The BlackBerry Priv was released in the US last month; and as I write this article, still no one definitively knows what exactly BlackBerry’s strategy is beyond simply trying to sell as many devices as possible. Unfortunately, the Priv seems to have raised more questions and uncertainty about BlackBerry’s direction than anything else. What happens now to BB10 OS? Is this collaboration with Google a one time deal or the beginning of a new venture? Is it a comeback move? Did BlackBerry (finally) see a need in the market that they’re now trying to take advantage of? The BlackBerry Priv should have been the device that made the major media turn their heads—in a good way. This would have been the perfect opportunity to have an official launch, host a campaign, or invite the media to witness this rather different and possibly revolutionary move, but instead, well, nothing happened.
When I mean nothing, I mean it might as well have been nothing. To be fair, both BlackBerry and the media share blame for their mysterious disconnection, but in this article, I’m going to pinpoint five reasons why BlackBerry fails at using the media to further their standing in the public’s eye.
BlackBerry is hopelessly bad at doing its own marketing and advertising.
Most recently, BlackBerry released a series of images for the BlackBerry Priv device, seen below:
You can write 10 articles about how bad these images are, you can even read Brandon’s take on PRIV marketing here, but I digress. To the BlackBerry fans that think these images are great, let me clear something up for you, they aren’t. These pictures do nothing to help the viewers that don’t know anything about BlackBerry devices or the Priv’s benefits and features (let alone the fact that the Priv is powered by Android). For those who make the argument: at least BlackBerry is doing something, you’re also mistaken. A bad campaign can very well ruin the hype or anticipation for a product and turn people off. There is nothing (positive) the media can do with these images.
(At this point I would even go as far to say that we at BerryFlow—a ragtag team of youths running a non-profit blog site—can create better marketing content than BlackBerry—a multi-billion dollar international company—and we’d welcome that challenge.)
Everyone got fired.
In November 2013, BlackBerry’s CEO, COO and CMO were all cut within a month, and John Chen took over. At that time, the company was burning through a lot of cash, budget cuts and layoffs were on the way and time was not on their side, among other things. If any marketing director in the midst of this were to say, “Hey I need millions of dollars to execute an effective marketing campaign,” they would probably either have been fired or would have received a “Yea…no.”
What did that mean for the media? It means they were having a field day. Because BlackBerry couldn’t put together anything cohesive fast enough to fight off the negative impressions of the company, it made creating a positive image nearly impossible for the media to distribute. BlackBerry still suffers till this day from BB10’s stumbling release further shadowed by their failed Playbook launch and let’s not mention their attempt at a Super Bowl commercial either.
John Chen does not know how to tell a good story.
My impression of John Chen is mixed in some respects, but overall I hold him in high regards. He is a leader, but not necessarily a visionary in the classic sense. Chen was brought into what most would refer to “an impossible situation.” Not only has he established a foundation, in which BlackBerry can stand upon and grow, he has made the company profitable consistently for a few quarters now. It’s well known that BlackBerry is far from where they need to be, but it’s nothing short of impressive to see the turn around since John Chen assumed the helm as CEO. Even media giant CNN declared John Chen as the second best CEO of 2014, after Tim Cook (which remains undeserved by popular opinion).
That being said, with all the brilliant moves BlackBerry has made under Chen, promoting the brand’s image to the public was not one of them. Bill Gates once stated, “If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.” Steve Jobs said, “A brand is not so much about rational arguments, but the way the company resonates with people emotionally. Marketing is about values.” The questions BlackBerry needs to ask are: Who are we? Why do we exist? What do we value? and where are we going? But having these answers are not enough, BlackBerry will also have to create a compelling story that encompasses these answers to effectively communicate its vision to the world. As Seth Godin says, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but about the stories you tell.” Personally, I do not think Chen has taken the time to answer these questions for himself or the company he is running.
John Chen is good at explaining things, but falls short at delighting, exciting, or inspiring the media about the why and how he plans to envision BlackBerry’s future. Because Chen is so careful about what he says and doesn’t say, the press is left with a feeling of hopelessness and confusion. This reaction makes it easy for them to turn on BlackBerry–which they do– whenever the company introduces a new product or service.
Brand new CMO Mark Wilson. Brand same BlackBerry.
New BlackBerry CMO hire, Mark Wilson, hasn’t impressed in the least because he’s a traditional tech marketer, and tech marketers don’t specialize in brand awareness, which is exactly what BlackBerry needs. Wilson’s objective is to make BlackBerry synonymous with work, enterprise etc. but he’s not a storyteller or a visionary; he’s a textbook suit with only business experience, so don’t expect any market influence, brand experience or new marketing culture from him. Wilson may be effective with the BES 12 and QNX division, but certainly not with BBM or the hardware division–BlackBerry’s two weak legs. So, in conclusion, it seems BlackBerry, unfortunately, may have hired the wrong guy if they wanted the public’s perception of their brand to change.
BlackBerry doesn’t understand how the media works.
It takes little to be a blogger or score a gig writing for a tech site. The reality is most bloggers frequently push out content designed to generate views above all else through the art of “click baiting” because this is how they earn money. Brad Reed, a blogger for BGR is a prime example. He’s an inconsequential “me too” blogger whose objective is to pump out blog posts that can accumulate as many views as possible for a paycheck. For bloggers like him, there is no substance, integrity or originality in their work; it’s all just regurgitated news spewed from other websites. It becomes quantity over quality, so by pushing out multiple posts a day, Reed increases his potential volume of views hence more money–rinse and repeat.
The Internet is loaded to the brim with these cookie cutter types of bloggers. There’s no level too low they cannot stoop to in order to achieve their objective either. I know this personally because in October of 2014, Reed blogged about a written piece I had here on BerryFlow’s website. The nature of his blog was mockery; it was entitled, “BlackBerry fanboy rips into everyone for being too stupid to understand the Passport’s greatness.” Reed mustered hundreds of likes and comments from the post. The only ironic part was that nearly all the comments agreed with my original editorial on BerryFlow, and scorned Reed for his cowardly blog post. The best comment still today was posted by a person named Denton, who stated, “Wow…more click bait, your middle name is snide…how many more posts will be deleted today after exposing the ‘truths’?” Denton received 88 likes and dozens of responses, but bloggers like Reed don’t care about any of this because not only do they cash in on posts like this one, (that has nothing to do with the company or the device) but they also know that they can get away with it due to the fact that there is no policy that enforces accountability. Reed represents the quintessential cesspool of hack writers online, scraping by to make a buck even if it means cyber bullying in a desperate attempt to appear significant. All the while, BlackBerry suffers bad press reviews of their devices, leading to poor perception of the company and sales.
If Reed represents the kind of media BlackBerry has to deal with, then this poses a big problem for the company. BlackBerry doesn’t have proper launch events, so by default, they subject themselves to lending out new devices for a limited time to these bloggers whose only objective is to get views on their reviews posts, nothing more (I don’t even think BlackBerry gives appropriate tutorials on their devices and software to the media either). The reviews are biased, nonfactual write-ups designed to generate views and comments through “flame-bait.” And guess what? Writing a stellar review of the BlackBerry Priv isn’t going to accumulate as much attention as writing a negative one because bashing BlackBerry and their phones are not only easy, but also more profitable.
It’s downright shameful how a person can generate millions of dollars selling a rock as a pet on late night television while BlackBerry struggles with expanding arguably the best messaging platform in the world (BBM) and “convincing” people to buy their award winning devices.
BlackBerry needs to hire people who understand how to make an impact outside of the mind of tech users. The anemic Priv launch is a great example of why BlackBerry needs to stop thinking they know what people want (privacy on?) and begin listening. They need to implement a powerful message and launch an effective campaign that defines their identity, vision and intention proudly and boldly. The public and media should be left with absolutely no questions when it comes to BlackBerry and their products and services. There needs to be an intimate relationship between BlackBerry and the world. If you give no reason for anyone to care about your products, they’re not going to care. The media wants to care—they show up to the events—but if you don’t captivate them, they’re not going to be on your side. Steve Jobs, for all his faults, revolutionized launch events. Before, they were announcements, and he turned them into an experience. BlackBerry’s PR needs to evolve and learn how to romance the media and public.
BlackBerry’s image is not the media’s problem. There is no money in it for them unless people want to click to read their work, so it is up to BlackBerry themselves to make their audience care in order for the media to take more interest in them. The new culture, surrounding BlackBerry, needs to evolve and be expressed loud and clear on every platform possible.
Another thing is that BlackBerry does not take care of its community, and their social awkwardness with their fans is hurting them. In a digital space where every company has a “personal,” side, where is BlackBerry’s? They don’t even take care of the few who are rooting for them, whether that be the fan sites, bloggers or agencies that want to promote for them—mostly for free. Nurturing the culture you already have is marketing 101.
The solution for BlackBerry is clear. They need to stop relying on the functionality of their products, and begin focusing on the hearts of their markets. They need to find their reason as to why the world cannot live without them–this goes beyond their offerings. They’ve always had excellent products and services. Personally speaking, I believe BlackBerry should double down on BB10 OS over Android. The Priv has raised uncertainty and division among BlackBerry’s own culture and it comes across that the company has lost confidence in their own product, hoping Android will be a sort of lifeline. Are they following a, “Let’s throw a bunch of ideas at the wall and see what sticks” strategy? I pray not because at this point only BlackBerry can save themselves. Hopefully they realize that analyzing spreadsheets and data, investing in R&D and studying the market can only get you so far. Like Steve Jobs said, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
It’s your move now, BlackBerry. Get it done.