Can BlackBerry do what RIM couldn't?

Last Updated: Mon, Mar 18, 2013 05:22 hrs

The company that used to be a juggernaut of smartphones is now undertaking a "journey of transformation of business and brand". It has a new name, a new operating system and a spanking new range of phones. Is that enough to reclaim its lost territory?

Sandeep Budki
Editorial Head, The Mobile Indian

The year 2013 can be called the year of reincarnation for BlackBerry. First, the company, Research In Motion (RIM), was rebranded as BlackBerry - the name which is known, discussed and recognised by mobile users. Second, it launched its most talked about operating system, BlackBerry 10, though it took more than a year to develop the software. Finally, it released a smartphone, BlackBerry Z10, powered by its latest operating system and heavy-duty hardware for Rs 43,499. One question, however, remains: will the launch of the new operating system and smartphones revive BlackBerry's fortune? There is hope that the new avatar of BlackBerry might click with Indian consumers where it ranks third after Samsung Electronics and Nokia in terms of smartphone market share.

While launching the BlackBerry Z10, the company has made it clear that right now it will bring high-end smartphones only. This strategy can turn out to be both good and bad. Good, because BlackBerry is sending out a message that its smartphones are premium products and are meant for people who want to have a classy smartphone that has the goodness of the BlackBerry ecosystem. It could turn out to be a bad move because BlackBerry has ignored the entry- and mid-level segments, which have the maximum traction in India. Interestingly, the company, in the past, has targeted this segment.

Last year, for instance, it had launched an affordable phone, BlackBerry Curve 9220, for under Rs 10,000, which was liked by the youth. Almost all the players in the smartphone market are offering devices in all the segments - entry, mid and top - because India is a price sensitive market. Research by The Mobile Indian shows smartphone users in India spend roughly Rs 12,000 on such devices. So, the price tag of Rs 40,000-plus can be considered steep. Sunil Dutt, managing director, BlackBerry India, did mention to me at the launch of BlackBerry Z10 that the company plans to launch mid-level devices but didn't share a concrete road map.

BlackBerry must be complimented for the outstanding work it has done to make BlackBerry 10 lively and refreshing. The new operating system offers the right blend for using the smartphone in a corporate and personal environment. BlackBerry OS 10 has been developed from scratch using the good elements of the BlackBerry OS and real-time Linux kernel based QNX operating system. The new user interface emphasises quite heavily on 'gestures', the latest trend.

Let's say that the BlackBerry software team has included all the possible features expected in a modern mobile operating system. However, the paucity of smartphones that support BlackBerry OS10 in different price brackets might not be helpful in recreating the old magic of BlackBerry. Emailing - even messaging (BBM) - is something that BlackBerry takes pride in and claims that these services differentiate it from other players, but again these services are no more the USP of BlackBerry as users have explored the email services of other operating systems - Android, iOS and Windows - and have liked them. Moreover, these services on other platforms are free and security is not that bad either.

Interestingly, for addressing the navigation needs of Indian consumers, BlackBerry has used maps from MapMyIndia rather than of Tom Tom (which is its international partner). This move will definitely impress its users in India. This time round, BlackBerry is not shying away from competition as it will make a popular messaging app, WhatsApp, which is a competitor to BBM, available on its latest smartphone in a couple of weeks. On the messaging front, it seems that BlackBerry wants to give its users the option to choose one or both, based to their requirements. The other bottlenecks that BlackBerry needs to address quickly is its app store, which lacks numbers in native apps (applications developed specifically for a particular operating system) and improve its music store where the collection is limited and price tag steep, especially when compared to other music stores for players like Nokia and Apple.

The second life of BlackBerry has just begun and it has made some right and bold moves. However, till the time it doesn't expand its smartphone portfolio in different price brackets, as done by other handset players for Android and Windows phone 8 operating system based smartphones, it will be difficult for BlackBerry Boys to graduate to men.

Lulu Raghavan
Managing Director, Landor Associates, India

A brand is more than a name. It is a set of associations with products or services that get built up in the mind of the customer over a period of time. These associations imbue the name with meaning. Strong brands are not built on great names but on differentiated and relevant brand experiences that they deliver to all their stakeholders. Therefore, a name change per se cannot save a brand. Neither can it shield it from a tarnished image, especially if the product or service fails to live up to customer expectations.

Let's take the recent case of Research in Motion (RIM) changing its corporate name to BlackBerry, the name of its once trailblazing mobile devices that have, in recent years, lost out to Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy series of smartphones. Is the name change going to help the struggling company? Unlikely, unless a superior product experience supports the name change. An inferior BlackBerry product will translate to an inferior BlackBerry masterbrand and no amount of marketing support can save that situation.

However, renaming of RIM to BlackBerry makes strategic sense because it will help create simplicity, efficiency and internal passion for the organisation. All of these are important elements of the overall business transformation journey that the company has embarked on.

Simplicity: Acronym names are a hit or a miss. For IBM and HP, it works because of the stories behind the names. But RIM? The corporate name is neither recognised nor understood globally except perhaps in the US and with a select group of Wall Street analysts. Research In Motion is not a simple name either. Moving to BlackBerry allows the company to simplify its corporate name and leverage the recognisability and likeability of the brand across a wider audience, including employees and investors. BlackBerry is not the first company to have elevated its product brand. Other well-known examples include Sara Lee, Hanes, FedEx, Colgate Palmolive and Danone. All of them leveraged successful product brand names to create strong corporate identities.

Efficiency: BlackBerry has now moved from a "house of brands" to a "branded house". It will no longer launch sub-brands like Bold, Curve, Torch and Playbook. All future products will have alpha-numeric names like the BlackBerry Z10. This approach allows all resources to be dedicated to the building of just one master brand - BlackBerry. It helps to create focus on brand-building and marketing efforts, and is certainly less expensive than supporting multiple sub-brands. Carly Fiona, former CEO of HP, famously got rid of hundreds of sub-brands and put all the focus on the HP master brand (before the Compaq acquisition).

Internal passion: For BlackBerry's turnaround efforts to be successful, it must inspire and motivate its employees to deliver the promise of the brand. In this regard, it is more fun to say,"I work for BlackBerry" than "I work for RIM." This name change might just create a lot more passion and pride for the company among its employees.

Success rides on product launches. What is amply clear is that it will take much more than the name change for the company to revive its fortunes. Currently, it looks like the recent product launch is going to either make or break BlackBerry as a company. The BlackBerry Z10 smartphone must strongly connect with consumers in the fiercely competitive consumer technology market. It should provide loyal users a compelling reason to stay with BlackBerry and non-users a compelling reason to switch from an Apple, Samsung or HTC device.

The Blackberry Z10 will need to become the new reflection of everything that Blackberry stands for as Lumia has done for Nokia to drive a re-appraisal of a brand that has lost its leadership credentials but may yet turn things around.

With the name change, what the company has done is to boldly bet its fortunes on its product line-up. It is definitely risky to put all its eggs in one basket by moving to a branded house, but is there any other way out for BlackBerry? If the BlackBerry Z10 and future products can manage that difficult task of connecting with consumers, the name change will clearly be successful. When the BlackBerry range becomes a desirable device, there will be increased awareness and a halo effect on the entire company.

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