sides of the same coin. With its monster success, complacency set in early under the misguided belief that market leadership made great marketers, and market domination was for keeps.
RIM's technology success proved to be easily replicated (even that signature tagline was borrowed from Hotmail). Suddenly BlackBerry’s breakthroughs became the stuff of ordinary smartphones.
Apple and Google saw that new users would look to their mobile devices for more than just email and a QWERTY keyboard. They intuitively understood that product innovation and the cool factor were essential, insights that RIM seemed to have forgotten. Apple and Google also recognized that what's cool today is gone tomorrow, with most products inevitably becoming commoditized. The smartphone was no longer the domain of business executives.
Apple and Google were able to consumerize the smartphone, a fundamental marketing shift enabling the companies to leverage opportunities BlackBerry could not. Opening their operating systems up to developers, Apple and Google soon had a new channel with thousands of partners marketing small consumer and business applications.
With smartphones now broadly affordable, inexpensive, or even free, apps suddenly became available to virtually every demographic. They not only enhanced the device, but allowed users to personalize their phones by putting a range of their own must-have apps at their fingertips. RIM’s decision to keep its OS closed to developers ultimately made it late to the table with only a fraction of the apps offered by the others. Apple leads with 800,000 apps, followed by Android's 450,000, and BlackBerry's 73,000.
RIM now finds itself forced to play catchup. With customer defections increasing and BlackBerry’s main channel mostly associated with the business user rather than the broader consumer market, RIM faces strong headwinds. Without a broad enough customer database to draw from, RIM has limited ways to exploit existing customers for new marketing opportunities. It will be difficult for RIM to recapture its earlier prominence.
If RIM has a chance at resurrection, it needs to learn some hard lessons. Marketing must be a strategic component of business strategy. Innovation, imagination, and vision are inherent for leadership. RIM needs to be sure its differentiation can’t be replicated. The company needs to expand its customer base broadly, and always, always anticipate the competition.
BlackBerry’s early success, combined with ignoring marketing, blinded the company to what looks like a purely self-imposed destiny, just like many former tech superstars who came before and those certain to come after.
Is BlackBerry destined to a fate like Palm or can marketing be the strategic weapon to pull off a brand renaissance?
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Barbara Krafte is a global brand executive who pioneers development of community and lifestyle brands.