The Digital World with Ryan Simon: Reinvigorating the BlackBerry Brand

It wasn’t that long ago that Research in Motion (RIM) owned the smartphone market across the globe. When the world witnessed the release of Apple’s now wildly popular iPhone, RIM—the company responsible for the BlackBerry brand—couldn’t believe it. According to a former employee of the company, RIM didn’t think what Apple was promising with the iPhone back in early 2007 was feasible. Despite the impact of Apple’s innovative and intuitive smartphone, RIM hasn’t done much in the past four years to remedy the effects of the iPhone or its other formidable competitor, Android. But before I get into what RIM should be doing to rekindle confidence in both consumers and stock holders, it’s important to look at what RIM has not been doing.

RIM hasn’t been innovating
Innovation—it’s a pretty simple yet powerful business principle. As Thomas Edison put it so eloquently, “There’s a way to do it better—find it.” I should add to Edison’s quote: “and don’t let your competitors find it first.” The worst possible thing a company can do to itself is to sit on its laurels and only marginally improve on existing ideas. Sorry RIM, but you let Apple and Android sneak up and take a big piece of your smartphone pie.

RIM hasn’t been listening
The customer is always right. That’s a pretty old saying in business, one RIM apparently has never heard of. Ignoring your customers is like throwing money in the shredder. Of course, blindly listening to the customer’s every demand is unwise, but if people are leaving your brand there’s a reason for it. RIM has been too arrogant to realize that fewer people enjoy using a BlackBerry because there are better alternatives out there. Why are people flocking to iPhone and Android? Well…

RIM hasn’t been learning
A market as volatile as the mobile phone industry requires a company to constantly be researching changes in demand of products and services. By learning about new technologies related to mobile computing, user interfaces and hardware design, Apple was able to dazzle people with the iPhone. RIM gave us their BlackBerry Storm a year later and it failed to captivate any significant amount of consumers. It was proof that RIM had yet to truly understand what their target audience was looking for in a smartphone.

Change is brewing
I’ve made RIM’s situation out to be grim, desperate and in some ways almost hopeless. Is it a fair assessment? It depends on who you ask, but RIM is finally doing something about it. RIM’s Co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis (founder) recently stepped down due to a string of disappointing earnings statements and after the company’s stock dropped a staggering 83 percent over the past year. RIM is also preparing to introduce their new BlackBerry OS 10; it is rumored to be a dramatic departure from their current and rather unimpressive software. These are surely necessary steps to resurrecting the BlackBerry brand in the minds of consumers, but they need to do a lot more—a whole lot more.

Software is the key
You can have the slickest and most powerful piece of smartphone hardware ever created, but if the software isn’t there to support the platform it will be easily forgotten. The BlackBerry brand has always relied on having the industry’s best hardware keyboards and enterprise support, but today’s consumers want more. RIM needs to offer compelling phone hardware with an intuitive user interface and a plethora of built-in software that take advantage of the phone’s capabilities.

Beyond that, RIM must rally developers behind its next software platform to allow consumers to choose among a wide variety of apps. RIM will have to give developers better incentives than just handing out their ill-received PlayBook tablet. Ease of development is crucial, as is the availability of well-documented API’s. This is where the future of the company lies in the balance. If RIM can get developers on board for their next mobile operating system, the consumers will come.

Market like Apple
My marketing professor always referred to Apple as a marketing company rather than a tech firm, and I would have to agree. Their secret is how they target their audience via their marketing campaigns. Apple delivers an image of sophistication and creativity that has captivated consumers for years. RIM needs to find their audience and task their marketing department to learn that audience inside and out. With the right marketing campaign, the BlackBerry brand can definitely be reborn.

Learn from the past
One trend that is found in almost every industry is that once a new idea catches on in the market, many competitors are quick to match that idea thinking that it will be enough to stay competitive. That trend is something RIM must avoid if they want any chance at remaining relevant in the mainstream market. The BlackBerry needs to retain its identity as a professional piece of technology while also providing consumers new compelling reasons to ditch their iPhone or Android phone. RIM must give users better battery life, stable software, unique capabilities, lower costs and durable hardware. They do not have the luxury of experiencing major growing pains like Android has; RIM has to come out of the gate ready to go from day one.

The time is now
RIM is behind in this market. The only reason RIM is making much money at all these days is due to its military contracts and popularity amongst IT professionals supporting enterprise-level users. RIM’s recent attempts to win over tablet users with its PlayBook and smartphone users with BlackBerry OS 7 haven’t been very successful. As consumers continue to find reasons to not purchase a BlackBerry, the brand is slowly being forgotten by the general public. RIM must make 2012 the year of the BlackBerry.

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