Marketing Strategy / Opinion

Blackberry’s ‘Janus’ Strategy is heading for the rim of defeat

RIM – the troubled makers of Blackberry – are meant to be refocussing the operation to arrest massive losses and try to save the business.

However, looking at two recent industry reports, they’re turning into a Janus that will achieve neither.

What the hell is going on?

On one hand, we have a report on today’s Marketing Week website (written by Lucy Handley) which uses RIM as a case study for a corporation trying to turn itself around.  Lucy’s ‘Brands On The Turn’ box out states:

[RIM] is hoping it can turn the company around by focusing on business-minded people rather than consumers and has used the line ‘Think different, act different’ – a direct reference to the ‘think different’ line originally used by Apple.

However, zoom over to Matthew Chapman, writing for Marketing Magazine, and we find a very different story:

The eight-part Summer Daze with BlackBerry series, produced by Monkey Kingdom, focuses on several 18- to 25-year-olds and will be a ‘structured reality’ show in a similar style to The Only Way is Essex and Made in Chelsea.

Back up a month, and Marketing Week carried this:

In the same announcement, RIM’s chief executive Thorsten Heins, said BlackBerry was to tailor its brand to focus on its core audience of business people after failing to compete with rivals such as Apple and Samsung.

Head a month further back, and you’ll find Lara O’Reilly telling us:

BlackBerry has now announced plans to temper down its involvement in the consumer market altogether, leaving its legions of loyal teenage BBM fans wondering which brand they should turn to for their next upgrade.

There’s a problem here.

Either the two industry journals are being given two different stories, or Blackberry are about to surge of the rim of defeat by losing sight of their core, refocussed, objectives and blowing an entire wad of cash on completely the wrong demographic.

18-25 year olds aren’t what I think of when someone says “Business people”.  Yes, there are some great young entrepreneurs, but at that age, most are still crawling out of university and scrambling their way up the ladder.

Do serious, business minded, people watch structure tripe like TOWIE?  Perhaps some do – but I guarantee they’re not thinking about their business at the time.

And given that Blackberry state (on 30th March 2012) that they’re tempering down their involvement in the consumer market altogether, this leaves us with only one inescapable conclusion:

Blackberry are looking desperate.

Hell, who wouldn’t be having posted losses of £78.5million in a single quarter.

But the answer is not to flail about – which is the impression I get from their bi-directional (and I don’t use that in a good way) ‘strategy’.

Consumers – whether private citizens or business people – don’t like companies that smell of desperation.

In fact, it’s this smell that can cause the vultures to descend even earlier than they would otherwise.

What Blackberry need to do is simple.

They need to step back, take a breath and work out what the hell it is that they’re doing.

Then they need to do it firmly, logically and with conviction.

I said that this is simple.  And it is.

I didn’t say it would be easy.

But until they kill their Janus strategy, they’re running out of options, time and consumer patience faster than they’re running out of money.

Neil Hopkins is a Marketing and Branding Theorist at heart, and a Marketing Communications Manager by day. His blog – interacter – is the primary location he shares insight and information relating to marketing, branding and advertising strategy.
You can follow Neil on Twitter, circle him (like an escaped bull) on Google+ or track him down in any number of other ways.

Featured image licensed under Creative Commons on Flickr – Danny McL’s photostream.


14 thoughts on “Blackberry’s ‘Janus’ Strategy is heading for the rim of defeat

  1. Neil – in a phrase “management hubris”. An inflexible top-down structure that stifled a genuine appraisal of the category changes and a host of missed opportunities or a day late/dollar short introductions. Jewels like BBM and secure clod were underleveraged, haptic-based designs unveiled months late and shipped late, rushed delivery of mediocre tablet devices just added insult to injury. As a Canadian RIM’s fall frustrates and saddens me…much like most Finns must look at Nokia and say “How???”

    • I agree. Although I’m not a ‘student’ of their precise approach, it has always seemed pretty blinkered, from an outside perspective.
      Given that I have a BB for work (and an HTC for my own use), I can’t understand why anyone would ever want to use a BB at all. Clunky, heavy and with tiny keys…
      Digital Darwinism at its most vicious?

  2. RIM and Nokia are dead men walking. Profit has left the disappeared, market share is collapsing, so revenues and the ability to invest and turn the company round will soon disappear. At that point their value will be the sum of their intellectual property. Everything else is a commodity (easily purchased) or worthless. Both companies are caught in the headlights of Apple and Samsung and seem unable to fathom out the basics let alone a coherent strategy. RIM has no choice other than to focus on the business customer. Not only does it have the largest installed base here, but it also faces the least opposition as iPhones are not the first choice for corporate IT departments (although they often are for corporate users). iPhone users have a choice of BBM type apps and Apple is quickly closing in on that market itself. The dual track strategy that RIM is following shows a lack of executive clarity on the steps and actions needed to rescue the company and also raises questions about the ability of the CEO to steer his ship. Without any major change in strategy, Nokia will collapse to a fraction of its former size, with market penetration limited to emerging economies (which may provide Nokia high levels of products shipped), but low revenues and tiny profits. I’d argue that both can be saved, but not at the size they are. They need to quickly shrink to reduce costs, protect the core and try to rebuild. Saving either company at anything like its current size is a fruitless task (get the pun!)

    • Gary is bang on. Nokia is about to be “saved” by Microsoft. Heaven forbid. Thats not a knock on Windows Mobile but the technology equivalent of McDonalds saving Whole Foods. As an infinitely more articulate colleague @RodBanner said recently. Nokia hasn’t focused on the next generation of mobile users and usage focussing instead on (metaphorically) trying to clean up truculent teenagers and shoring up their senior citizens. They’ve abdicated the innovation pedastal they once owned.

      • Nokia did seem an obvious acquisition strategy, but if Microsoft can build the Surface without owning a tablet manufacturer, does it need a phone company to make Windows Mobile a success? There are plenty of companies who can build a phone, not to mention the existing Windows Mobile supporters. Buying Nokia would drain Microsoft of much needed cash and saddle them with a dying albatross of a division that would consume energy, cash and ambition at a time when they need to focus and be more agile. The only change that this would bring in Nokia would a different name on the redundancy cheque – potentially along with a load of Microsoft ones as well, if Nokia continued to fail. Given that Nokia probably has less than 1% of its installed base using Microsoft OS’s, this would seem to be madness, but as ever, we’ll see. I’m sure there is a MBA in Redmond calculating the benefit of converting all of those users to Windows (the only problem of course is that they won’t).

    • Totally agree there, Gary. It’s the lack of executive clarity that I find so deeply worrying – if they don’t know their brand/target, who else does/should?

      I seem to remember an interview with someone at Nokia where the CEO stood up on stage and asked the assembled company who had an iPhone. Only one person put their hand up – and therein lies the problem; brand/product advocacy and loyalty actually worked against the company as no one ventured outside the walls to see what was going on…

      • So Nokia announce the launch of the Pureview 808 – a very capable camera phone with a 41mp sensor + zenon flash and Zeiss lens. Surely a great move for the beleaguered Nokia? It looks a great phone, and even has NFC (which the iPhone doesn’t so stealing a lead on it). But look deeper and you will see one flaw, which I believe will be a fatal one. This is that it runs Symbian. So what is that you ask … easy – a dead operating system. Elop, the CEO of Nokia announced that Symbian was being discontinued, at which point many of the remaining developers stopped developing for it. Cue: Symbian sales plummetting on the market as no one wants an operating system that is dead. Even if many average buyers don’t know about operating systems – the people in the shops who sell to them do, and the last thing they want to do is annoy lucrative smartphone customers. For Nokia, this may have been a least worse decision – as Win7 is not going to be upgradable, Win8 is not released and they don’t support Android, but that doesn’t change the fact that this lack of vision and strategy (in ensuring that they manage this problem) will cost them dearly. I fear the Pureview 808 will gain the support of a passionate few early buyers, but quickly disappear into oblivion, with the next iPhone killing it dead.

        • Wow – I’d missed that one. I do wonder what the brand management strategy decision was behind the decision to continue with Symbian.
          It’s starting to really smell of desperation here. The carrion eaters are circling, methinks…

  3. Oh, yes. I forgot about the tablet strategy … let me replay this … a device that was about the same price as the market leader but with almost no apps, a weak content marketplace, that couldn’t do the one thing that made the company a success [secure email] without being tethered to a BB phone. Genius.

  4. I’m struggling as I create a historical allegory of this thread to determine which OEM manufacturer should be cast in the role of Nero watching Rome burn? The benefits of a classical education 🙂

  5. News – Finnish Government leaves Nokia to burn

    As ever, my favourite children’s book, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ becomes the reference text for corporate strategy analysis. When will someone in Nokia stand up and shout, “THIS STRATEGY IS NOT WORKING”. Isn’t it time to change, shift, pivot … pick the word, but do something? Does anyone in Nokia see the Windows strategy rescuing Nokia? I wonder what level of sales would be needed to realistically support Nokia. A trip to my local phone retailers show that this is not going to happen any time soon. Will Win 8 on mobile accelerate sales sufficiently to save Nokia? I only know one non-Microsoft employee who has a Windows 7 phone. The only people I know with Nokia phones have consigned them to kitchen drawers (as a backup phone) a year or so ago.

    Forbes recommends that they stick with Windows, but is a failing strategy with no Plan B sensible? Whilst the long play may be viable for Microsoft, will investors whose shares are decreasing in value month by month allow Nokia to empty it’s cash pile.

    Without knowing what contracts are in place with Microsoft, it is hard to know what options Nokia has other than selling parts of the company, but these will only stave off the inevitable for longer, not address the fundamental problem. Time for Nokia to get a new tailor perhaps?

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