What Blackberry Teaches Us About Global Branding


Blackberry’s world-wide success in the smart-phone category may seem like a premier example of brand planning. But according to Paul Kalbfleisch, VP of Brand Marketing at Research In Motion (RIM), who spoke to E3 EGM 2008 Toronto delegates in October, it is really a story about Blackberry’s ability to shift when necessary to meet the market’s changing needs.

A key element for RIM’s success in building the Blackberry brand was being able to respond quickly to opportunities, said Kalbfleisch. In fact, BlackBerry wasn’t what RIM did originally. RIM set out to build pagers. BlackBerry was a software, and in spite of the company’s best efforts to brand the device under the name RIM and the software as Blackberry…customers didn’t agree.

“For two years we fought the battle to brand RIM,” said Kalbfleisch, “But then we got smart and realized customers see right through that.”

He said it is classic example of how a customer brands you. “Our most powerful brand tool is that a product does what it is supposed to do. People got passionate about what it does. They wanted to associate their device, what they hold in their hand, with the brand name.”

The key to the BlackBerry Brand is it does what it promises. BlackBerry wasn’t afraid to let the customers own the brand.

What else does Blackberry teach us?

1. Emotional Selling Matters.
That became the essence of the brand. Blackberry became a status symbol. A confirmation for Type A’s that their lifestyle works. A way to stay connected to work at all times.

The brand became a symbol of the user. Emotion selling was the key. That is important to remember in B2B. Emotional selling should not be overlooked. The message to sales managers was: What does it say about your organization if you don’t have one? What image does it give you? The marketing strategy was based on a status appeal.

2. Leverage the Channel.
Blackberry was also careful to play the channel card well. They sold the devices through the larger carriers, AT&T, TMobile, Verizon, and let the carriers do the marketing. Carriers had the budgets, so Blackberry leveraged that. Blackberry put the brand almost entirely in the carriers’ hands for 5-6 years.

3. Unify the Message
Blackberry invested in the channel to provide sales training. They realized it was essential to teach retailers how to sell the product and carry out the brand message.

Shifting Brand Strategy

Blackberry’s shifting brand strategy reflected the change that happens in many technology and device companies who start off selling features, and then become aware of the brand’s heart and soul as the brand gains credibility.

In the beginning, Blackberry marketed its features.
Then the message shifted to become about Business Success.
That campaign merged into one about Life Success.

The value promise of BlackBerry became that it’s a tool to let you live your life.

Global Strategy Shifted Again

As the device went global, Blackberry again learned and adapted to its market.

In the UK, the message that was similar to the US message about gaining status by having a Blackberry worked well.

However, is some European countries, the status image didn’t resonate. The message became about taking control of time. Work and Life balance.

In Asia, and Latin American the message was about efficient use of time.

By featuring TV celebrities in ads talking about what their Blackberries meant to them, Blackberry sent the message that it was selling success.

Sell the Brand

The shift in thinking from “What does Blackberry do?” to “What does Blackberry do for me” was a powerful introspection on the Brand for the Blackberry team.

Blackberry’s final piece of advice was: Don’t sell Products, sell the Brand.


7 Responses to “What Blackberry Teaches Us About Global Branding”

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