After years of anticipation, frustration, and delays, Research In Motion (now re-branded BlackBerry) finally lets BlackBerry 10 loose. So now what?
That's the question a lot of folks in the industry are asking now that BlackBerry is just days (or months, depending on the region) from competing in the market with its first legitimately new product in more than a year and a half. BlackBerry 10 offers a refreshingly slick and unique experience, and the two smartphones, the Z10 touchscreen BlackBerry and more traditional Bold-like Q10, look fairly competitive.
But whether they're enough to turn some heads and win lost customers back remains to be seen. The past few years have seen BlackBerry's once dominant smartphone market share virtually wiped out, with iOS and Android grabbing 92 percent of the share of smartphones sold in the fourth quarter, according to Strategy Analytics.
After a long stretch in which much of the industry and many investors had written off the company, BlackBerry has more recently enjoyed a renewed sense of excitement -- and heightened expectations -- over the last six months. The company's stock has more than doubled during that period. This week, however, the stock has fallen nearly 12 percent amid fears that BlackBerry may not pull that comeback off after all.
Still, with BlackBerry 10, BlackBerry has its foot in the door of the smartphone market. CNET is here with some unsolicited advice on cracking that door wide open.
Keep the message clear
Many slick products have faltered in the market because of mind-numbingly dumb marketing campaigns. BlackBerry needs a simple, clear, and unified message pushing a handful of advantages that BlackBerry 10 has over the competition. It needs to avoid trying to be too cute or fancy with the ads --BlackBerry users and the power users the company is targeting value their time, so get to the point quickly.
"BlackBerry has to hit end users squarely right between the eyes on how this platform works," said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC.
That message had better flow down to the salespeople on the floor, whether that's in a carrier store or a big-box electronic retailer. Consumers don't have a lot of time to fuss with learning a new operating system, so BlackBerry needs to cut through the noise with its selling point.
BlackBerry seems to get that. Chief Marketing Officer Frank Boulben said during the launch today that every bit of marketing will contain a real-world example of one of the benefits of BlackBerry 10.
BlackBerry also needs to run its own massive campaign and not just rely on carrier partnerships. The last few years have shown that the companies that succeed are the ones that have taken the marketing efforts into their own hands. That's why Apple and Samsung Electronics are dominating and LG and HTC have lagged.
BlackBerry has a lot of work to rehabilitate a brand that's taken more than its share of lumps over the past few years. While BlackBerry executives would argue the BlackBerry name is still cool to some people, in reality it has a real uphill climb to get people -- particularly in its home market of North America -- to care about BlackBerry again.
Get some carrier love
While BlackBerry needs to establish its own identity, the company will need the support of its carrier partners. While most of the carriers have said the right things about BlackBerry 10, it remains to be seen just how enthusiastically they will actually promote the products.
Again, having the salespeople at the various carrier stores familiar and comfortable with the BlackBerry devices will be crucial to some of them actually recommending the phones to consumers. Ideally, BlackBerry should convince the carriers to offer financial incentives to promote BlackBerry 10 products, but in the least the salespeople should be aware of the products. As we've seen with the Lumia 900 and AT&T, sometimes the execution is lacking.
BlackBerry should shy away from exclusives as well, and so far, that appears to be the case. All of the national carriers in the U.S. will sell the phone, although the company would only say it would be available in mid-March.
While the carriers have talked about fostering a strong third mobile ecosystem, it's still unclear whether that No. 3 player will be BlackBerry, Windows Phone, or some other upstart platform. BlackBerry will have to fight for its position.
"Because of the fast-rising adoption of smartphones, 2013 represents the last, best hope for BlackBerry 10 -- along with endangered specimens like Microsoft's Windows Phone, Nokia's Lumia, and Mozilla's Firefox -- to create a viable third smartphone competitor in the market," said Ian Fogg, an analyst at IHS.
Defend the business front
BlackBerry, ultimately, is still about big businesses and corporate agencies. While the company has made some progress getting some agencies and companies to test out the devices, it will need to put a lot of effort into focusing on businesses.
Samsung Electronics and Apple are already making significant headway into the business and government worlds, and BlackBerry needs to push back hard with BlackBerry 10. Features such as "Balance," which allow the phone to have separate and secure personal and work identities, should help win the hearts and minds of the IT manager.
But BlackBerry needs to be wary of the bring-your-own-device trend, where employers support whatever phones their employees bring in. While the company believes BYOD is a trend that works in its favor, it has arguably been the worst hit by the phenomenon.
Suck up to the BlackBerry faithful
CEO Thorsten Heins likes to talk about the company's 80 million-strong customer base. Well, it's time for BlackBerry to show those customers why they stuck around.
The company needs to make it extremely easy -- and affordable -- to switch. There are BlackBerry users out there who love their keyboard and service, and the company needs to find them and keep them in the fold.
BlackBerry may be making a mistake pushing the Z10 touchscreen device out ahead of the more traditional X10, which is likely what the BlackBerry faithful will want to go with.
But whether its incentives or discounts, BlackBerry has to be aggressive in keeping current BlackBerry users happy.
Widen the market
For BlackBerry, it's time to go big when addressing the potential customer base. A Super Bowl commercial is a nice start, but it'll have to work harder to attract more than just the power user or corporate executive. Beyond these two BlackBerrys, the company will need to have midtier devices that are more affordable. That means accelerating their product rollout to be more inclusive, according to Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi.
The company also has to show that it's unafraid to take on the likes of Apple and Samsung. Samsung made a name for itself for a series of smart and quirky ads that highlighted some of the weaknesses of the iPhone and the eccentricities of the Apple fanboys. BlackBerry could do the same to both companies.
Marketing chief Boulben said the BlackBerry campaign would kick off with the Super Bowl ad.
In addition, it needs to continue its work cultivating stronger relationships with developers. While BlackBerry has made huge strides in that area, it still lags behind all of the other major platforms.
In the end, BlackBerry has just one shot to make an impression and prove to the consumers, the carriers, and its competitors that it belongs in the game.
"BlackBerry's got to come out guns a blazing," IDC's Llamas said.