BlackBerry 10: How RIM might reel you in. Really

Here's what Research In Motion must do to pitch its brand-new operating system to consumers already using iPhones and Android smartphones.

RIM CEO Thorsten Heins at BlackBerry Jam Americas 2012
RIM CEO Thorsten Heins at the BlackBerry Jam developer conference. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

When Research In Motion finally comes out with its first BlackBerry 10 phones, it will face the herculean task of convincing people they're actually worth a try.

Over the last few years, RIM has burned away a lot of goodwill, along with BlackBerry's standing as a pre-eminent smartphone brand, thanks to a near-comical succession of clunky product launches, delays, executive changes, and, at times, a frustrating refusal to acknowledge its own problems.

But with a new leadership team, RIM is hoping to bounce back with BlackBerry 10. The phones based on that operating system, however, won't be entering the market as de facto leaders; instead, they'll be coming in as hungry and unproven challengers. RIM needs to scramble to build some buzz and make up for lost time over the next few months leading up to its launch early next year.

The stakes are high. RIM CEO Thorsten Heins said on Tuesday that the company has a "clear shot" at being the No. 3 smartphone player behind Google's Android and Apple's iPhone. Sounds like the company is aiming low, right? In actuality, RIM faces a cutthroat battle with deep-pocketed Microsoft for that position, with the loser likely to fade into obsolescence.

"RIM's BlackBerry 10 mobile platform is a make-or-break event for the company," said Cowen analyst Matthew Hoffman.

RIM's dire situation has never been clearer than after the release of its fiscal second-quarter results. The company lost $235 million in the period, as revenue sunk 30 percent to $2.9 billion. With the market moving quickly around it, RIM doesn't have much time to turn things around.

To RIM's credit, its leaders seem to get the urgency of the situation, and are saying all the right things when it comes to preparation for the launch.

Still, BlackBerry has a perception problem to get over. It's no longer cool or coveted, with the phones more likely to elicit ridicule than turn heads in any kind of positive way. But not all hope is lost. CNET runs through how RIM can get back on the smartphone radar again.

Spend 'til you drop
With so many smartphones angling for prime position in the minds of consumers, marketing can make all the difference.

Samsung's Galaxy S line wasn't an overnight sensation. But the company coupled steady improvements to its flagship smartphone line with a steady drumbeat of commercials, billboards, banner ads, and other promotional effort to build up its reputation. Now, it's second only to the iPhone in its ability to draw the attention of consumers.

How much is enough? The campaign for the original Droid from Motorola, which was largely backed by Verizon Wireless, is said to have been over $100 million. Samsung has almost certainly spent as much, if not more, on its Galaxy S campaign over the past few years.

Nokia said it would spend the most it has ever spent on marketing in its push for the Lumia 900, with AT&T promising the biggest launch for a smartphone in its history. Prior to its launch, Nokia took over all of the billboards of Times Square and held a quick concert with Nikki Minaj in an attempt to drum up attention for the phone. It wasn't enough.

Nokia halted Times Square for a short while when Nicki Minaj performed a quick concert amid the flashing banners promoting the Lumia 900. Nokia

The telecommunications industry is second only to the automakers when it comes to spending on advertising, according to Roger Entner, a consultant at Recon Analytics.

"It's a game for the big boys," he said.

While RIM Chief Marketing Officer Frank Boulben wouldn't comment on the company's planned budget, noting that the size would depend upon carrier agreements, but he said the company has the capabilities to pull off an "impactful campaign."

"We have the resources. That's not my worry," he told CNET. "My worry is having a quality campaign for the BB10 experience."

While a company like Apple has enough built-in buzz that it doesn't have to be too proactive with marketing, it's different for the likes of RIM. It needs to be more aggressive than ever if it wants to make dent with the public's awareness of its new phones. Samsung already has a proven hit with the Galaxy S III, but that hasn't stopped it from bombarding the airwaves with non-stop commercial. As annoying as that sounds, they work.

"We have the resources. That's not my worry. My worry is having a quality campaign for the BB10 experience." <br />--RIM Chief Marketing Officer Frank Boulben

That education doesn't stop with TV commercials. RIM will have to hound other mediums, including social media, and spend on training at retailers such as Best Buy and at carrier stores. Maribel Lopez, an analyst at Lopez Research, said the company should hire representatives at the carrier stores and seeding schools with devices.

"RIM will have to spend a fortune in market education across all channels," Lopez said. "Fortunately they get this and have a plan for it."

Boulben said he is working with carriers to train in-store staff and call centers, as well as working together on promotional materials.

"We are going to have a high level of cooperation and partnership," he said.

Be specific
RIM needs to avoid getting too clever, and instead create commercials and ads that effectively communicate the advantages of BlackBerry 10. The company talked about the new navigation scheme , "Flow," and a way to access apps seamlessly, "Peek." It needs to demonstrate why a consumer would care, and how they help improve one's daily life.

RIM appears to understand that.

"Our marketing approach will be very much about showing, not telling," Boulben said, adding that the focus will be on specific examples of each feature.

Apple and Samsung's ads are effective because they specifically show how their signature features allow their phones to stand out from the pack. It's debatable whether Siri works as well as it does in Apple's commercials (it usually doesn't), but they touch on a way of using the phone that people can relate to. Likewise, Samsung's "Share Shot" feature is a useful feature that has been widely touted in its commercials.

RIM will likely get more exposure thanks to the carriers. With few other phones launching in the first quarter, and the company's promises of wide carrier support, BlackBerry 10 could benefit from a solo run.

"They've seen BB10 and they love it," Boulben said. "We will have strong backing from carriers."

But RIM can't just rely on the carriers, which will likely be providing a lot of the marketing support. RIM can't get caught up in each carrier's idea for the campaign; it needs to have its own voice.

That's a voice, by the way, that shouldn't include a creepy woman and lots of ambiguous circular imagery.

RIM has a particular challenge communicating the benefits of BlackBerry 10. Some of its key features are changes to the user interface, and those advantages are tough to get across to consumers who have been trained to see smartphones as a standard grid of apps that people hop in and out of.

Rather a big pop in marketing, RIM is starting slow, Boulben said. The developer conference represents the first step in building some buzz, and the company will educate customers on the new user interface over the next few months before the big launch early next year.

CNET writer Casey Newton rightly compares the challenges to the ones that Windows Phone has faced over the past year or so. Consumers, after all, are reluctant to change from well-established patterns.

Microsoft has something with its "Smoked by Windows Phone" campaign, which demonstrated the ease in which users could navigate to different apps. RIM could employ something similar, as long as it avoids some of the controversy .

Don't be petty
The smartphone world has seen a lot of sniping between companies. For a company struggling to get back on top, going after more popular rivals is a bad idea.

Take Nokia's campaign for the Lumia 900. The company announced to the world that the "smartphone beta test was over," calling all past phones a trial run leading up to the supposedly perfect Lumia 900.

Well, that ended up biting the company back after it was forced to acknowledge a bug that prevented some models from accessing the data network . The company ended up offering a $100 credit, essentially making the phone free for a limited time.

"Nokia's campaign was atrocious," said Roger Entner, a consultant with Recon Analytics. "To launch your phone as the first real smartphone...you're just asking for it."

Often times, these kinds of ads will have an opposite effect. Take Samsung's ad listing all of its features vs. the iPhone 5. It was met with a quick response from Apple fanboys all too eager to slam Samsung back with altered versions of the advertisement.

"You want to talk positively about your products," Entner said. "If you talk about your competitors, you look petty and give them airtime.

RIM's BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha unit is a hint of what next year's products will look like. Lynn La/CNET

"Consumers want to have a better product and better experience. Show me that better experience in the form of a funny story in 30 seconds. That wins."

The sad truth is even after all of this, there's a chance RIM can fail. There's only so much room for multiple mobile operating systems, and the carriers aren't going to go out of their way to back a struggling No. 4 player.

The next few months will show how big of bang RIM wants to make as it launches what is poised to be its last, best shot at a comeback.
 

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