BlackBerry's biggest challenge is building a brand that resonates

Z10

One of the biggest challenges that BlackBerry faces with its new BlackBerry 10 devices is building a brand that resonates with consumers and enterprises at a time when both Apple and Samsung have already won the hearts and wallets of users.

Smartphones increasingly look similar and offer many of the same features, making it difficult for OEMs to compete based on the relative strengths of their handsets. As a result, the ability to build a strong brand in the marketplace is playing a bigger role than ever, something that BlackBerry will need to address if its turnaround is to be successful.

“Branding is becoming more important in the handset space,” said Michael Morgan, analyst at ABI Research , New York. “It is almost becoming, in some ways, the key determiner of success because a lot of these devices are very homogenized.

“But brand is something that we can all instinctually understand and relate to,” he said. “RIM has had plenty of ads but in the end, it hasn’t really resonated with consumers the way that an Apple commercial has or in the way that Samsung has been able to deftly undercut Apple’s efforts and make Apple seem like it is not cool anymore.

“BlackBerry hasn’t been able to make the others look bad with its branding.”

The power of branding
BlackBerry lost market share in mobile over the past couple of years because the space has evolved to be much more consumer-driven and, until recently BlackBerry devices have not offered the features that consumers are looking for, such as touch screens.

While the BlackBerry Z10 is an important step in the right direction toward a more consumer-friendly mobile phone, it seems unlikely that RIM can regain significant market share based on the strength of its phone alone.

Instead, RIM needs to focus on brand building because there is a strong correlation these days between the amount of marketing dollars spent and the success, including consumer desire, for mobile devices.

For example, Samsung introduced new marketing last year portraying its devices as offering cutting-edge mobile technology and hinting that Apple’s devices are behind the times around the same time that its star in the mobile sphere has been rising.

“That’s why Samsung has blown everyone else out of the water – it is branding,” Mr. Morgan said. “The power of branding is incredibly underestimated nowadays – it really has done a lot for Samsung whereas the other folks, except for Apple, have not been able make their marketing resonate as strongly.

“Having that kind of marketing power translates into strong brand position and having a strong brand position really translates into having market share,” he said.

The consumer twist
One of the challenges BlackBerry faces with building its brand is that it needs to move away from its older image, which is as a more enterprise and professional focused brand.

The new Z10 device is a step in the right direction. The device features better hardware, better user interface and better industrial design, per Mr. Morgan.

“They need to give the brand that new consumer twist without dumping the enterprise appeal,” Mr. Morgan said. “I think that is going to limit their ability to be edgy in the way that Samsung is or compelling in the way that apple is.

“They have the moved the bar for themselves with the Z10, but will this win in an iconic device battle against an iPhone and an S4 – I don’t believe that this device on its own is going to be able to steal those customers away,” he said.

If BlackBerry is not going to win customers based on the strength of its brand with consumers, then it is going to have to compete based on its strength as a device for enterprise users and the fact that it offers superior security.

However, here too, it faces a challenge. Apple has been slowing making headway into enterprise thanks to the strength of the bring-your-own-device to work movement.

Additionally, Samsung is making a strong play for enterprise with its SAFE program that offers enterprise-ready devices off the shelf.

“That is a problem for RIM,” Mr. Morgan said. “This is a bottom to top, well-done and powerful solution.”

Carrier buy-in
BlackBerry faces other challenges as well.

For example, enterprise customers have to install new software to manage BlackBerry 10 devices.

BlackBerry also needs to get sufficient support from the carriers to push the device.

Finally, the device’s $200 price point may be too high.

“They have a challenge right out of the gate because any enterprise has to install more software beyond the software that they already have,” said Bill Rom, managing partner at 151 Advisors, New York.

“On the carrier side, at least from the AT&T launch, it doesn’t seem like they’ve done a good of positioning the product in the stores,” he said. “So I’m not sure how much of a commitment they’ve gotten from a carrier standpoint to promote the device.

“At the same entry price of $200 – which is the same that you can pick up an iPhone for or a Samsung Galaxy 3 – it seems somewhat risky because they are not giving me an incentive to try the device. At $100, at half the price of the big incumbents in the market, I think they might be able to get some more traction.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York

Associate Editor Chantal Tode covers advertising, messaging, legal/privacy and database/CRM. Reach her at chantal@mobilemarketer.com.