First, allow me to introduce you to my daughter Shayna: She is a nice, normal 18-year-old high-school senior. She does well in school, plays some sports, spends far too much time on Facebook and will be attending Penn as a freshman next year.
And like every one of her friends, she is steadfastly loyal to her BlackBerry.
She has an iPod to listen to her music and a MacBook for her personal computer, but when it comes to mobile communications, the folks in Waterloo own her heart. Ditto for her friends. They just don’t see the appeal of an iPhone: They’re not playing games or using “augmented reality” apps or looking for restaurant reviews. They see their communication device as a communication device—not as a mini-entertainment station.
The BlackBerry offers two huge advantages: First, as everyone knows, it has a real keypad. These kids send dozens if not hundreds of short messages every day, and they can’t afford to be slowed down by tapping on a flat piece of glass. Most of them would rather use a crappy old non-smartphone with a real keypad than an iPhone.
But the real X-factor is the BBM messaging system. Old farts like me don’t see how it’s any better than plain old SMS text messaging, but to these kids, it’s a whole different world. I won’t even try to explain it—ask a teenager and see if you can understand the difference. But whatever it is, it’s very addictive and offers a meaningful competitive advantage that Apple (and every other phone manufacturer) can’t touch.
Due to its technical prowess (or maybe luck), BlackBerry has been handed this wonderful gift—and they seem to be doing everything they can to hide it from the general public. Look at every new BlackBerry device and what do you see? That’s right, a pretty weak attempt to imitate Apple. Look at every BlackBerry ad and what do you see? That’s right, the same generic lifestyle gibberish as every other phone company.
BlackBerry’s tagline should be “BBM Me.” Every ad should feature a different kind of person (busy mom, overcommitted professional and, of course, a hyperconnected teenager) who uses the BBM system (as well as SMS, Facebook messaging and occasionally the phone itself) to keep in close touch with their many different contacts. It’s all about the instantaneous communications—not about all the crazy apps you could download if you ever had the time.
I’ve rarely seen a case like this where one firm truly stands out from all others because of a genuine technical advantage, but they fail to promote (or even acknowledge) it in all of their communications efforts. They have a great bunch of engineers up there, but they sure don’t know how to market a product!
Who knows if BlackBerry will survive the competitive thrusts of Apple, Android and other mobile operating systems (Microsoft anyone?). But their key to survival might be linked to those two simple words (“BBM Me”) and their ability to get everyone to appreciate the power that they convey to anyone who has done so. Just ask Shayna and her friends.