BlackBerry looks to ‘latent love’ for the brand as it plots comeback

Blackberry has suffered from a difficult few years with market share, sales and profits nosediving as the brand struggled to define what it stood for amid growing competition from Apple and Google. Now, with a clear focus on ‘serious business’, senior director of global brand marketing Robert Glen says it is tapping into ‘latent love’ for the brand to bring the company back from the brink.

BlackBerry hopes the Passport phone will mark its comeback
BlackBerry hopes the Passport phone will mark its comeback

Few brands have suffered such a rapid decline as BlackBerry. In 2009 it controlled almost a fifth (19.8 per cent) of the global smartphone market, with that figure rising to 55 per cent in the US. Fast-forward five years and that market share has slumped to less than 1 per cent both globally and in the UK.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Glen admitted BlackBerry was too slow to innovate. He said expanding into the consumer space was not a mistake but that the length of time it took the company to bring out its BlackBerry 10 operating system left customers with no alternative but to go to rivals.

“The consumer space was a growth opportunity. But certainly the market has spoken in that the length of time it took BlackBerry to get to Blackberry 10 was a challenge. People hung on as long as they could but the marketplace was very competitive and fast and we did not bring out BB10 fast enough to take advantage,” he said.

Glen said the “decline” of BlackBerry had caused many people to look at the brand and assess its future, particularly as speculation mounted over whether the company might go bankrupt or be sold off, either in whole or in parts. This wasn’t helped by BlackBerry’s own confusion over its direction, with the firm seesawing over plans to move out of the consumer market.

‘Heritage and roots’

Chief executive John Chen, who joined a year ago, has now repositioned the company around its “heritage and roots” in offering devices and services for enterprise customers. This, said Glen, has started to bring back “reassurance and confidence in the brand”.

He promised that BlackBerry would not be another Palm, which dominated the mobile phone market in the early 2000s but was subsequently sold to HP and the brand canned in 2011.

“The relationship with the customer has been challenged because of significant competition and questions over viability. People were asking ‘is there a future?’. Now people are seeing there is a future and we want to make sure there is an experience for them. We’re not going to be another Palm, we’re going to be a comeback story,” he added.

The refocus culminated in a rebrand last month that positioned BlackBerry around the mantra “serious mobility for serious business”. Glen said that with both Apple and Google moving into the enterprise space, it has had to reset its positioning. It has identified this as companies operating in the regulated space, such as banks and governments.

“We’re not going to be another Palm. We’re going to be a comeback story.”

“Where we are strong and where we think we can own a territory is, when business gets serious people think of BlackBerry for security, communications through email, BBM and the keyboard and productivity. Companies – particularly in the regulated space – continue to look at BlackBerry. These are beachheads where we think we can win and start to grow the business again. We consolidate our position there and then expand from it,” he said.

The end of marketing ‘puffery’

To reflect the return to “serious business”, BlackBerry’s marketing has also taken on a more serious tone. It ended its deal with singer Alicia Keys, who was brought on board in 2013 as creative director, and Glen said its marketing will no longer focus on “celebrities or puffery”. It has also appointed a new agency, gyro.

Instead, BlackBerry hopes to create an emotional bond to the brand by aligning itself with “business rockstars” such as Arianna Huffington that are already brand advocates. It has created a separate area on its website where these leaders can tell their story via a blog or video.

“There are personalities that align themselves with BlackBerry and we are going to leverage those relationships to help break through and enhance the emotional bond. These are people who on the street will indicate why they love their BlackBerry without being paid.

“Our customers are looking for business success, what is going to help them stay head. We strongly believe enabling them to be successful in the war of business will have a strong emotional bond to the brand,” said Glen.

‘Brand lust’

Despite all the problems, Glen claimed there is still “lust” for BlackBerry from people who have gone over to other phones. Figures from YouGov’s BrandIndex show the brand has experienced something of a resurgence over the past year, with metrics including impression, value, recommendation and buzz (a measure of the positive and negative things said about a brand) all increasing by a statistically significant amount.

“We have very strong brand equity. There is a latent love for the keyboard, the experience and with our most recent activity that interest and past love is being rekindled. We are expecting a lot of win backs,” he said.

Glen believes innovation will be crucial to BlackBerry’s future and said the company will no longer “follow the rest of the market”. That includes in phone design, with the firm’s new Passport phone offering a square screen and keyboard, rather than a “narrow slab like all the rest”.

“We created a strong relationship with customers in the past by innovating to bring their office to the mobile world. Passport is innovative, it gives business people a wider device to be able to read data and information. The job of marketing is to make that innovation relevant.

“We will be looking at more devices that provide other innovations. We’ll be marketing to that focused target, staying true to our business focus and be very vocal about the pillars of our experience – effective communication and collaboration, being able to amplify productivity and have all that wrapped in BlackBerry security that is second to none. Everything we do is measured by how we support ‘serious mobility for serious business’,” he said.

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