2012 Trend Spotting: Grieving Blackberry

Chart ws stock researchinmotionltd 20111216123240 top
Image by CNN

By all accounts, 2012 will be the year that Blackberry’s decline dramatically increases. Most analysts and even parent company Research In Motion’s SEC filings see Blackberry dropping out of the top tier of smartphones, surrendering the market to the Apple iPhone and the many Google Android operating system-based phones.

Because Blackberry has been a very strong brand, one that basically brought the Internet to phones in the form of email and casual web browsing, expect to hear a lot of complaining. People love their Blackberries!

But unfortunately, the company was never able to respond to tactile input technology and the subsequent mobile application revolution created by Apple and then Google. Users have little choice with Blackberry’s increasingly obsolete operating systems if they want a modern smartphone with the best technology.

The decline has been an ugly one. When the iPhone first launched, Blackberry was slow to react, chugging along with its 1.0 email monster.

BlackBerry Storm
Image by StrebKR

Finally, after the phone took off, Blackberry began to evolve towards touch screen interfaces. By then Android had launched. While Android is often considered an iPhone knock off, it was extremely competitive from an innovation standpoint and cost effective. It became the iPhone answer instead of a touch Blackberry.

Research In Motion responded by cutting costs to incredibly low levels, which buoyed sales into 2011. However, low costs, a revamped operating system and attempts to build a Blackberry only mobile social network and application marketplace have failed to stem the iPhone Android tide.

The final blow appears to be the failure to deliver yet another new operating system — Blackberry 10 — until late 2012. With market share rapidly deteriorating, Blackberry needed a turn around now, not in nine to 12 months. And so it seems apparent that in 2012 we will be hearing a lot about Research In Motion and Blackberry’s fall from grace, and their desperate last attempt to stay relevant.

Grieving Blackberry

Personally, I have never really liked the Blackberry platform. Instead, I preferred a Palm or Windows phone during the 1.0 era, and the iPhone and Android phones in the 2.0 era.

RIM Bullfrog

However, as a wireless reporter in the late 90s, I remember Research In Motion when it launched. The original Research in Motion device, a Bullfrog, was this innovative clam shell pager with a QWERTY keyboard. It was the size of a Big Mac!

Soon after they added voice capability, and became a start-up legend offering a phone that beat the big boys like Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung. The Blackberry revolutionized telecommunications, just as its current nemesis the iPhone has. It’s place in history should not be forgotten.

What are your memories of the Blackberry?

2012 Trend Spotting: Social TV

(Image by Read/Write/Web, based on research from Yahoo!)

The rise of social TV creates dynamic implications across media type. Viewers are commenting about or engaging with other viewers of TV programs real time via their smartphones, tablets and laptops. This unprecedented integration of diverse broadcast and social media types changes programming, advertising and equipmemt.

In essence, social media and instant messaging forms a massive TV back channel, empowering people to talk about a program as it airs. Programmers see this as an opportunity to engage the audience on the back channel with value added content and live interaction. As a result, engagement has increased.

Last Spring HBO had Howard Stern on Twitter while airing his movie, Private Parts. The effort caused a huge viewing spike for HBO. Talk and reality programs like The Voice and Conan O’Brien are integrating social commentary and feedback into their programming.

Twitter has embraced its role as a social TV back channel. It has created an agreement with the X Factor to create voting features to drive the program’s outcome. Further, Twitter is actively seeking to additional TV programming relationships.

Apps, Ads and Gear

Applications like GetGlue are letting viewers check into shows, and comment as they run. Updates can be broadcasted onto Twitter and Facebook, extending a program’s viewership. On the content creator side, Trendrr is helping programmers and advertisers better understand how stakeholders are using these diverse media.

At the basis of the social TV shift is a transition from passive audiences to engaged, interacting stakeholders, but in addition they are engaged in other non-related content. In essence, when the ads are on, the viewer is gone.

This means that advertisers will be further challenged to evolve their content beyond the 30 second spot. They, too, may be forced to create value added interactive content, similar to some of the Super Bowl ads developed over recent years. This will increase the quantity of high quality branded content developed for social channels.

In the 1997, speculators debated wether a PCTV was possible at the Consumer Electronics Show. Fourteen years, later that vision is coming true. Equipment manufacturers are racing to integrate social elements into their TV equipment, and TV into their computing devices (small and large). Perhaps the most anticipated development here is the possible unveiling of Apple iTV.

Implications

Clearly, more programmers will engage in social TV programming in 2012. Viewership is going down, generally, and social increases real-time engagement. But there is a saturation point that has not been achieved yet. Sooner or later, adding social interaction into a program will no longer be novel, and can’t guarantee a spike.

At the same time, programming that doesn’t offer some sort of back channel value add will risk those who have been accustomed to second screen engagement. According to Yahoo! 86% of smartphone users engage on their phones while watching TV, and recent statistics show smartphone use in the U.S. has surpassed 40%. This is a strong minority of TV viewers.

It also means the continued commercialization of the social web will increase. As media companies seek to harness and own the conversations about their shows, casual peer-to-peer engagement will become less natural. And this may cause conversations about non branded content to become more private as conversationalists seek less noise.

What do you think of social TV? How will it change media?

5 Common Actions Competitors Take

Marketing extends beyond stakeholders and organizations. Although companies and nonprofits like to pretend they operate alone in an industry, competition exists even if its just for the stakeholder’s time and money. If a marketer does their job well, and the product, service or solution is met with a warm reception, invariably the competition responds.

Moving forward, there are some common competitive responses that you can expect. Here are five of them:

1) Pretend You Don’t Exist

This out of all the responses is the most short sighted and foolish response. The ostrich approach — at least publicly (they certainly talk about you behind closed doors) — kids no one. Customers know there are alternatives, and so does the media and bloggers.

No one thinks the company or nonprofit operates in a vacuum, so when your competitor acts like that, it causes them look, like, well, marketers. It doesn’t mean anything other than people view communications from their organization to be completely transactional or brand related. Customers are less willing to trust them.

Further, it’s hard to develop industry leadership when a company doesn’t acknowledge the ecosystem, even in a general way. Apple rarely talks about HP or Dell, but it certainly acknowledges and talks about other PCs and smartphones. Car companies discuss industry accolades, which is smart, because it puts their product within a competitive context.

2) Copy Your Offering

When a company does really well, a common competitive response is to ape the product and offer the same product or service, often with less success. After Amazon launched the Kindle, Barnes & Noble offered the Nook. When Cirque du Soleil revolutionized big top entertainment, other circuses stole elements from their shows like the ribbon dance.

Holding first place is a very strong position for long-term success. In a strategic sense, first is the position of high ground. It’s always good to have established market share when this happens, but it can still be quite disconcerting.

There are instances when a company like Netflix or Google rises up and wrestles the market away, usually through some sort of technological innovation. Sometimes companies are caught in a price war.

The key here is to not necessarily over-react to the competition. Rather, to continue innovating on the product or service offering and extend market leadership. Don’t rest on your laurels.

3) Trash, Sue and Undercut

Smartphone bar.
Image by MJ/TR

Google recently purchased Motorola Mobility to acquire its patents in an effort to strengthen its case against Apple, who is suing the search giant for copying the iPhone iOS with Android. Other common hardball acts include talking poorly about the competition publicly, privately, stealing (er, hiring away) their talent, blocking distribution, and undercutting pricing to seize market share.

These are the tactics of war in the market. You have to be able to defend against them, not necessarily with direct engagement, but certainly by responding with value to your customers.

While these tactics are inevitable, they almost always make the market harder to work within, and can reduce customer trust sector-wide. These tactics do not grow the general market in any obvious way.

4) Go Toe to Toe

In an established market like car insurance where offerings are very similar from company to company, it is not uncommon to see advertising that directly positions a company against its competitors. This is a common tactic that Sprint takes with Verizon and AT&T with its data and service plans.

There’s not much you can do here other than to clearly state why your product is better than their’s and to engage in customer service and loyalty programs. This is about avoiding customer churn by bettering your total experience.

In the competitive wireless market, Sprint is a distant third currently, a gap that has increased over the past decade in large part because of the customer service issues the company experienced after acquiring Nextel. Having resolved many of these issues, it is now struggling to rebuild that marketshare. In a highly commoditized market, non product specific points like service can make a great difference.

5) Leapfrog Your Offering

Honda Civic
Late 1970s Honda Civic by dave_7

Last, but not least is when a competitor responds by offering a product or service that is significantly higher quality, more cost effective or easier to use than yours. While you might have the higher ground, this type of innovation in a new offering creates green fields for your competitors. Customers flock to them.

Consider how Japanese companies beat their U.S. counterparts in the electronics and the automotive sector in the 70s and 80s by offering higher quality products for lower costs. The result was incredible losses of marketshare and reputation. Google beat Yahoo by offering a superior search algorithm.

In this instance, speed is critical. Loyal customers will stick with your brand, but only if you are able to match or better the offering quickly. Unfortunately, when faced with a paradigm shift, most leading companies fail to respond, comfortable in their way of doing business. And thus new brands seize market leadership.

What are some common responses you see from competitors?

Steve Jobs, Marketing Genius

Steve Jobs Eulogized on the Apple Website

Now it really is time to eulogize Steve Jobs. Perhaps the best thing to say is thank you for all the great innovation he brought to this world.

There are so many things to be said about the great technological innovation he brought to the world during his tenures at Apple and Pixar. From my first personal computer, an Apple 2e, to the MacBook Pro this post is being written on, Jobs has had direct and consistent impact on the way I have viewed and consumed information for the better part of three decades. In entertainment and in work, Apple has been and continues to be a part of life.

There are so many things to say about Jobs and his companies, most notably Apple. Many people will be sharing those insights for the next few days in his memory.

The one thing to add beyond technological and business insights is respect for the incredible marketing machine Jobs built. From packaging and storefront design to masterful multichannel product launches and tense excitement by tightly managed PR, Apple demonstrated best practices in many areas of marketing.

Until Steve Jobs retired, the marketplace was always poised for the maverick tech titan to lead an on-stage unveiling event, packed with journalists, bloggers, and industry insiders. The company even avoided (and still avoids) major announcement fests such as the annual Consumer Electronics Show, instead preferring to orchestrate its own Apple events weeks apart from known industry events. Companies like Facebook and Amazon now ape this technique with some success, but it’s still not as exciting as an Apple announcement.

Launch events are complimented by traditional outdoor, print and broadcast advertising buys, in-store signage and displays, and of course, beautiful, recognizable packaging. The Apple website is tuned to announcements, turning over on launch day with in-depth web pages and videos explaining new products. Emails are sent to customers on launch day, encouraging them to buy.

These ads and direct marketing outreaches are as orchestrated as the company’s public relations efforts. In fact, they create a seamless multi-channel, multi-touch approach that demonstrates one of the very best integrated and repeatable marketing formulas the world has seen.

Yes, the products walk the talk. But many, many times, including Jobs’s first tenure as CEO of Apple, best technology is often not the most popular technology. Clearly, Jobs mastered marketing as time progressed.

What will you remember most about Steve Jobs? Also, Apple is receiving notes and thoughts about Steve Jobs via email, rememberingsteve [at] apple.com.

Steve Jobs Breaks the No News Cycle

steve jobs co founder of apple computer
Image by Annie Bannannie

Contrary to popular speculation, Steve Jobs is not dead, at least not yet. But it is hard to blame people for the dramatic belief that the icon’s end is near given his ongoing health issues and his weight loss. Further, Jobs’ sudden departure from the day to day helm of Apple broke a monotonous summer of no technology/social media news. Really, how many more Google+ blog posts can we read?

Given that Jobs has asked for and received the Apple Chairman position and will still counsel on new products, he sure doesn’t seem to be planning an imminent funeral. Perhaps it’s simply time to balance his life a little more because life (health, family, mind, etc.) demands it.

The Jobs departure is similar in stature to Bill Gates leaving Microsoft. A true industry titan, Jobs has had a critical role in shaping the U.S. technology in three critical phases — the PC revolution, the .com era, and again in the 2.0 era. And like Gates and Microsoft, it is unlikely that Apple will be the same.

There is so much to reflect on and think about when it comes to Steve Jobs. But until he dies, let’s save the obituaries. Keep breathing the air, Steve.

What are your thoughts on Steve Jobs’ departure from Apple?