MSG to Blackberry: It’s the brand, stupid

“We make the best communications devices in the world.”

In just nine words the new CEO of Research In Motion, the company that makes the Blackberry, might well have written a fitting epitaph for the faltering device giant.

Last week the RIM board sent its two co-CEOs packing and replaced them with Thorsten Heins, who had been RIM’s COO, to revive the company’s fortunes.

Speaking to The New York Times he chose to talk up RIM’s manufacturing prowess. Technically, he may well be right: RIM makes excellent communications devices. But that’s hardly the point – a device is a device. His burning platform is the Blackberry brand.

Research in Motion struck gold when it developed a portable wireless device that allows users to get and send e-mail, phone and browse the Internet. Blackberry once commanded more than half of the American smartphone market. Today it has 10 percent. RIM’s share price has plunged 75 percent over the last year.

Blackberry has lost its luster and the world has moved on to cooler and sexier brands. Its tablet device, the Playbook, is a me-too flop. RIM’s task is not just to catch up to the iPhone and Android devices, but to make a quantum leap forward to restore the relevance of the Blackberry brand.

Why Blackberry?

The brand is inextricably linked with the Blackberry device itself.

David Placek, president of Lexicon Branding, the company that came up with Blackberry name, says he steered away from names that were directly linked to the word “e-mail,” since consumer research shows that word can increase clients’ blood pressure. Instead, his team looked for something “more natural, more entertaining and more joyful that might decrease blood pressure.”

Someone pointed out that the tiny buttons on the device keyboard looked like a collection of seeds, so Lexicon began exploring different fruity names: strawberry, melon and an assortment of vegetables were bandied about. The company finally settled on blackberry because the word is pleasing to most ears and the device, at the time, was black.

What is ‘Blackberry’: A device, or a brand platform on which the company can innovate? What is RIM: A device manufacturer, or a marketer of brands? And what is the brand relationship between the two?

The fortune of the entire company depends on how Mr. Heins chooses to answer these questions after more strategic deliberation with his incoming CMO. He then might be better prepared to save the Blackberry from the same fate of those other excellent but obsolete devices – The Sony Walkman, the Palm Pilot, the Polaroid Instant Camera, and the Atari 2600.

6 thoughts on “MSG to Blackberry: It’s the brand, stupid

  1. Really interesting thoughts, Alan. The perils of making the brand too closely identified with one specific product, rather than an idea (obvious comparisons with Apple) and perhaps the legacy of not understanding brand strategy properly – what did or does RIM actually stand for? Personally, I never understood that name either – seemed to be somewhere between an epitaph and a now-defunct rock band.

    Wouldn’t that be a great thing to be involved in, though, trying to define what the RIM (Research in Motion? Per-leeze) brand could be? Not the easiest assignment, I would imagine, given the way the world has moved an around and ahead of them…

    1. I agree Keith – that Research In Motion/RIM entity seems to get in the way of the Blackberry story. If Apple can be Apple (both corporate and brand) why can’t Blackberry be Blackberry?

  2. ewan pidgeon

    When they got banned from Saudi I thought Blackberry could own security in the way Volvo owned safety.

    A brand based on a product feature? Bit old fashioned I suppose.

  3. ewan pidgeon

    Note I said owned not own. They lost their way somewhat when they started building “sportier” cars. But your a brave man knocking asian drivers…

  4. I’ve been a bit surprised over how much genuine disappointment I feel watching RIM go down in flames. Although I’ve been an Apple fan for a long time, I used to love RIM’s products and held off as long as I could before switching away from the Blackberry to a “true” smart phone. I think it’s a rare brand that is able to elicit that kind of response (at least from me) but RIM was solely responsible for introducing me to mobile computing. I’ve not forgotten how much I enjoyed that introduction, too.

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