Can BlackBerry rebrand through its products?

When BlackBerry reminded everyone that it still existed this week with the launch of two new smartphones, commentators were falling over each other to announce that the company had ‘bet the house’ on the new products, which marked ‘one last throw of the dice’.

Blackberry Z10
The new Blackberry Z10

This may be so, but there also appears to be a shrewd branding exercise in play as BlackBerry attempts, effectively, to rebrand through its new products.

Parent group Research in Motion – normally expressed as the questionable acronym RIM – which makes the BlackBerry product, has rebranded as BlackBerry, staking its future on the smartphones.

And the company has also launched its own software platform BlackBerry 10, which underpins two new smartphone products, the Z10 and the Q10.

Users can ‘flow’ through text messages, emails, Faceboook updates, and apps, avoiding the ‘in and out’ action required to open and close programmes on other devices.

There’s also a ‘peek’ gesture that allows you to peer out at things from a central ‘Blackberry Hub’ area, which pools notifications, and the devices are split along a virtual wall separating business and personal information.

While the Z10 has a touch-screen keyboard based on the feel of a physical one, the Q10 retains a physical keyboard – traditionally a selling point for BlackBerry – which was demonstrated at the launch with unrecognised irony by new global creative director Alicia Keys.

BlackBerry global creative director Alicia Keys at the BlackBerry 10 launch
Newly appointed BlackBerry global creative director Alicia Keys at the BlackBerry 10 launch

Although the BlackBerry identity has not changed, there is a new visual language (visible on the company’s website here) replicating the look of the BlackBerry keyboard and some of the new interface motifs.

Mike Reid, head of design at Havas, sees the merit in an interface which informs the Blackberry website and other media.

‘This is a smart move to join up the customer’s brand world, starting from the operating system. If your user experience is crap the best ads or social campaigns will not save a poorly designed product,’ says Reid.

Meanwhile Dave Dunlop, creative director of The Team says, ‘Making a hero of the platform is a good idea – being able to quickly demonstrate the tangible benefits through improved usability and their first touchscreen phone will be key to adoption.’

Blackberry Z10
Blackberry Z10

Question marks though hang over whether BlackBerry can produce desirable apps, despite the company yesterday releasing a statement declaring deals were in place with  ‘1000 of the top app partners, with relevant local content from every region of the globe.’

Dunlop says, ‘The product needs to be exceptional. They won’t get the apps arriving to them first as they don’t have the developer community that Android and iOS have. The Z10 has some good features, and looks pretty decent, but will have to get the apps (and be priced well) to convince people they are a player.’

For Dunlop the top-level rebrand is a ‘logical move’ and ‘Blackberry as a household name carries a lot more value out in the market than RIM’ which is ‘a company in need of a very big change,’ he says.

The RIM name change chimed with Someone co-founder Simon Manchipp as similar to the story of the company which came to be known as Xerox.

The Haloid photographic company was founded in 1906 and manufactured photographic paper and equipment.

‘Xerography’ meaning ‘dry writing’ is the name of a process it invented in 1938, and by 1959 it had produced the first paper photocopier. The lead product was the Xerox 914, which in 1961 contributed to £38m in revenue.

Manchipp says, ‘It’s no surprise the company subsequently changed its name to simply Xerox in 1961 and the same goes for BlackBerry – RIM was always a bit of a laughable brand name, with all sorts of good toilet gags surrounding it.’

He adds that as an organisation under stress BlackBerry, ‘which has lost 30 per cent of its market share in the US this year,’ is ripe for a change, particularly as it’s delivering its ‘brand promise’ through ‘a single branded platform. The BlackBerry.’

To play to its strengths Manchipp feels that BlackBerry could position itself more deeply within the business community and stand for something different to “think different”’.

Blackberry Q10
Blackberry Q10

With Apple ‘uninterested in the over 50’s’ and the iPhone ‘frankly a little fiddly for many a CEO’ BlackBerry could not only defend its position but extend into markets where ‘a less tech savvy approach suits,’ Manchipp believes.

BlackBerry will have to decide whether to go for the whole smartphone  market or consolidate, and for now the jury’s out on the products. But after a global network failure in October 2011 sent share prices and public confidence spiralling, the new software, hardware and network will have to be near faultless if ground is to be made up on Apple and Samsung, and that will only happen if the visual language, the interface and the phones prove to be desirable.

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