What RIM’s Blackberry 10 Struggles Teach Us about Marketing

The news of RIM’s continued troubles in recent weeks are an object lesson about the need to continuously adapt to the rapid pace in the global marketplace.  RIM’s problems go beyond just a net marketing problem, as former CEOs Mike Lazaridis and James Balsillie found out earlier this year when they were forced to give up the reins of the Canadian tech company.  Thornsten Heins may find his tenure as CEO in Waterloo similarly short if the Blackberry 10 doesn’t turn out to be the answer to the company’s falling market share. (RIM is currently down to roughly 12% of market share versus Google’s 50% and Apple’s 30%–a fall of 4% since last year according a recent comScore study.)

It is hard to believe that just 2 years ago in 2010 articles with titles like “Research In Motion Can Do No Wrong” were ubiquitous. In 2008, Candidate O’Bama did not want to give up his Blackberry when assuming his position in the Oval Office.  The press was in love with RIM’s Blackberry and they were preparing to take on who they saw as their main rival, Apple.

But, as many early frontrunners have found, maintaining the lead can in many ways be harder than gaining it—especially when you have to compete in a marketplace where the consumers are just a click away from competitors and where the next new thing is so much more attractive than today’s best thing.

In this kind of marketplace, your strengths can often become your weaknesses.  Blackberries, which are still often provided by companies (a major competitive edge for RIM) and which were less open to having apps added—became the work phone, while the iPhone became the “cool” new phone people bought for themselves to play games and update their Facebook pages. Apple, riding the wave the iPad had created, became the new IT thing stealing Blackberry’s market share on the high end, while Google’s Android came in underneath them, stealing the low end.

A recent NPR Marketplace Money radio report titled “Are You an iPhone or an Android?” divided the mobile market roughly along class, gender and geographic lines, with “cooler” more affluent iPhone users being more likely to be Democratic leaning, more coastal and more female than younger, more Red state, more male Android users.  These are, of course, gross generalities, but missing from the report were Blackberries, who seem to have no constituency—no one who identifies themselves with the once addictive device that was dubbed the “Crackberry.”

The problems have not been just marketing.  It doesn’t help to have service outages and to have year long delays for cutting edge products in a business where a year is an eternity. (Just look at how effectively Apple builds up anticipation for their product launches.) But failing to find a marketing message to appeal to new segments (or even retain older segments) certainly doesn’t help. There are probably several lessons in RIM’s fall from grace, but one of them is that in today’s business climate you always have to be reinventing yourself and expanding your reach dynamically while convincingly projecting a revitalizing narrative to media watchers and your customers, or you will get defined in relation to your competitors’ marketing narratives.

RIM is not done yet, but if they want to keep the Blackberry 10 from being their Waterloo (sorry—couldn’t resist the pun!), they will definitely have to get to work revitalizing the narrative of their marketing message.


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