How Do You Save A Dying Brand? The Blackberry Story

by drjim on March 23, 2015

BlackBerrys were once hot, now they're not. Now what?

BlackBerrys were once hot, now they’re not. Now what?
Image Credit: Kārlis Dambrāns

The best product management job to have roughly 5 years ago would have been to work at Blackberry – the maker of the most popular mobile phones. Back in the day, no matter where you went, you would always see people typing on those little Blackberry keyboards or using their little Blackberry trackballs. However, a lot has happened in the past 5 years – both the iPhone and Android arrived on the scene and Blackberry has fallen on hard times. Can this brand be saved?

How Did Blackberry Fall Down?

The source of BlackBerry’s hard times is pretty easy to point out. Back in the day, the only smart phone that was widely available was the BlackBerry. They did a nice job of creating their own messaging system and with every release, their phones got just a bit better. However, then Apple and Samsung arrived at the party and the BlackBerry product managers didn’t update their product development definition.

What Apple (and Samsung) did was to create a stylish phone that everyone wanted. They further supported their products by creating a thriving app store for their phone and then they encouraged app developers to create software that would run only on their phones. People started buying these other phones not just because of what the phones could do, but also because of the library of software that purchasing the phone would provide them with access to.

The impact of all of this competition was market share loss. BlackBerry slid from having a 50% market share about 5 years ago down to roughly 1.9% right now. Clearly, this isn’t going to look good on anyone’s product manager resume. Their CEO has been taking steps to try to fix things by reducing the company’s operating expenses by 30%. Additionally, the company is trying to woo back their key government and large corporation customers.

Can Blackberry Get Up Again?

The product managers at BlackBerry have a critical task ahead of them: saving their brand. In order to successfully do this, they are going to have to create an app store that is as large and as valuable as both Apple and Google’s Android have done. They’ve already taken the first steps in making this happen by starting to open up access to their operating system. They are reaching out to companies like IBM and VMWare to see if they can interest them in creating mobile-device management software that will work with BlackBerry devices.

One of the reasons that BlackBerry is in such dire straits is because with their loss of market share, their corporate revenues have also slid. The BlackBerry product managers are now looking for ways to replace their lost revenue streams. They are investigating finding ways to harness the 85 million users of the BlackBerry Messaging service (BBM). The thinking is that if they allow advertisers to gain access to this communication stream, then the advertisers could set up their own channels that would attract subscribers.

Finally, as the product managers took a look at BlackBerry’s business model they made an interesting discovery. It turns out that it was costing the company more to manufacture its mobile phones than they were making from them. This caused the product managers to take steps to get out of the phone manufacturing business. BlackBerry has now outsourced all of its phone manufacturing to Foxconn Technology Group. This should allow BlackBerry to focus on the things that will allow them to save the company.

What Does All Of This Mean For You?

Once upon a time, Blackberry was the king of the cell phone hill. However, as with all such things in life, things changed. Now in a world of iPhones and Android devices the Blackberry brand seems to be just hanging on. Does the product manager job description for the Blackberry product managers say anything about saving this brand?

The answer to that question is – maybe. Blackberry got themselves into this hole by guarding their system too closely. They didn’t open the system and allow other firms to build on top of it. This is now changing. They are allowing outside firms to create applications that will run on the Blackberry OS and they are releasing more models of phones.

The key here is time. The Blackberry product managers are going to have to move quickly. Their competition is not going to be standing still and so they will have to innovate faster. This can be done, but ultimately everything now rests in the hands of the Blackberry product managers…

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that the Blackberry store needs to have more apps or simply better apps?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Ah, product timelines. This is arguably one of the most visible and one of the most difficult things that a product manager is called on to create in order to communicate your product development definition. It turns out that creating a timeline is not really all that hard to do. However, creating a timeline that is both accurate and useful to other people is quite hard to do. I recently had to help a startup company create their very first product timeline and it reminded me just how tricky this task can be…

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Josh Dragon March 23, 2015 at 9:43 am

I have never owned a blackberry, so I am unfamiliar with their app store and it’s offering. With app’s, my baseline assumption is that if you build it, they will come. Meaning if you have a good platform and device, all the major app developers will get on board.

I think one of the major reasons why I have never considered a blackberry is how clunky they look. I know that those keyboards differentiated them in the beginning, but product expectations have changed. I believe consumers want their keyboards to go away when they are reading or watching video content.

Great case study. Thanks for posting.

Reply

drjim March 27, 2015 at 12:10 pm

Josh: you are 100% correct on the “clunky look”. However, once people adjusted to them, they really could fly — they could very, very quickly find what they wanted and send countless messages. It’s all in how you get used to the product…

Reply

Hebron George March 24, 2015 at 8:57 am

Great article, but I’m curious if having an app store and making their OS open-sourced would be enough for Blackberry. Their competitors already offer it and have a pretty good system going, what incentive would potential customers have to switch over? Especially since many people associate the Blackberry brand with old, outdated phones?

Thanks!

Reply

drjim March 27, 2015 at 12:11 pm

Hebron: You bring up a good point. Really what I think that they should do is make it so that Android apps run on a Blackberry phone. That way they wouldn’t need their own app store…!

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