Dummy Phone: A Tale of Marketing Woe
I love design and I love marketing. Being the Creative Director of an ad agency, neither of those facts should be surprising. But there’s something else I love just as much, and that’s gadgets. I love gadgets, a lot. I spend an inordinate amount of time, everyday, perusing gadget blogs, writing in forums, and loitering in electronics stores. I’m certain the guys at my local Best Buy have me on their Christmas mailing list. It’s that bad.
From time to time, my love for marketing, intersects with my love for gadgets, and I couldn’t be happier. This post however, is of a different sort. This is a sad tale. Or, as I like to call it, “A tale of marketing woe”. Cue the ominous music. This story revolves around a theory I’ve longed held, about the way certain gadgets are marketed in comparison with their competitors. It involves dummy phones and their role in the downfall of an electronics giant. Don’t worry, it’ll all make sense.
A quick history lesson
You or someone you know, at some point within the last five years, probably owned a Blackberry smartphone. Statistics are on my side here. At their sales peak in 2008, Blackberry made up almost 50% of the smartphone market. In addition to the business and enterprise audience that made them famous in boardrooms, courthouses, and financial institutions, Blackberry also had it’s fair share of celebrity endorsements. Everyone from Paris Hilton to President Barack Obama were die-hard blackberry enthusiasts. Blackberry fans were so addicted to their devices that the term “crackberry” was coined to explain the phenomenon. In 2008, Blackberry’s market capitalization (the cumulative value of all its stock) surpassed the Royal Bank of Canada, to make Blackberry the most valuable Canadian company, not just in electronics, but overall.
Fall from grace
Blackberry was looking unbeatable, until the iPhone, fueled by a new subsidy pricing model, began picking up steam in the later half of 2008. Not long after, in 2009, Motorola launched the Droid, the first truly competitive Android smartphone. These events, along with the rise of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies at many large corporations, opened the door for the iPhone and Android to overtake the first and second place positions in the smartphone market, leaving Blackberry to fend off competition for third. Within only a few short years at the top of its market, Blackberry had fallen from grace.
A series of management and marketing mistakes over the next few years, saw Blackberry sink even lower in both market share as well as stock price. The number one complaint many Blackberry detractors repeatedly ran to was the belief that Blackberry was holding onto an outdated operating system and old-school physical keyboards on their flagship smartphones. In comparison to its far flashier and futuristic competitors, Blackberry’s phones felt old.
A glimmer of hope
Complain about something long enough, and eventually, it has to change. In the spring of 2013, that change appeared in the form of the Blackberry Z10. This cutting edge smartphone with a completely new, modern operating system and full touchscreen interface made its public debut. After years of belittlement by tech journalists and indifference by consumers, Blackberry was back with a phone worthy of its competitors. The Z10 was everything the Blackberry stalwarts had asked for and at long last, it appeared the company was set to regain, if not all, then at least a portion of the marketshare it had lost. But this story doesn’t have a happy ending. As you look around whatever room you’re currently occupying, you’ll be hard pressed to find even one person with a Z10. The Blackberry resurgence, never happened. So, what went wrong?
Enter, the Dummy Phone
There have been a multitude of articles written about the failure of Blackberry to regain its foothold in the smartphone market. Most of these articles focus on growing competition and a changing consumer landscape. But, I have a different theory. It’s based entirely on an experience I had at my local mall. Being a gadget lover, I was pretty excited about the Z10. At the time, I was rocking both an Android phone and an iPhone, but being a gadget fiend, there’s always room for another phone in my quiver. So, on a warm, Florida spring morning, I drove to the mall with the goal of taking the Z10 out for a test drive. Best Buy has mini stores in our local mall that exclusively sell phones, so I stopped there first. Right at the front of the store, in a beautiful kiosk, adorned in big, bold Blackberry logos, was the phone. I excitedly picked it up, and was immediately disappointed. Instead of the Z10, I was holding a hollow, plastic, non-functional dummy phone. I was distraught. I didn’t understand. This was 2013, why would Blackberry use dummy phones to market a bold new phone and a dramatic departure from their previous designs? Apple had built a retail dynasty on the idea of allowing consumers to play with their products before they bought them. Not just one product, but all of them. Blackberry only makes one product, and this is how they chose to market it? Disgusted, I left the store. To this day, I’ve never used a Z10. I don’t know anyone who has.
What’s the takeaway?
The days of telling consumers your product is amazing are over. These days you have to prove it. Consumers are savvier than they were even a few short years ago and the marketing tricks from the past just don’t cut it anymore. You have to get your product out there, into their hands, and show them, explicitly, why they should choose you over the competition. No more cutting corners. Tech journalists and financial blogs will tell you that a changing consumer attitude and fierce competition, are at the heart of Blackberry’s implosion. But I think I know the real story. It starts right there, in the aisles of every electronics store, every time a customer picks up one of their phones and is left holding a dummy.
This is a post by our Creative Director, Rob Jones.