Making BlackBerry cool again -- a big task

Marketing matters as much as technology for Z10

BlackBerry faces a herculean task marketing the new Z10 smartphone to U.S. consumers.

In interviews, analysts and CIOs told Computerworld that employees at companies with bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies have been switching from BlackBerry devices to iPhones and Android smartphones in droves. And those employees don't seem to be interested the BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen smartphone, which will be available through carriers soon -- AT&T will start selling the Z10 on March 22 for $200 with a two-year contract.

BlackBerry Z10
BlackBerry is trying to shift gears by marketing its new Z10 smartphones to consumers rather than enterprise IT shops, which have traditionally preferred BlackBerries because of their security features. (Photo: BlackBerry)

For example, at The Timken Co., about 1,000 workers use BlackBerry devices but many are switching to iPhones or Android phones when their BlackBerry contracts are up, since the ball-bearing maker has recently adopted a BYOD policy, according to Timken CIO Daniel Muller. "I doubt many [current BlackBerry users] will want the Z10," he said via email. "None so far have requested it."

The BYOD movement is gaining strength, a factor that puts BlackBerry in the unusual position of having to market its phones to consumers rather than the enterprise IT shops that traditionally preferred BlackBerries because of the security and management features available through BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

"Unfortunately, BlackBerry has gone a great number of years where users have built their own perceptions of what BlackBerry is, and in many cases it's a negative connotation from what the IT shop did" by imposing BlackBerry, said Kevin Burden, an analyst at Strategy Analytics.

"The Z10 and the BlackBerry 10 OS is on par with other OSs, but unless you get users that clamor for BlackBerry, then BlackBerry will have a difficult time making an impact," Burden added. "These days, the majority of buying decisions are with individual users, and this is where BlackBerry has to market."

BlackBerry's chief marketing officer, Frank Boulben, will be front and center to make the case to individuals for the Z10, and later for the Q10 with its qwerty keyboard.

Burden said that Boulben has a good marketing pedigree for a company traditionally seen as engineering-oriented rather than marketing savvy. Boulben also seems to understand the difficult position BlackBerry is in, as the company struggles to grow its market share back above 5% globally.

While the BlackBerry 10 operating system was praised by many reviewers when it was introduced in January, Burden said technology prowess won't play a big role in the Z10's fortunes in the U.S.

"What's well known is that the best technology doesn't necessarily win," Burden said. "If the best technology always won, we'd all have been using Macs back in the 1990s. BlackBerry built a great OS and the Z10 hardware will evolve, but the marketing challenges to BlackBerry are very real."

Burden said the initial releases of the Z10 in Canada and the U.K. in February, and later in countries such as India, were greeted with enthusiasm -- but that enthusiasm quickly petered out. Two U.K. companies -- Carphone Warehouse and Vodafone -- have cut their prices for the Z10 by as much as 20%.

"Dropping the price in the first month is not a good sign," Burden said.

An AT&T spokesman defended that company's Z10 price tag of $200 with a two-year contract, calling it "terrific." AT&T wouldn't disclose any of its plans to market the device.

Verizon Wireless has discussed plans to roll out both the Z10 and Q10, but it hasn't set release dates. Some reports have indicated that Verizon will also charge $200 with a contract for the Z10. (Verizon refused to confirm that price.)

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