It all started with a pink BlackBerry Pearl, which raised some eyebrows, but was a definite signal of RIM’s ambitions. It might not have made a huge impact, but the girlie device paved the way for an underground movement, which is now about to explode.
RIM’s success in the consumer channel has been dubbed a ‘phenomenon’ by seasoned industry insiders. They are all too aware of the combination of elements that have culminated in RIM devices becoming ‘must-have’ products. However, they admit they are still baffled at how and why RIM has achieved its great success with such a limited amount of above the line marketing.
BlackBerry devices are traditionally thought of as supreme in the business market. Secure email exchange, the QWERTY keyboard and enduring battery life have made BlackBerrys a staple product in the enterprise community.
But in the past two years, a very different demographic has started talking about the ‘need’ for a BlackBerry. In 2008, it was suggested that RIM had a 3% share of the consumer market. Just two years later, industry sources are suggesting that RIM’s share has grown fivefold, reaching 15% across contract and prepay. One source says: ‘RIM has come from nowhere, and the demand is growing.’
From the wilderness
According to industry commentators, several key factors have allowed BlackBerry to make the transition from the business to the consumer market.
One retail source says: ‘We are selling more BlackBerrys than ever before because they are now reasonably priced, both on contract and PAYG. A younger audience now has access to a decent phone (the 8520), and the operators have responded with tariffs which allow them to take advantage of facilities like BlackBerry Messenger (BBM).’
BBM is an underground phenomenon. Retailers have been talking about it for a while, not because RIM has told them to, but because consumers are asking them about it.
BBM is a service that allows BlackBerry users to instant message individuals or groups by adding them through the BlackBerry pin – a unique number given to each handset. The viral take-off has been huge.
All of a sudden, people are putting their BlackBerry pin on their Facebook profiles. In Indonesia they are printing it on t-shirts, and the latest trend in Dubai is personalised number plates that include the owner’s BlackBerry pin.
Not only is the BlackBerry functional as a device, with easy access to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, but the product has successfully created its own social network.
Users are buying into BlackBerry as a brand and loyalty is growing because of the service, one source suggests, while another adds: ‘BlackBerry is a recognisable name now and I have kids as young as 11 coming in and asking for it.’
CCS Insight analyst Ben Wood says: ‘The BlackBerry is now quite a buzzy thing to have – they are something a bit different, but they’re not for everyone. They are non-touch-screens with a nice spec, and are perfect for anybody who is looking for an all-rounder.’
The look of the BlackBerry hasn’t changed for a long time, so the success of the 8520 has not been based on aesthetics.
Contrary to popular belief, it appears that ‘functional and reliable’ handsets have the ability to reach out to the mass market.
In addition to its affordable price points and the popularity of BBM, RIM has marketed its products cleverly. As one senior retailer explains: ‘It has done
very well with seeding the devices to high-profile people like Barack Obama and Madonna.’ However, it appears that the success of the BlackBerry may have been stumbled into rather than engineered. Wood adds: ‘RIM does not understand why the BlackBerry has been so successful, but if you look at the market, every one of the manufacturers offers a BlackBerry-type phone.’
Can momentum continue?
From the noise in the market, it is clear that RIM products are doing well in mass-market retailers such as Phones 4u. The crucial question is whether RIM’s momentum, which seems to have taken on a life of its own, can continue.
With the advent of social media, brands no longer have the same level of control when establishing their products. The consumer has the power to put a brand on a pedestal, but also to kick it off when they feel like it.
But retailers across the board are confident that the new BlackBerry Pearl 3G will keep the momentum going. The original Pearl marked a shift in RIM’s strategy: it was a sign to the market that RIM was willing to take a risk and jump in head-first.
And, despite skepticism about the move, it has worked – whether that is down to RIM’s own graft or just sheer luck, it has to be acknowledged.
RIM VP of product Rob Orr on BlackBerry’s UK success
RIM EMEA VP of product management Rob Orr says there have been several key ‘trigger points’ for BlackBerry, starting with the Pearl and then the Curve 8520.
The Curve was Orange’s best selling pay-as-you-go device in the first quarter of this year, an achievement Orr is particularly proud of.
He explains: ‘Operators are trying to drive revenue in the prepay space and they suddenly had a proposition for 16-21 year olds and people at university at a price point they could afford.’
RIM is one the few manufacturers that has a grip on two key parts of the market – hardware and services – an example being the much anticipated BlackBerry 6 platform. ‘The new operating system will be a powerful statement to the market.
The whole ethos of the Bl