8 Marketing Lessons from RIM’s Slow Death


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 an iPhone device.

What happened?

A lot, in fact, has happened that allowed RIM to lose its grip on its market. You can learn a few marketing lessons from RIM’s 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 RIM sat back and did 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 the company said they lost money for the first time in seven years…you think they would’ve created some kind of a 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.

rim analysis

The conversation dominating Twitter looked 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 the company doesn’t have a faithful fan base. It has almost 11,000,000 likes on its Facebook page as of writing this post…

rim facebook

…a community the company could’ve easily tapped and asked to rally to help fight back against all the negative sentiment.

Unfortunately, they’ve never fostered a community with those Facebook fans. They used them more like a focus group to bounce ideas off, 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, use those customers as 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 of all companies 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 products 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…

rim trends

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…

apple trends

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 about the product.

Marketing Lesson: Build an emotional, almost cult-like connection with your customers by creating experiences and products that enhance 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 its 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 your company already has a focus on the consumer…keep it that way!

Lesson #4: Don’t be afraid to listen to employee ideas

The researchers, engineers and marketers who worked at RIM 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 it was 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 seriously.

Because they never thought of a better way to navigate than with a thumb-click wheel, they were 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 the first mover in a market allows you to dominate it for a very long time. But it can also lull you into sleep and have 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, and it never 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 figure quickly out how to support the demand…and aggressively chase new opportunities like DropBox did. Always innovate to meet what your 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

rim growth

They figured that they had so much market share that nobody could beat them. But sales have been dropping ever since as has their market share…

rim share

What happened?!

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 in.

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. Just look at what happened when Apple and Google came along to eat their lunches.

Marketing Lesson: Never stop researching your competitors and paying attention to even the smallest of 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 consider Apple or Google as competition to worry about because they felt that as first-movers they had locked in the market. Sadly, they never came up with another great 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 instead of relying on just one.


Any company can fail to engage customers in the social web and build products that engineers love but consumers hate, and any company can get complacent and ignore the value of its employees’ innovation potential.

What’s happening to RIM can happen to 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.