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The “Death of BlackBerry”: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

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It has been years since the death of BlackBerry has been first prophesied by many pundits, bloggers, and analysts.  Yet as BlackBerry stands today, they are still around with billions in the bank, and have solid products on the shelves.  Are they wrong?  Well that depends on the timeline and how you define “dead”.

BlackBerry is on the front lines of the smartphone business, which is arguably the largest and most competitive consumer electronics market in the world.  Success is typically reserved for those with record growth numbers and massive multi-billion dollar quarterly profits, and BlackBerry has none of these.  With slight quarterly losses, drops in users and also lower revenues, BlackBerry can’t be defined as successful at the moment.  Therefore, they must be “dying”.  But none of these are their problems.  These are symptoms of a larger, more complicated issue in the western world.

BlackBerry biggest issue by far is perception.  It’s hard to find a company that is perceived worse than them.  Even BP, who accidentally let hundreds of millions of litres spill into the Gulf of Mexico appears squeaky clean in comparison.  BlackBerry is largely seen as the bane of modern mobile technology, holding back the world’s transition to a cool app-centric experience with their archaic QWERTY keyboard and trackpad.

In reality, there has been a few million BlackBerry 10 smartphones sold.  There is a quite a selection of apps in the BlackBerry World, with a handful of very popular apps not available.  The operating system is quite efficient and is pretty solid.  Messaging and sharing content is top notch.  The hardware is average.  The development tools are great.  The battery life is average.  The design is pretty good.  So, what gives?   If the products aren’t so bad, whats the deal?

When the quality of your product relies on the strength of your brand, you best make sure that you have a name synonymous with cool, fancy and new.  However, the media has painted BlackBerry as a tech industry fossil with dead-end products.  Of course, few people want to own a new tech product produced by company with such a reputation.  Mobile platforms have become by far the most important feature on smartphones.  This means that the perceived ability of the company to continue future development of the platform it quite important to those buying new phones.  It is also evidently quite important to have a smartphone brand which commands a level of “cool” .  With all the media reiterating their death forecast of BlackBerry, they are in effect realizing BlackBerry’s demise with a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I won’t argue that it is the media’s fault for BlackBerry’s troubles, as BlackBerry has done a disgraceful job at marketing their products and managing their perception.  It is completely their fault.  In my opinion, even if they could have every single app from iOS and Android on BlackBerry, they still would have a hard time.  Why?  Because it is a BlackBerry, of course.  Perception is everything, and BlackBerry will not be able to sell their smartphones if they can’t figure out how to get their message across and restore the integrity of their brand.  BlackBerry’s business is in trouble from a media-driven feedback loop despite the quality of their products.

The media generally wants to tell people what they want to hear.  This is what helps them gain readership and acceptance.  In 2008, BlackBerry was doing great and the media was generally in favour of BlackBerry.  This makes sense, as BlackBerry commanded the most users back then.  However, if you look at the year 2011, BlackBerry was getting absolutely destroyed in the media.  This corresponded to the fastest decline in sales, stock price, and brand value.  While their decline was due to new paradigm shift in mobile phone usage created by Apple, the media acted as a catalyst to change.  With 2 year contracts in the US, the decline should not have been so rapid.  It was the deterioration of the BlackBerry brand that truly screwed BlackBerry in the US.  In addition, the success of Apple and then Samsung have shown that great marketing is crucial in this industry.

From all this, it should be evident that every smartphones manufacturer should take its brand integrity and marketing very seriously.  BlackBerry’s inability to address their perception has allowed the media to take advantage of their situation.  Fast forward to 2013 and confidence that BlackBerry can repair their brand name is pretty low.  With the possibility of going private or selling of some assets, BlackBerry is an uncertain as can be despite solid products on its shelves.




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