A shifting BlackBerry brand

Tuesday, 28 September 2010 20:29

With the possibility the corporate world moving away from exclusive usage of the BlackBerry, and the huge growth of the smart phone market, the BlackBerry brand is in flux: should it hold tight to its original corporate audience, or position itself to consumers as a smart phone able to compete with Androids and the iPhone?

As a brand Blackberry is losing its way, and doesn't appear able to respond in an agile manner to the iPhone. The rational and corporate characteristics that had people buy in to the innovation that was once Blackberry are simply insufficient for today's users. The apps, tactile design, touch screen and interface of the iPhone combined with the power of the Apple brand and its genius for marketing have created a connection with users at an entirely different level.

The Original Brand Position

When the phone first entered the market in 1999, it was very much geared to a niche audience - a corporate market in need of accessing their email inbox on the road. It's disciplined focus on email accessibility made it the adopted mascot of corporate IT departments internationally. At a time when mobile email accessibility was perceived as the domain of those who had good reason to be contactable 24/7, BlackBerry was able to position itself as a status object of the corporate world.

To recap the BlackBerry brand story, originally Blackberry marketed its features. They then shifted their message to one of business success. Ongoing campaigns then merged into a brand message about life success. The value promise of BlackBerry was that it's a tool to let you live your life as a successful professional.

New Environment

However BlackBerry seems to be sitting on shifting ground. They have had tremendous success in expanding their audience outside the enterprise market and selling directly to consumers. While great for RIM's (the makers of BlackBerry) profits in the last few quarters, this may have diluted its ability to act as a social signaling tool in the corporate world.

With the saturation of the iPhone, many younger workers are coming to view the BlackBerry as a sign of the old school; something they use only because it was given to them by their employer. Having familiarity with the iPhone, many prefer the user experience it provides over the starkness of the BlackBerry.

The Looming iPhone

Corporate workers and executives form their own tribe, and are happy to be identified as such. That's what BlackBerry has done until now. However the strength of Apple is it's dynamism - that it can appeal to the corporate tribe as well as the creative / teenager / mums and dads tribes.

If corporates begin technical support for iPhones - as some Wall street firms have begun doing in the States - the tide will change. Official corporate uptake the iPhone would happen in three stages. As the taboo against iPhone usage in the corporate sector is removed, employees will be allowed to use their own iPhones for work. The next stage would be companies paying for data plans, and after that purchasing iPhones. Such a possibility of a wholesale corporate shift should be very worrying for BlackBerry. BlackBerry's physical keyboard, email system and messenger tool demonstrate huge popularity and loyalty. What's at stake here is whether BlackBerry will continue to be able to position itself long-term as the preferred phone of the corporate sector.

At the same time this risk looms, BlackBerry purchases are increasing, and the overall market for smart phones is growing massively. In fact non-corporate consumers account for 80% of BlackBerry users. But the loss of the Wall Street cachet could put that growth in doubt. What BlackBerry risks is diluting its brand to increase its audience.