Blackberry belatedly re-focuses on business

Screen Shot 2012-03-30 at 15.06.45Back in 2011 I posted on Blackberry's attempts to compete with the likes of the iPhone in the consumer smartphone market, suggesting that this move would fail. I said:

"Perhaps its time for Blackberry to remember and refresh what made it famous and where it has an edge over the iPhone, which is texting and email. Being a functional device that really delivers."

Well, news today confirms that Blackberry maker RIM has finally figured this out itself. New CEO Thorsten Heins said: "We plan to refocus on the enterprise business and capitalise on our leading position in this segment." This comes they announced, wait for it, a net loss for the three months to 3 March of $125m (£78m), versus profit of $934m a year ago. Ow.

Here's some learning from Blackberry's problems:

1. Forgetting what made you famous

Blackberry became famous in the business world for being part of the road warrior's armour. When travelling on a plane, as the aircraft landed you'd see the suits go for their holsters, whipping out their Blackbery's ready for battle.

But Blackberry wanted more than this. They wanted to be hip and cool like Apple. So they ran ads with cool dudes, and a campaign with a cool DJ showing using his Blackberry to create, share and record his music. Click below on the blog to watch the ad.

This sort of marketing lacks authenticity, looking like "your dad dancing at the disco", and so looses on two fronts:

– The people Blackberry are trying to recruit are unlikely to be turned on to the brand and buy

– The existing Blackberry business users will look at it and think, "what the hell is that?!"

2. All sizzle, no sausage

"Blackberry's biggest problem was relying on emotional sizzle to help it compete vs. Apple in smartphone, without having a decent product "sausage". As one article in Forune said:  "The BlackBerry is hopelessly lame as a media tool." This is why despite all the marketing effort, the RIM sold a meagre 5% of US smartphones in the past three months, versus Apple's43%.

3. Neglecting the core

The other killer problem with Blackberry's doomed attempt to go after the smarphone market was neglecting the core business of business. Where was the money and talent going last year? A lot of it was spent trying to compete with Apple. And then, to make things worse, Blackberry suffered from several days when their whole system went down. This "outage" undermined the very core of the brand's equity, which was "bullet-proof" reliability.

In conclusion, this story shows that brands are better off trying to remember and refresh what made them famous. When, like Blackberry, you forget your brand's strengths and try to be something you're not, it tends to end in tears.

Well, let's hope RIM might come back from the dead…. I bought shares last year at $25 after they had fell by a half, thinking that was the bottom. Today they're trading at $14!