BlackBerry’s ‘back to business’ plan may see it out of business altogether

As if last year’s service outage wasn’t enough, 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.

Lara O'Reilly

In a far from shock announcement, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins announced that the company is now undergoing a “comprehensive” strategic review to decide whether a sale, licensing agreement or joint venture may be the best route forward to turnaround the company’s mounting woes.

The news followed a series of dismal financial results, delays on software, a unsuccessful entry into the tablet market and slumps in its market share and brand value – all in the past year.

BlackBerry is now to go back to its roots and focus on making products for enterprise customers, rather than trying to compete in a consumer market dominated by slick touchscreens and sexy brands like Apple, Samsung and HTC – although it stills says it will focus on its “core strengths” in the consumer segements, but doesn’t clarify what these might be.

HTC itself was facing a crisis at the start of the year (although not the same epic proportions suffered by RIM), when it posted its first quarterly loss after months and months of successive profit and revenue growth.

At the time I called for HTC to “turn up the volume” on its “Quietly Brilliant” strategy and, after speaking to its UK and Ireland marketing director James Atkins, it seems the company has decided to do just that (although I’m guessing the two are probably unrelated).

HTC is making a series of strategic shifts, from the way it releases devices to the way it markets them as it looks to recuperate its losses. Problems were realised and resolutions are being implemented quickly. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of RIM and BlackBerry and it’s now had no choice but to give up.

Heins said when announcing BlackBerry was going back to focusing on enterprise customers: “We can’t do everything ourselves, but we can do what we’re good at.

“We believe that BlackBerry cannot succeed if we tried to be everybody’s darling and all things to all people. Therefore, we plan to build on our strength.”
BlackBerry is right to cease trying to spread itself too thinly, but it is questionable whether what were its strengths three years ago when it was dominating the business space are still relevant now.

Reliable e-mail now comes as standard on any device, instant messaging like BBM is a mere free download away and company software can usually be easily uploaded on to most mobiles – what does BlackBerry currently offer businesses that any iOS, Android or Windows Phone doesn’t?

Some analysts have pointed towards BlackBerry’s strengths in security, but last year’s global network outage might leave some business owners and procurement managers scratching their chins as to how safe their data will be in a RIM-operated system.

BlackBerry is no doubt working behind the scenes to offer a USP, but judging by its previous moves to launch anything revolutionary (PlayBook, BB10, something that differed BBM from the competition …) that roll out is likely to be delayed.

The problem for RIM in this fast-moving mobile world is that the comeback should have already started. It needed to already have something up its sleeve to reassure the market that it could differentiate from its competitors – be it software, or a new marketing approach to become the IBM of the mobile sector, or a partnership, or even the announcement that it was selling the business altogether.

RIM also needs to quickly appeal to its original base of enterprise customers and convince them that it hadn’t forgotten about them after all – it had just been through a rough patch, partying with teenagers – but is now ready to take itself more seriously. It is imperative a marketing campaign is imminent.

No doubt while the market waits to see what the new positioning will be, businesses will continue to offer their employees the innumerable array of other devices that allow them to take their office with them wherever they are – raising a point as to whether there really is such a thing as a “business phone” any more anyway.

Today (30 March) HTC unveiled a new direction, embracing current consumer trends, while BlackBerry announced a return to the old, embracing a former strategy that was a USP in former years but hasn’t been proven to be successful elsewhere for some time.

Brands are right to trumpet their heritage, but in order to future-proof its business, BlackBerry can’t afford to be stuck in the past.

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