Can BlackBerry claim third spot in mobile market? [Strategy] [Times of India]
(Times of India Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Less than a year into his job, BlackBerry's new chief marketing officer Frank Boulben, who is originally from France, has been made familiar with at least one American football phrase, the Hail Mary pass, described as a long desperate play with a slim chance of success. It may not be the most complimentary of phrases -- it's certainly no touchdown -- but Boulben will take what he can get.
When we interview him just a day after an exhaustive simultaneous launch of devices powered by the BlackBerry 10 operating system, he is optimistic. David Pogue, technology writer for The New York Times, one of BlackBerry's staunchest critics has started his review with "I am sorry". "He is influential as it gets," says a relieved sounding Boulben. Even on blogs and technology sites that seem to exist only to deify Steve Jobs and worship at the altar of Apple, the new BlackBerry has been getting grudging good reviews. There are reports of BlackBerry having to turn disappointed customers (in its launch market, the UK) away. Whether this is due to unprecedented demand or a deliberately low supply is providing endless debate material for the pro and anti-BB camps.
Call it long overdue compensation for years of sluggishness. Armed with a tagline Keep Moving, BlackBerry is mounting what promises to be a make or break campaign to popularise devices based on BB10. A campaign that's likely to last at least all through 2013.
Asked about the budgets powering this mammoth exercise, Boulben will only say, "We have $2.9 billion of cash on the balance sheets, the financial muscle to do an impactful campaign. I'm confident it will achieve market transformation." Keep Moving is a line that the team expects to resonate with BlackBerry users across the globe, particularly in markets like India where technology has emerged as an enabler for a new generation of strivers.
But first a question, we just have to get out of the way: does Keep Moving owe any inspiration to Johnny Walker and Keep Walking Boulben is tickled by the assumption. But the line comes from a far more cerebral space. At the intersection point of physicist Neils Bohr and hotelier Conrad Hilton who said, "Success is connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don't quit."
An inspirational message for a company that's made more than its fair share of mistakes. And which seemed unwilling to acknowledge the changes in the smartphone space in a post iOS and Android world. The result -- a thorough drubbing in the US. Its market share according to figures from Kantar Worldpanel Comtech data dropped from 6.1% to a mere 1.1% from the quarter ending December 2011 to the quarter ending December 2012. Shares in the UK were down from 16% to 6.4%.
It's a mistake Boulben assures us BlackBerry won't be making again: "Our platform was introduced back in 1999. We realised we couldn't possibly go into the next decade with it." The company faced a difficult choice -- to move to another operating system or build their own. "Now that we have done it, we control our destiny. It will allow us to innovate for the next five to seven years. The issue we are raising is now one for competitors," says Boulben.
BlackBerry's opening gambit is to Keep Moving several miles away from its comfort zone. It's also going in for a lot of celebrity firepower, unusual for the Canadian technology firm. Besides pop star Alicia Keyes, who sports the fanciful designation of global creative director, BlackBerry is roping in fantastic fiction writer Neil Gaiman. And filmmaker Roberto Rodriguez who has an oeuvre ranging from gore soaked thrillers (Machete) to family friendly fluff (Spy Kids). Boulben wouldn't like any of them to be called "brand endorsers."
He says, "This is a genuine collaboration to create content produced using BlackBerry 10, inspired by fans. It will be distributed through online TV, etc." Only artists who were passionate about the brand were chosen, he says. Keyes who describes herself as a lapsed BlackBerry user for instance intends to use the device to make separate videos for each city she will be touring.
On TV, the Super Bowl film features a series of improbable situations ending with the cheeky tagline, "In 30 seconds it's easier to show you what it can't do." Each campaign will clearly be focussed on highlighting product advantages, benefits and exclusive features. In India, Josy Paul, chairman of BBDO, is understandably tight-lipped about the local avatar of Keep Moving. He will only say it's an interpretation of the theme arrived at in discussion with desi brand ambassador Ranbir Kapoor.
BlackBerry has different strategies up its sleeve for the consumer and enterprise segments. Krishnadeep Baruah, director, channel marketing - Asia Pacific, explains, "From a consumer perspective, a lot of our focus is around key features. On the enterprise segment, it is communicating around mobile device management platforms." Adds Boulben, "The idea is the same. With CIOs, we talk about keeping their business moving."
BlackBerry is trying to appeal to regions from the word go, supporting local languages and scripts. So much time has been spent getting the device right before launch that it isn't anticipating any of the backlash and teething troubles that usually accompany the release of a new platform.
Says Deepak Kumar, former analyst at CyberMedia and founder analyst at businessandmarket.net, "A good sign is that there have been no bad signs so far. The 'cool factor' could prove critically useful when it comes to winning new customers while serving the needs of old loyalists in a much better way."
The company will be measuring its performance across various parameters. The ones Boulben is willing to discuss is Net Customer Score, which checks whether the early buyers are willing to recommend the product to their family and friends. The larger objective is to be at least the No 3 brand in every country its launched.
This is on the back of an aggressive launch schedule. Within 16 to 18 months, it expects to have a full portfolio of five or six devices, covering different segments and price points. While there's no official confirmation, industry buzz indicates the flagship Z10 model will retail for close to or above the Rs 38,000 mark. Success in India will be determined not just by the number of wealthy consumers who want to buy what could be the next big thing, but more workaday users just getting into the smartphone space.
Anshul Gupta, principal analyst Gartner India points out that even in its previous avatar, BlackBerry has been best served by its models in the Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 range. However, he believes the brand does stand a fighting chance given the larger trends in India such as, in spite of its size, mobile consumers are leapfrogging to make India one of the fastest growing smartphone markets in the world.
Currently of the 700 million mobile phone users in the country, over 87 million use smartphones or internet-enabled phones. "And penetration is still only at 8% or 9%", he points out. The advantage it has is a very well known brandname; the disadvantage, the potential pitfalls of the app ecosystem. Gupta says, "They have announced 70,000 plus apps but I'm not sure how many are native and how many repurposed. It shouldn't happen that people do not find the apps they like after making a purchase."
Given its impressive specs and features list, no one but the churlish can accuse BlackBerry of coming to the market with too little. But whether the positive buzz makes for market share will determine whether or not it's too late. As of now, the next hit from the BlackBerry Boys could either be a hosanna of triumph or a swan-song.
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