Blackberry The Next Step

Published at OnIslam.net

Once upon a time a man had a vision which translated to a 15% share of smartphone sales worldwide. A new, innovative product, providing corporate grade security, delivering the class leading enterprise mobile solution.

 
As the portfolio of products expanded, so successful was the offering that even today, (a few) friends of mine have moved off of Facebook and Twitter, choosing to interact with the limited features delivered via the Blackberry mobile experience.

 
Known as Blackberry Messenger (BBM), this service enables instant communication empowering individuals who grew up in the AOL/MSN messenger generations with a continuation of expectation. And yet, despite its many successes, Research In Motion (RIM) stock dropped to its lowest level since 2007. Why?

 
Unlike products such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, both of which appear to be dietary staples, technology sits within a rapidly evolving eco-system. From a device-infrastructure perspective we are witnessing a shift from 2G to 3G and now 4G. These incremental changes reflect a richer user experience demanded by the consumer, all the while BBM has adopted the soft drinks model where the core product is very much the same.

 
For Blackberry, it doesn’t help that Twitter has come on the scene, nor does it help that Apple have just announced iMessage, a service that will deliver a richer experience with the added bonus on content stored in the cloud. Actually, most of us have been using ‘the cloud’ for years (e.g. hotmail), but a little marketing and technological adaptation have positioned Apple’s offering as ‘market leading’.

 
So how would I address this? I propose a strategic solution, a leap of faith which delivers a fresh approach. After all, innovation is neither at odds nor alien to a company that was essentially built from it.

 
The problem for me is not the success or failure of the past but how Blackberry will respond to changing consumer expectation

 
Earlier this year, Dick Costello, the CEO of Twitter, spoke about strengthening the brand’s offering by delivering a more homogenous user experience. Part of this has been realized with the recent acquisition of Tweetdeck; a platform which optimizes the user engagement.
He has also announced a native photo sharing service to rival third party services such as Twitpic. That is to say, this is not just about sending 140 characters back and forth, rather, it is about delivering a much richer experience, one the consumer will expect as data speeds increase substantially.

 
Similarly, Blackberry already has a superb platform, BBM. Adding to the BBM service with a series of customizations can create a wider set of values that allow individuals to better exchange photos, videos, questions: all manner of information. Moreover, just as the recent investment of US$3.6millions into a company named Appsfire that optimizes the search facility making app discovery more relevant shows BBM can segment its content between public and private, providing an advanced service that allows users to discover more meaningful content, better.

 
Of course, there is only so much that can be done on the Blackberry sized screens, particularly given how most of their devices have keypads. So, while a PC-Mac interface could be added to the mix, particularly given the launch of the Playbook, offering a bigger-richer experience, the real test of innovation is the ability to create a sufficiently simplistic interface powered by the advanced search features that enable the consumer to enjoy that better experience.

 
New Ideas

If Blackberry don’t change their approach, they will find themselves removed from the equation while Twitter and iMessage pick up messaging market share.

 
This isn’t an offering that is delivered overnight, rather, it becomes a radical overhaul; a rethink of Blackberry’s strategy which, if delivered correctly, can be positioned alongside Twitter and iMessage as the third messaging platform alternative.

 
I would also look at the widening user case particularly across social media. Blackberry Mexico has over a million ‘likes’; Blackberry Venezuela over seven hundred thousand, and so on. While the consumer is showing interest in engaging, these pages deliver a service model, with service level broadcasts, where all you see when you expand any post on the wall is a stream of BBM numbers. To many marketers these ‘likes’ are fantastic. To me, it is a case of been there, done that.

 
My first thought, a dating service. My second thought, with a product so unique, why doesn’t the software allow for an automatic sharing of BBM numbers? And surely by creating that software layer which sits on a Blackberry but interfaces with the social media platforms, the consumer can actually be encouraged to do more than just sharing their BBM number?

 
My third thought, social is not local, but global – I may live in England but I can see what the brand is doing everywhere. Thus, to deliver a meaningful campaign, the strategy must be all encompassing as the consumer expects similar deliverables whether in Mexico, London or Hong Kong.

 
Innovation is nothing new, certainly not for Blackberry. The recession is often blamed for companies taking a safer tried and tested route, but I find the excuse wears thin after a while. If Blackberry do not change their approach, they will find themselves removed from the equation while Twitter and iMessage pick up messaging market share. And should this happen, Blackberry will have lost the opportunity of appealing to the younger audience who today want a richer experience and can tomorrow become their corporate customers.

 
Just some months ago Mike Lazaridis, the co-CEO of RIM, was in the news asking why people don’t appreciate the profits, the growth, and the going-global nature of RIM. I do. And while I do not use a Blackberry myself – as the notion of push mail and general device design don’t appeal to me – they do to many others. The problem for me is not the success or failure of the past but how Blackberry will respond to changing consumer expectation, thus continuing to deliver success into the future.

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