The world we live in is full of products with incredibly recognizable brands. Not only are these brands well-known, they are synonymous with all sorts of positive feelings and activities in our lives. When you hold a “Nike” product in your hand, you immediately see yourself living an active lifestyle. When you see a can of  “Coca-Cola”, its easy for many to imagine how refreshed they will feel drinking it.

All this doesn’t come for free.  These companies understand that their relatively straightforward (like sugared water and running shoes) products are much more valuable to people if they represent a desirable lifestyle or feeling that everyone wants. The brand of a company is supposed to convey all this with a single symbol or name, where it is the responsibility of company to create and maintain this image.

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BlackBerry is at risk at becoming a victim of the commoditization of smartphones, where branding and perception dominate the marketplace.

In BlackBerry’s case, their brand has lost much of its value.  Just a month ago, BlackBerry’s brand value took a huge slide off the top 100 list for global brands.  If you believe this isn’t important to success, just look at the list.  With Apple in 1st place, Google in 2nd, and Samsung in 8th, its easy to see a pattern.  These companies are the ones with record profits. Even Sony and Nokia are sitting in 46 and 57, respectively. Branding is exceptionally important in the smartphone industry.  Even HTC, who isn’t on the list, knows that marketing their products to strengthen their brand is key to succeeding in the smartphone industry.  The result of HTC’s previous lack of focus on marketing is that they are finding it difficult to generate a profit, yet they make great smartphones!

Go figure. The newly released BlackBerry Z30 smartphone is another fine example of a modern smartphone. It’s got the 5″ screen, great design, HD display, decent cpu, solid OS, a (decent) selection of apps, and all that.  The Z30 is practically the same as a Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One, Moto X, LG G2, Sony Xperia Z etc., technically at least.  The list goes on.  They are all excellent smartphones as well.

Show the average consumer these phones and there aren’t many technical differences they can name that actually matter in the experience.  What consumers will think is that the Z30 is a BlackBerry (and thus isn’t the latest and greatest), the S4 is by Samsung (and is the next big thing), the HTC One looks nice (but isn’t too popular), the G2 looks the same as the S4 (and they make appliances), and the Xperia Z (and Sony stuff is usually good).  If they’re looking at the iPhone, they know its by Apple (and has all these neat apps).

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Despite the innumerable technical variations between the products, the lack of practical differences between smartphones that consumers can understand creates a situation where the perception of the brand is of utmost important (think Coca-Cola).  BlackBerry is at risk at becoming a victim of the commoditization of smartphones, where branding and perception dominate the marketplace.

It is the responsibility of the management to do their technical ability justice and match it with marketing of equal caliber

Personally, I’m a huge and proud fan of BlackBerry products.  I believe, without a doubt, that the software and hardware engineers who develop BlackBerry products are world-class employees who accomplish amazing things. Even Google and Apple recognize this.  I have had the pleasure of meeting many of these incredible people and the amount of respect I hold for them is considerable.  In addition, the philosophy behind BlackBerry products is something that resonates with me and many that I know who choose BlackBerry.

People don’t understand 256-bit AES encryption.  They don’t understand an Adreno 320 GPU.  They don’t understand what makes a good smartphone camera.  And I don’t blame them.  In the world we live in, smartphones are first and foremost consumer products.

But I’m calling it like it is.  And while I’m aware of the size of the challenges the company faces, it is the responsibility of the management to do their technical ability justice and match it with marketing of equal caliber.  It would be a shame to have it otherwise.

BlackBerry’s brand is damaged because of their inability to properly communicate with consumers, who became their most important customers.   The issue is their lack of effective marketing to repair the negative perception of their brand.  With young teens and adults dictating the market trends, asking any young person about BlackBerry and you’re bound to find evidence of their negative perception.  With their Samsung Galaxy S3s and iPhones, they see BlackBerry as a finished company making QWERTY smartphones to old people.  While its far from the truth, BlackBerry isn’t effectively telling them otherwise.

People don’t understand “Keep Moving”

With all due respect, the marketing that BlackBerry is trying to do is not working.  I am glad that their marketing efforts are better than they were before the appointment of their chief marketing officer.  Then again, it wasn’t hard to improve.  This should not be business-as-usual marketing.  This should be damage-control and rebuilding-the-brand kind of marketing.

People don’t understand “Keep Moving” and they sure don’t understand what a phone doesn’t do. The message is confusing.  As a result, people still don’t understand what a new BlackBerry stands for and they can’t see that amazing lifestyle in the Z10, Q10, Q5 or Z30.  They need a Morgan Freeman-narrated ad showing a vision of the ideal happy life with a song like this in the background.  Putting pets in never hurts either.  BlackBerry needs to connect the dots so that the BlackBerry brand represents a happy and social life, not some guy with no friends with elephant feet who climbs out of a sewer.

The solution isn’t a walk in the park.  Honestly, BlackBerry’s management has one of the toughest jobs in the world in my opinion.  The difficulty becomes clear when you consider they have to execute a global brand turnaround while competing with the top two brands in the world, each over 30 times their size.  Apple and Samsung spend hundreds of millions on marketing, while BlackBerry isn’t even close to being in the same league.  Without the kind of cash to keep up with the Joneses, it is very hard to engage enough consumers effectively.

Even though the better app selection on Android and iOS does have a little sway, the biggest issue for BlackBerry is not the tech specs, smartphone design, the apps, or the operating system.  They have that under control.  What really sells smartphones, which are very personal consumer commodities, is perception of the brand and effective marketing to consumers.  If BlackBerry wants to stay valid in the consumer market, they have to transition from the business-facing technology company to a consumer electronics company with a large focus on selling their vision to everyday people.  I for one want to see BlackBerry remain strong in the consumer space so I can continue to carry a smartphone that stands for the values that are important to me.