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Is BlackBerry Ready to Lure Back Business Users?

By Jeff Wilson, APR (@wilson0507)

Don’t call it a comeback. We’ve been here for years.

There was a time – not so long ago – when many of my colleagues wouldn’t go anywhere without their BlackBerrys. After all, BlackBerry was THE smartphone of choice for the serious-minded business executive.

Even when the iPhone made its triumphant debut in 2007, loyal BlackBerry users scoffed. While iPhone users were off playing around with apps, BlackBerry users were “handling their business.”

A CNN article from 2010 said it best, “The BlackBerry is the get-things-done phone. It’s not designed to run flashy applications, for playing games or for uploading pictures to Facebook and Twitter. It started out a business-minded device, and RIM has continued to market it as a business-friendly device.”

But a funny thing happened on the way to the boardroom; iPhone found a seat at the table.

And iPhone’s growth has been nothing less than meteoric. In the fourth quarter of 2012 alone, Apple sold a record-setting 47.8 million iPhones, helping the company report a staggering $13.1 billon, the second highest profit ever earned by a U.S. corporation.

And it’s not just the iPhone luring away business users. The first Android-powered phone was sold in October 2008. And now, Android is “the world’s most widely used smartphone platform and the software of choice for technology companies who require a low-cost, customizable, lightweight operating system for high-tech devices without developing one from scratch.”

Back to the Future

But could BlackBerry (formerly known as Research in Motion) be poised for a comeback?

In January, the company announced two new smartphones – the BlackBerry Z10 and the BlackBerry Q10. Both will run the new BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system. The phones will launch in the U.S. in March. The BlackBerry Z10 looks a lot like iPhones and Android devices. And the Q10 has the keyboard that hard-core BlackBerry users still covet.

But the question remains, will the new BlackBerrys be enough to lure back business customers who defected to other devices?

So far, the BlackBerry 10 has gotten mostly high marks from early reviews. BlackBerry 10′s features include separate work and personal profiles, time-saving ways to multitask without closing applications, video chat with live screen-sharing and more than 70,000 available apps.

However, BlackBerry has a tough hill to climb.

“(BlackBerry) faces steep challenges in launching the new OS. Accounting for just 4.6% of the smartphone field in 2012, the BlackBerry platform has hemorrhaged so much of its once-considerable market share that there’s little ground left to cede,” writes Michael Endler for InformationWeek.

A Full-Court Press

BlackBerry has put on a full-court press to launch its new phones, even buying air time during the Super Bowl – a first for the company. However, its first foray into Super Bowl advertising was received with a bit of a head scratching from the advertising community.

AdAge writes, “Really, BlackBerry? ‘In 30 seconds, it’s quicker to show you what it can’t do.’ Really!? You’re in a battle to the death against feature-laden phones from Apple and Samsung. You’re releasing a phone that got some half-decent tech-world buzz last week. And you’re going to drop millions on a 30-second spot that doesn’t offer one gee-whiz feature that would separate you from the smartphone pack?”

Take a look at BlackBerry’s Super Bowl ad and judge for yourself.

Even iPhone has had to work to hold on to its coolness factor, trying to fend off advances by Samsung and its Galaxy S III. Some of my co-workers who first defected from BlackBerry to the iPhone have now defected to Samsung.

Not satisfied with just taking pot shots at iPhone, Samsung has now set its sights on BlackBerry’s business customers.

“There are those who make cruel jokes about BlackBerrys. They suggest that people who still use them are the sorts that listen to CDs,” writes Chris Matyszczyk for CNET. “For myself, the only people I still see with BlackBerrys in hand are those who haven’t stopped focusing on climbing the corporate ladder since 2004 – and are still in middle management positions.”

Ouch!

Here’s Samsung’s pitch to business users.

But don’t count BlackBerry out just yet. Some early sales data suggests that BlackBerry may be seeing some strong demand for the Z10.

“According to channel checks conducted by Jefferies & Co., pre-orders in the United Arab Emirates and Canada have so far been ‘solid.’ More encouraging, though, are early reports from the U.K., where Z10 sales are evidently off to a good start,” writes John Paczkowski for All Things D.

For now, I’m holding on to my iPhone 5, but I can promise you, I’ll be keeping my eye on BlackBerry – just in case everything old is new again.

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About Jeff Wilson:

Jeff Wilson, APR is associate vice president and director of business development for PadillaCRT. He develops and guides the implementation of the agency’s strategic communications plan, which includes media relations, social media, sponsorship, website copywriting, advertising and collateral material development. He also provides day-to-day management of the agency’s new business response functions. Jeff has earned some of the PR industry’s most prestigious awards, including PRSA Silver and Bronze Anvils, a PRSA Health Academy Innovation Award and an IABC Gold Quill. He was named one of PRWeek’s “2008 Top 40 Under 40” as well as one of Richmond’s “2007 Top 40 Under 40” by Style Weekly. He also is immediate past president of PRSA Richmond.

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