It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago Research In Motion (RIM) was the smartphone leader. Now the joke is that there is nothing smart about a BlackBerry.
It’s also hard to believe that so-called “crackberry users” are now giving up their beloved phones for an Android or iPhone device.
A lot, in fact, has happened that allowed RIM to lose its grip on their market. You can learn a few marketing lessons from their failure that you can apply to your business to keep you and your business growing.
Here are 8:
Lesson #1: Control the conversation with social media
In the social media world, RIM has taken a beating in the last several years from its critics…mostly because they’ve sat back and done nothing.
They’ve never used social media to their advantage.
For example, when the new RIM CEO announced his first earnings report…one in which they said they lost money for the first time in seven years…you think they would’ve created some kind of social media campaign to fight back against all the negative attention.
But they didn’t.
The sentiment on Twitter for RIM during that announcement was 59 percent negative and 41 percent positive.
The conversation dominating Twitter looks like this:
‘Sorry! We’re closing this page because it is too large to load.’ —the tiresome, #memory #bullshit refrain from #BlackBerry #RIM #sorry
It’s not like they don’t have a faithful fan base. They have almost 11,000,000 likes on their Facebook page…
…a community they could’ve easily tapped and asked to rally around the company and help fight back against all of the negative sentiment.
Unfortunately they’ve never fostered a community with those Facebook fans, but used it more like a focus group to bounce ideas off of, so the fans weren’t primed to help out in this situation and become brand advocates.
Marketing Lesson: Your social media strategy should involve at least two things. One, create real connections with your customers. And two, build those customers into a loyal base of advocates who can help you engage critics and get greater control over the brand conversation.
Lesson #2: Build a cult…not a company
Apple probably has the most loyal fan base for a company in the world. It’s the most recognized brand. And that’s because people who buy Apple products don’t do it because they need these products…they buy Apple because it says something about them.
Compare RIM to Apple and you see a company who builds a device that is more popular than the company. Search Blackberry and RIM on Google Insights and you will see way more volume for the product than the company.
Here’s a search for Blackberry and RIM…
The blue line is for RIM mentions. The lesson here…the product is way more popular than the company. Do the same thing for Apple and iPhone and this is what you see…
While the iPhone outpaces Apple, you’ll notice that spikes in mentions always coincide…which means people recognize the product and the company…and people talk as much about the company as they do the product.
Marketing Lesson: Build an emotional, almost-cult like connection with your customers by creating experiences and products that enhances those experiences. As I’ve said before, Apple started with the why…and made the why they exist way more important than what they do.
Lesson #3. Create a culture that values user experience
You’ll never be able to build that cult-like connection with consumers if your own people who work for you don’t value input from end users.
RIM failed because they had technical wizards at the helm who never valued the end users input. It was an engineer-driven culture…which worked as long as there wasn’t any competition.
Consumers had to accept what was handed down to them. The BlackBerry Storm, launched in 2008, showed that RIM didn’t understand their consumer.
Then came along Apple and Google who built companies that focused on the end user…and who truly knew their customers by giving them iPhone and Android devices…and ate up RIM’s market share.
Granted, some people still prefer the thumb click wheel and tactile keyboards over the touchscreen, but that market is small.
Marketing Lesson: If your company doesn’t have a culture that puts emphasis on the end user…start a campaign to change that right now. And if you’ve company already has a focus on the consumer…keep it that way!
Lesson #4: Don’t be afraid to listen to employee ideas
To the researchers, engineers and marketers who worked at RIM, they understood that their technology needed to change. RIM management, for whatever reason, refused to listen to them and innovate.
Sure, they rolled out iterations, but nothing that ever drew in new customers. They were making money and didn’t want to mess with the formula. In fact, they looked down at the iPhone as a toy that enterprise customers would never take serious.
Now, because they never thought about a better way to navigate than a thumb click wheel they are hemorrhaging cash.
Marketing Lesson: Never confuse iteration with innovation. Innovation is when you create something that may even destroy your favorite product…but could be another true winner. Create a skunk works in your company…and create a culture where people are not afraid to challenge the status quo.
Lesson #5: Make passion for the product a relentless mission
Being a first mover in a market allows you to dominate for a very long time. But it can also lull you to sleep and people in your company…from the management down…get really complacent.
There was nothing bold or brash about the BlackBerry…it was never sold aggressively or tried to penetrate new markets or drive deeper into current ones. It was satisfied with the status quo…and people started to lose passion for the product, allowing competition to gain market share.
Marketing Lesson: If you have a product that is revolutionary, you need to quickly figure out how to support demand…and aggressively chase new opportunities like DropBox did. Always innovate to meet what customers want. Chase new markets. Keep that passion.
Lesson #6: Maintain your first-mover advantage
RIM’s main problem was that they thought they had made it and beaten their competition. In 2007, they were on top of the world…
They figured that they had so much market share that nobody could beat them. But sales have dropped ever since as has their market share…
They stopped innovating and rolled out boring iterations. They lost their edge and stopped listening to their customers because they thought they had it locked up.
The same thing happened to Kodak and HP. They thought their hold on the market share would give them time to respond. But we’ve seen that markets can change in less than a year when along came Apple and Google to eat their lunch.
Marketing Lesson: Never stop researching your competitors and paying attention to even the smallest players…because they may hold the key to future earnings for you.
Lesson #7: Replace complacent management
RIM’s problem was that their management refused to make any necessary changes. They were constantly bullish about RIM’s position, confident that the money would pour in until the end of time.
They refused to look at Apple or Google as competition to worry about because they felt like as first movers they had locked up the market. Sadly, they never came up with another great new idea since launching the Blackberry.
It was long overdue for a new team of management to be introduced.
Marketing Lesson: Get people into leadership positions that can bring a refreshing perspective to your company and products. Surround yourself with creative thinkers. Never let the complacency of management hold back the company because it will lead to failure.
Lesson #8: ALWAYS Create more than one product
Like I mentioned above, the BlackBerry is more famous than the company. That fame was spread due to so-called “crackberry,” and it seemed that BlackBerry was invincible and would dominate for a long time.
But you can’t survive as a company if you only have one product. It is never enough. The BlackBerry Mobile Fusion was a good step in the right direction for the company…but it may be too late.
Only time will tell.
Marketing Lesson: Surround yourself with people who will continually push for new ideas. Think of Google’s Labs and all of the products that rolled out of there. Its’ people were passionate about creating a better product for end users. Not all the products were a success, but some really major ones, like Gmail, have changed the game. Multiple products allows you to consume from different markets and not really on just one.
Any company can fail to engage customers in the social web and build products that engineers love, but consumers hate…any company can get complacent and ignore the value in their employees ideas to innovate.
What’s happening to RIM can happen to a Google, Apple or DropBox. It can happen to you. That’s why the real marketing lesson in RIM’s slow death is to always be on your toes. Like Intel’s former CEO Andy Grove once said, “Only the paranoid survive.”
What other marketing lessons can you learn from RIM’s failures?
PS: I am currently a BlackBerry user and have been for over 5 years.