BlackBerry, withering on the vine

Most people know what a BlackBerry is. But what, or who, is BlackBerry?

Research in Motion (RIM) has finally bitten the bullet and changed its corporate name to Blackberry after the device that came to define the company and generate the bulk of its profits.

Blackberry

The dismantling of the confusing and unwieldy Research in Motion/RIM/BlackBerry naming scaffold has met with widespread approval. It was, on the face of it, an easy call in branding terms.

But the naming superficialities masked a deeper problem. Research in Motion, a name chosen by co-founder Mike Lazaridis who was reportedly inspired by the phrase “poetry in motion” in a news story about football players, was a company run by engineers who had little understanding of branding and, likely, much less interest. It was all about technology, product and manufacturing. BlackBerry, albeit nicely named by Lexicon, was simply a device that sold on its unique functionality.

As Andy Grove of Intel reminded us more than a decade ago, in the Darwinian world of technology only the paranoid survive. Today’s product innovation is tomorrow’s standard. BlackBerry’s technology soon became commoditized and its functionality was bettered by competition at both ends of the value spectrum. There was nowhere to go but down for the company that, at one time, held 44.5 percent of the domestic market. It watched helplessly as its share slipped to 8.4 percent. It’s a story that Nokia also knows well.

The story of RIM became that of a one-trick-pony, a flailing technology company that had run out of ideas and was trailing in the smartphone wars. BlackBerry was suddenly a gooseberry.

New CEO Thorsten Heins has the right instincts. He was probably tired of hearing Research in Motion/RIM/BlackBerry had a branding problem when he took over in 2011. High on his list of priorities was the hiring of a Chief Marketing Officer and Frank Boulben was duly appointed in May 2012.

The company has clearly made a huge commitment to its CMO and the role of marketing in its future. Hacking away the thicket of names and changing the company name to BlackBerry was a prerequisite of recovery.

“We wanted to have one brand, one premise, to focus all of our marketing efforts,” said the CMO. Good.

The new BlackBerry 10 operating system and Z10 and Q10 handsets were positively received at the launch. Great!

But then what happened? An expensive, forgettable Super Bowl ad and the bizarre appointment of singer Alicia Keys as Global Creative Director.

Super Bowl ad

This is brand building à la dot.com boom and bust. Remember that era of sock puppets and venture capital-fueled Internet startups with no discernible business model?

Branding then was nothing more than awareness building in the urgent rush for eyeballs. BlackBerry seems to be in a similar rush. The company has bet the farm on its ultimate asset, the BlackBerry name, but what should be an object lesson in corporate brand building has given way to gimmicky and expensive marketing hype.

Admittedly, there is a voguish coolness in the use of celebrity consultants. will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas has become a “futurist for hire” for the likes of Intel, Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch InBev. Even so, Alicia Keys? BlackBerry? Global Creative Director?

This desperate dissembling tells the world very little about BlackBerry and how it should understand the Blackberry brand. Or maybe it speaks volumes.

PS: Thanks JL for point out that BlackBerry has two capital Bs. Why? I don’t know. Post amended accordingly.

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