We respected BlackBerry, but we never loved it - Macleans.ca

We respected BlackBerry, but we never loved it

Prem Watsa is tugging at heart strings that aren’t attached to anything, says James Cowan


(Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

James Cowan is deputy editor of Canadian Business.

Remember BlackBerry’s Super Bowl ad? The one meant to trumpet its revolutionary new phone? Neither can I. Just eight months after it aired, the commercial is gone from my memory. (I eventually looked it up; it involves a dude with elephant legs.) Compare that to Apple’s indelible advertisements—1984, Think Different, I’m a Mac—and you can see why Apple is the world’s most valuable brand and BlackBerry’s doing a salvage operation.

The man leading the mission to save BlackBerry is Prem Watsa, founder of Fairfax Financial. He’s working hard to rally investors to buy the floundering smartphone maker and take it private. Judged on its merits, his turnaround plan is too vague and its $4.7-billion price tag too high. So Watsa has added another dubious marketing decision to BlackBerry history, selling it as a national treasure. He initially joined the company’s board “to keep the company in Canada and make sure it survives and exists in Canada,” he told the Associated Press shortly after his takeover bid was made public. “It is one of Canada’s most successful companies.” But Watsa has misjudged Canadians’ sentiment toward BlackBerry.

The flaw in his strategy is revealed through the findings of the Reputation Institute, which conducts an annual survey of consumers’ feelings toward brands. Year after year, it found BlackBerry ranked highly in categories like innovation, but far lower in matters of trust, esteem and admiration. Canadians respect BlackBerry, but they don’t love it. Watsa is tugging at heartstrings that aren’t attached to anything.

Which is nobody’s fault but BlackBerry’s itself. Unlike its rivals, the firm never saw value in building an emotional relationship with its consumers, counting on its superior technology. Company founder Mike Lazaridis was baffled by the first iPhone, unsure why anyone would want a device that needed to be recharged every few hours. But what the iPhone had, in part, was Apple CEO Steve Jobs. BlackBerry’s leadership—both Lazaridis and partner Jim Balsillie, as well as current CEO Thorsten Heins—were astute engineers and businessmen, but lousy salesmen. In today’s smartphone wars, you need a good pitch as well as a good product.

That’s not to say the only answer is to install a charismatic figure like Jobs at the helm. But for a product that lives in a consumers’ pocket each day, there better be some effort to build an emotional bond. All of the companies that ran BlackBerry off the road understand this. Google’s Android has a cute robot that manages to make an operating system seem warm and fuzzy. Even Samsung, which for decades made bland consumer electronics, has recognized the need for an emotional link. Ads for its Galaxy phones mock the cult of Apple, making the corporate rivalry seem personal.

As the technological differences between phones shrink, they distinguish themselves through fashion and attitude. Analysts were dismissive of the appeal of gold-plating and colourful plastic casings on Apple’s latest round of iPhones. Yet they sold nine million in their first weekend of release.

If BlackBerry is to survive, the company needs to learn this lesson. Even a tech company that targets business users benefits from a bit of personality, as Oracle’s loved and despised Larry Ellison proves. But for Watsa to use patriotism to promote his plan is foolhardy. He’s trying to sell a product that BlackBerry never developed and can’t yet deliver.

This article appeared first on CanadianBusiness.com

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We respected BlackBerry, but we never loved it

  1. Well make sure you don’t say anything nice about it….Mike Lazardis was never hip and cool like Steve Jobs. Balsillie might have been cool if he’d made it with hockey, but no…..fanboys for Apple it is.

  2. I think that Prem has a good idea as to the value of BlackBerry. One of their problems is perception especially in the US. The new OS is getting better and better with each release. The phones are well designed. They need to fix the perception problem and taking the company private may actually be the best way to make this happen. A successful launch of crossplatform BBM may create a certain buzz if it outperforms the other messengers. They may only need a few successes to change the perception.

    • Being private has the advantage of slowing the newsflow about how BBRY is a dying company.

    • The whole problem with BB’s business plan currently is their OS. They should burn it to the ground and adopt Android on their devices. They’d save hundreds of millions of dollars not developing an inferior platform to Android, and they’d also suddenly have an App Store full of apps that people want, instead of having to beg developers to build for their OS.

      • Everyone’s a business guru with all the answers.

      • Apps are all there, if not use the stellar browser. What Apps do you need? This just old rhetoric. Even on my playbook there is plenty of great apps.

  3. I wish people would stop saying that $4.7 billion for Blackberry is too much.

    They have $3.1 billion CASH on hand, no debt, and their patents are estimated to be worth $2-3 billion. Even if you just pocketed the cash, chopped the rest up for parts, and sold their patents the very next day for a low-ball offer, a $4.7 billion sale price would net you a $400 million profit.

    • They had $3.1 billion in cash, but they’re burning through that every day with massive losses. The patents still have value, but those patents are becoming more and more outdated every day as well.

      • Aren’t most of the loses write-downs on paper? For example, when they had to ditch all that inventory because they were never going to sell it, it was a loss, but it’s not like they had to buy the unsold phones from themselves with their cash reserves.

  4. BlackBerry is the phone for badasses and Bad Boy Execs.., not for Guys holding twinkies, pinkies and certainly not for 30 something virgins.., Buy a BlackBerry if u wanna get laid.., not to sex-text and sheep looker.., It’s for Suave foundry of people.., BlackBerry Lord Zed.., JA Rules

    • Hallelujah!

  5. Yes Definitely. Maybe Blackberry are not loved by the most consumers, but everyone have respected then. Nothing wrong with their products, no debt at all, so I think they are worth of billions.