I don’t know what it is. But I just seem to have a magnet-like attraction to brands in financial difficulties. Apple computers made more sense to me when they were the outsiders choice and almost going bankrupt, give me an Alfa Romeo over a BMW or Audi any day and I had a real soft spot for Borders,the book store. Rest in piece. Dont ask why? I don’t know what this trend is with me and companies facing down bankruptcy. Which leads me nicely to Blackberry. My new favourite brand.
I have had Blackberries for close to four years now. I actually first learned about them from a book I read a few years back. Unfortunately, I cant remember the name of the book, some multinational spy thriller. But this was in 2004, pre I-Phone. The fact you could have a phone that also took care of e-mails was terribly exotic sounding. They were heady days for Blackberry, the Blackberry became the default choice for corporates while traditional mobile phone companies like Nokia and Ericsson struggled with the transformation to e-mail and software giants like Microsoft similarly struggled with the hardware of their Palm devices. ‘Push E-mail’ was a simple but significant innovation that left its competitors playing catch up for quite some time.
Having a Blackberry back in the early noughties was quite something. It was the only phone to comfortably give its users access to e-mails. Its main customer demographic was the business community, the people on the move, people who would start the morning in London, end it in Shanghai with two meetings in Zurich in between. Blackberry had the premium end of the mobile phone market sown up. The huge number of celebrities using Blackberries at the time was the icing on the cake. Even Barack Obama in 2009, couldnt be drawn away from his beloved Blackberry. Brand endorsements dont come much higher. I bought mine in 2009 and I loved the fact that they provided 3 separate charging extensions for UK, Europe and the USA. It was all part of the brand feeling. This was a device for the busy, jet-setting global traveller. Yes, Its mostly fluff but I still loved it and I know I wasn’t the only one.
The arrival of the I-Phone undoubtedly gave Blackberry problems. But it was more Blackberry’s reaction to the I-Phone than the Phone itself that quickened the decline. Obviously intimidated by the cool new kid on the block, Blackberry’ death writ was initially drafted by intimidation (BB Storm.) Instead of concentrating on what made their products so cool they started playing catch-up. A rapidly growing market, may have allowed them to temporarily paper over the cracks.
But, what happened next catapulted Blackberry’s brand into the gutter. And to think it was once thought of Blackberrys greatest innovation.
BlackBerry Messenger. BBM.
BBM, 3 years ago, was a very useful feature. Allowing people to use their Blackberries to keep in touch online like a mobile MSN Messenger (remember that?) It caught the imagination. Blackberry totally changed their target market and strategy, on the basis of one innovation. The phone was snapped up by hundreds of thousands of new customers- students, adolescents, school kids. Blackberry made pink ones, green ones, sparkly ones. They sponsored festivals and supported the NME. Cheap ones like the Curve rocketed Blackberry to its most profitable year ever in 2010.
As a Blackberry owner, I remember it well. I was a bit uneasy about it all despite the success. I can always see trouble when tactics overcome strategy and I sensed the worst.
Blackberry may have cashed in and grabbed a huge dollop of market share. But BBM was not really a technology that would be difficult to replicate. So once their rivals had it, what next? Unfortunately a fundamental strategy based on an ‘easily-copiable’ innovation was a silly one.
What was worst was having the same phone as a teenager and having Blackberry playing up to it. Nothing could have tarnished their brand more. Suddenly they were no longer special, they were no longer exclusive and I for one did not want to have the same phone as a 13-year old. I remember thinking the Blackberry brand was toast. Once the relentless march of the Apple App store kicked in. They were.
The riots in the UK in 2011 by a bunch of idiotic children using BBM must have been just about the final nail. You can have no worst brand vandalisation. I cringed every time I heard the term ‘BBM’ and Blackberry used on the news during the riots.
It could have all been so different in 2007. Instead of being intimidated by the I-Phone, they should have consolidated their position. Instead of cheaper phones, they should have looked at different products built on the exclusivity and specialness of the brand. They should have innovated on the values and ideas that once made them great. Focused greater attention on the business community that once loved their Blackberries. These were the customers that would buy more expensive phones, appreciate more bespoke features and pay a higher margin per product. They should not have cheaply imitated the new kid on the block. I remember once saying to my girlfriend at the time that my BB was a tool while her I-phone was a mere toy. Well the tool started to cheaply imitate the toy. There may have been no other way. Maybe doing what I said previously is easier said than done. Apple is a formidable rival, as is Google.
Fast forward to 2012. I am glad to see fewer coloured Blackberries on sale and the new Bold I have is actually a pretty good phone. But in such a brutal market as the smart phone market where apps and availability of apps is king. The heady days of 2010 fuelled by BBM are gone. Blackberry is almost obsolete, the momentum may be too difficult to recover. Product and technical difficulties can be overcome with time but its the brand damage that will be hardest to recover. It seems unthinkable but Skoda still have brand problems, 20 years after they were taken over by VW and many, many good product lines later. For somebody that hates having the same phone as everybody else (I-Phone) and can’t fathom the thought of an Android phone. I hope BB recover their mojo soon!! Its a lesson to all not to betray their brand values. Otherwise the only person that will still buy anything will be me…
About the Author
Benedetto runs the creative design consultancy, the loft. Based in the centre of Glasgow, the loft creates emotionally engaging brand identities.
Benedetto began his design career aged 9, sketching cars in the loft bedroom of his parents house. Even then he realised some eternal truths. Alfa Romeos are infinitely cooler than Ferraris and always have been. Time has only hardened this opinion. Since then, he has been on a journey taking him from his hometown in Kilmarnock to Coventry, studying car design aged 17, three separate spells in Italy followed where he interned, worked & freelanced for distinguished design companies – BeeStudio, Alfa Romeo, Honda Advanced design & Stile Bertone.
Setting up his own business was a natural step for somebody as independently minded as Benedetto. The loft was set up in 2008 and offers a comprehensive branding and communication service to its clients. The company combines a deeply analytical approach into the clients culture and commercial targets before engaging in creative design work to build emotive brands.