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Blackberry repositions for the masses

For the past few months, Blackberry has been coming up with eyebrow raising marketing pushes in a bid to rebuild and reposition its damaged brand.

Hiring singer Alicia Keys as a so-called creative director and changing its name from Research in Motion to just Blackberry – without much explanation – are just two examples.

But with the launch of the Blackberry 10 operating system, those marketing pushes can be understood as more than the company’s effort to regain ground in a field now dominated by Apple and Samsung.

Rather than appealing solely to professionals who have high expectations for email – although Blackberry CMO Frank Boulben (pictured) denies email was ever its only edge – the new system strives to be strong on every front from a unified corporate brand to a famous female face to promote it and partnerships with the likes of Mercedes in Formula 1.

“We have a fantastic brand: it’s a global icon,” Boulben said.

“So everything we do – whether it be Alicia or the collaborations – it’s around that brand.

“It all has to do with brand programming: about doing projects, contests or initiatives that speak to our target audience and spread our unique user experience.”

On first sight, the new interface is impressive. It has a central hub where all messages – Google Talk, BBM, Whatsapp, email, Facebook chat – are collected, to a “balance” option where applications for work and personal use are kept on different interfaces.

“This market is driven by innovation; it’s about differentiation,” Boulben said when asked about whether the new operating system ventures far from the “Blackberry identity”.

“We’ll be limited in creativity if we just became another Android licensee. Our functions like Balance, our camera, nobody has that; and carriers are thirsty for a third ecosystem.”

Currently, it boasts more than 100,000 apps on the system, with Hong Kong-oriented ones like OpenRice and WeChat in negotiations.

Its population, Boulben claims, is the result of an easy transition between Android coding and that of Blackberry 10.

“We work closely with iOS and Android to make the lives of developers easier. Most of them see the success of the app and decide to run a native one anyway.”

Starting with the Z10, five more devices will be launched by the end of the year. Though specific marketing strategies for Asia are to be announced, Boulben said it will take a top-down global approach starting with influencers, YouTube demonstration videos, above-the-line marketing and retail execution.

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