It is true, with dwindling device market share, BlackBerry isn’t the spring chicken it used to be. But it is also far from being an extinct dinosaur. There are many times when experience trumps knowledge, and BlackBerry’s past experience may just be what saves its hardware division.
If the PRIV fails to reach the pockets of a modest couple million users, BlackBerry’s hardware division will likely be disbanded and it’s resources reallocated within the company but the bread and butter of the Waterloo giant, namely its MDM and EMM software division will remain in operation. And as we’ve seen with Nokia, shutting down hardware manufacturing operations isn’t something that happens over night. In that unlikely scenario, support for current devices, including BlackBerry 10 will continue until they have effectively reached their EOL. That being said, there is much at stake counting on the success of the new PRIV. Let’s begin by taking a look at BlackBerry’s marketing history.
Sure, BlackBerry isn’t exactly known for being a marketing powerhouse, and with good reason, we can’t expect them to start now. That is not to say that they have not engaged in consumer marketing, only that their consumer-focused campaigns are not very memorable or noteworthy. Albeit maybe the exception of their #BeBold campaign. Remember the Verizon ads for the BlackBerry Storm? Yeah, me neither. And how about their Super Bowl ad? I honestly forgot about it too. How then did BlackBerry become the leader in Smartphone sales in bygone era?
In the context of the early days of the smartphone boom, BlackBerry became a household name mainly through the principle of perceived scarcity. It was something that only few who were considered to have a critical business need were privileged to be entrusted to carry one with all their company’s secrets. BlackBerry, since its inception has been a tool for people who have things to do and people to see, checklists to check and calls to make. It gave freedom to executives who used to rely on bulky PDA’s and had to wait to get to their work stations or have an outlet and internet access to be able to sync their emails and get work done. It’s revolutionary BES technology allowed them to compress data and transmit it efficiently across network carrier’s networks, while maintaining a high level of security. Slowly but surely, as enterprises adopted the BlackBerry solution, their devices became more ubiquitous. Soon, employees and ex-employees of Fortune 500 companies clamored to be able to purchase a BlackBerry for personal use outside of the corporate environment and as they say: the rest is history. Once BIS became available through different carriers for the general public, BlackBerry became the CrackBerry phenomenon we remember. Largely, that key target market of professionals looking for a reliable tool to get things done has not changed very much.
Former CEO Thorsten Heins explained how the company caters to “BlackBerry People” in his BlackBerry 10 keynote in 2012:
Granted, one can argue it is just be pandering to the audience of BlackBerry Elite and news reporters, but let’s be honest, Thorstens description of customers interested in BlackBerry devices largely remains accurate to this day.
Fast-forward to earlier this year, John Chen once again affirmed this focus on “prosumers” in an interview with CNN Money. The reporter can be heard saying: “(BlackBerry) appeals to the bottom line, productivity and security.” In that same clip, Chen acknowledged that BlackBerry does not know how to do sexy, joking that perhaps they can paint the back a different color. But not knowing how to do “sexy” is not necessarily a bad thing.
We’re looking for professional people…This is about productivity; secure, private and productive.
Some will categorically say that BlackBerry is failing to utilize the media to it’s advantage in promoting its hardware, or that the media is maliciously and systematically giving BlackBerry bad press to generate income, but as much as there may be some degree of truth to that, there is no denying that there are other subtle things that BlackBerry is doing right. Specifically marketing their devices to the right audience in a systematic and targeted way. Needless to say, hardware devices are only one part of a more complex “BlackBerry portfolio services” but let’s take a look at 5 things BlackBerry is doing right in the media.
1. Product Placement
BlackBerry doesn’t get enough credit for their clever and often subtle product placement. BlackBerry is known world wide as a device used by the most powerful governments, law enforcement and health professionals. As one would expect, art imitates reality whenever any BlackBerry device graces the screen. BlackBerry gets more than a few thousand eyeballs on its products whether intentional or not when show producers include BlackBerry devices as props in successful TV series such as Blue Bloods, Scandal, or Madam Secretary. This serves as a tacit reminder to those who have been asking the question “BlackBerry is still around?” that the answer is a resounding YES.
Recently, BlackBerry has become more deliberate in their product placement. Soon after the launch of the BlackBerry PRIV, we saw the device heavily featured in ABC’s Good Morning America. Not only did the device get substantial air time and multiple mentions, but Marty Beard, Chief Operating Officer at BlackBerry also took advantage of the opportunity to talk about the new BlackBerry PRIV running android and gave away 40 free devices to an euphoric crowd. This is important to highlight since the network show had a reach of over 5 million viewers the week the show aired.
Advertising for the BlackBerry PRIV was also prominently featured in last week’s Warriors vs Raptors Game. With nearly 20K people in attendance at the Air Canada Centre plus a theoretical large number of views coming from Warriors fans rooting their undefeated champion and Raptors fans (Drake included) hoping their team would be the ones to break the streak watching the televised sporting event from home. It is clear that BlackBerry is very strategic on how they are spending their advertising dollars. (Nielsen ratings for the Warriors-Raptors game were not available at the time of writing this post).
For a few years now, BlackBerry has also been a prominent sponsor for the Mercedes AMG Petronas and star Formula One racers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. BlackBerry recently unveiled their new PRIV decals for the Mercedes AMG Petronas Team. Adding yet again a substantial number of brand impressions every time the team races. The fact that these guys have been on a markedly successful winning streak the last few years taking first and second place respectively is a nice bonus and an additional trickle of free press.
But it doesn’t stop there. BlackBerry is also popping up in the fashion world, art gallery openings and other “couture” events around the world with key influencers. In recent years, BlackBerry has become a fashion statement, and is having a surge in popularity among fashionistas. Most recently BlackBerry was given a shout out for being sponsors for Art Basel’s Miami Beach kickoff party which was attended by some top-tier celebrities. Every single eyeball exposed to the brand counts. In this case DuJour Magazine’s over 20K followers on twitter.
We could also go into carrier support and how they are incorporating BlackBerry into their ad offerings, but we should wait to see how carrier support plays out this time around given how little time the PRIV has been on sale. But so far, it seems to be off to a good start, as evidenced in this spot from Bell:
Hint: Pause at the 00:13 mark to see the PRIV in action. Bell via YouTube
2. Mobile and Web Ads
BlackBerry also has a history of purchasing mobile and web ads. There is no way to really delve into BlackBerry’s strategy and reach here, but let’s take a quick look at what we do know. In previous years, BlackBerry has invested inthe New York Times and USA Today, but more recently, sponsored ads for BlackBerry products have been found on Vanity Fair, Variety and Wired. Again, getting critical impressions with their key target markets.
Image of BlackBerry Sponsored content appearing on Variety, July 2015. Via @mikelcal
Little less to add here other than we can count on BlackBerry purchasing web ads that are targeted to a specific audience. Marketing 101 dictates that targeted advertising is very effective for reaching audiences and ultimately sales conversions.
3. Sending Review units to Bloggers
BlackBerry has demonstrated time and time again that it appreciates honest feedback, and is not shy to “pop their collar” whenever someone says something nice about them. At the same time they have also not been quiet when Bloggers, or other mainstream media outlets blatantly spew out lies and misinformation. BlackBerry Fact Check exists for the sole purpose of setting the record straight, but it really can’t be bothered to debunk and oust every offending blogger. Instead, they have graciously facilitated review units to countless outlets, big and small wishing for nothing in return but the honest truth.
It is indeed a huge gamble for BlackBerry to trust so blindly on the machine that has metaphorically kicked them in the ribs using sensationalist and traffic hungry headlines, but the truth is that the return on an investment such as this is well worth the risk. To date, there are over half a million hits for the keywords “BlackBerry PRIV Review”. This time around however, the general sentiment about the newest BlackBerry device running android isoverwhelmingly positive in the US, the UK, and the rest of Europe and Asia.
In the end consumers win by having access to real, unfiltered and honest reviews
Taking a closer look, the bulk of these reviews are coming from well established and authoritative sources such as CNet, PC World, The Next Web, The Wall Street Journal, CIO, etc. What the combined readership of all these media outlets is able to accomplish is no small feat. And in the end consumers win by having access to real, unfiltered and honest reviews; with or without bias. This approach empowers customers to make their own informed decision about the product they may intend to purchase or not.
4. Engaging Users
As Mentioned above, BlackBerry would be nothing without BlackBerry People. Featured on the company’s Inside BlackBerry Blog, one can find a running series of profiles and Q and A sessions with dozens of professionals who use BlackBerry as their lifeline and connection to the rest of the world. The personal connection many people have with their BlackBerry devices is an amazing thing to witness, much more so when it is shared with other like-minded BlackBerry users.
But that is not all, BlackBerry is a mobile-first company and is no stranger to social media. In fact, they announced in late October that they would expand on their social networks, securing the @BlackBerry handle on Instagram, and opening new social media accounts on Vine, Pinterest and Periscope. From personal experience I can say that without fail @BlackBerryHelp has responded to my queries within the same day, sometimes within the same hour. Having a good relationship with your users is also part of being successful. Not to mention yet another opportunity to make a positive impression on potential customers. At the time of this post, the official @BlackBerry wields nearly 4.5 Million followers.
Again, another sign of BlackBerry’s commitment to spreading the word and engaging users, they hosted an AMA on Reddit, where they readily answered user’s queries about BlackBerry PRIV. The questions were answered by no other than Alex Manea, BlackBerry Security Director, Michael Clewley, Director of Software and Ty Williams, Community Content Manager. Real people with real opinions of their own and who are also generally available and responsive on their social media accounts.
5. Word of mouth
Last but not least, BlackBerry does not underestimate the power behind their marked success in the first place. BlackBerry understands that word of mouth is much more powerful than what any advertising campaign can buy. In a study carried out by BCG Perspectives in 2013, they highlighted that when it comes smartphone sales, the average difference in growth between the brands most recommended by consumers and those who are the least recommended is a staggering 84%.
BlackBerry has demonstrated a keen understanding of their key user base and are leveraging their resources to put experiences and information in places where they are highly shareable. Deliberate TV product placements create buzz among media outlets and informal conversations “around the water cooler”. Those articles written by the media then turn into opportunities for ad impressions via sponsored content. And viewer’s curiosity can be leveraged driving search interest in “PRIV”. Having working devices out in the wild allow users to have real opinions about how the device works and behaves as a daily driver. It removes the limitations to first impression reviews based on a 15 minute time slot at a show room with a handful of not fully functional demo apps. Bloggers can test network signal strength, camera performance in different lighting conditions, battery life, OS reliability among many other valuable data points for consumers. In addition to that, having a real human being to talk to about any issues with the device fosters brand loyalty, and over all costumer satisfaction.
Overall those very human to human interactions are what will be the driving force behind BlackBerry’s success in their hardware business. It is something so ingrained in the company’s DNA that attempting to do advertising and marketing as other tech giants do puts them at risk for sending the wrong message across or worse, one that nobody will listen to. BlackBerry’s story is not theirs alone to tell. There is no arm-chair CEO recommendation any one individual can make that will make BlackBerry’s hardware division profitable over night. But one thing is certain. It will take the amplified voice of users who rely on BlackBerry day in and day out to make their voice heard in this growing sea of sameness in favor of their beloved brand.
Originally posted on Mikelcal.co