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Alain Giguère

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Can Ed Snowden save BlackBerry?

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 10-22-13 at 11:50 a.m.

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It was the jewel of Canadian technology: world-renowned success story RIM and its omnipresent and essential smartphone. Remember your first BlackBerry? Who can forget the pride and giddy tech-joy of sending and receiving emails on a handheld telephone, thumbing the Qwerty keyboard, navigating with the little scroll wheel... Not for nothing was it nicknamed a "Crackberry."

 

But in recent years, the BlackBerry - and RIM - have fallen through the cracks, and into dark times. As the lightning pace of tech evolution has revved up, RIM faces the daunting challenge of clawing a market space for itself against 800-lb. gorillas Apple and Google. The company has struggled and battled through a major rebranding operation, but the question remains: will it be enough?

 

In order to survive and prosper, a brand must reach and feed a consumer need. It must distinguish itself from the herd and ensure that those two elements form a rock-solid base to support its business model.

 

Indeed, in business, as in life, one door closes and another opens... but for opportunity's knock to matter, you have to hear it.  Hey, speaking of listening...

 

Edward Snowden caused a global shockwave when he revealed to us that the National Security Agency actively monitors, surveils and listens to our communications. More specifically, major US tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple "get together" with the NSA to provide them the information and data that people send and share.

 

Is this the proverbial open door? Can BlackBerry take this opportunity and address the need for control over one's private life in order to tap into a consumer need and differentiate itself from the competition?

 

Our Panorama (Crop's sociocultural monitor) tells us that respondents who prioritize control over their private lives are also wary of huge corporate entities, advertising and a ravenous consumer society. Perfect: that's precisely what BB's competitors represent!

 

And security? First among handheld devices, BlackBerry is known for its encryption and security, and for that reason, it is ubiquitous in government circles. Barack Obama famously used one during his 2008 presidential campaign. The U.S. Department of Defense even stated it was essential for national security.

 

There may be a happy marriage here between public and product, to wit: those who value control over their private lives are also attracted to nature, an ecological lifestyle and locally-sourced products. In short, they have a romantic conception of life. Even more crucial for smartphone suppliers, they seek out technologies that allow them to save time and connect with others. Therefore, a market position that banks on ethical consumption linked to a strong brand promise of control over one's private life could be the winning combination.

 

The BlackBerry brand went from a dominant player to a marginal brand. With its rebranding and Z10 effort, BlackBerry is fighting Samsung, Google and Apple on the terrain of "innovation that offers a lot of possibility". Can the brand win this battle?

 

If the answer is no, it has to become a niche brand. Niche is viable but marginal is not. The difference is that a niche brand has a strong USP. It remains to be seen if BlackBerry can own security and if control over privacy can viably support a business model.  Even - or especially - with a competitive market like smartphones, you've got to think outside the box.

 

By CROP