BlackBerry's Strategy To Win Over Skeptics: Show, Don't Tell

Chief Marketing Officer Frank Boulben Discusses Marketing Push

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If half the fun of being a chief marketer is helping your company overcome branding challenges, no one is having more fun than BlackBerry CMO Frank Boulben. Not only does his company hold a dismal 5% of smartphone-market share, he faces stiff competition from Apple and Google's Android.

Frank Boulben, BlackBerry CMO
Frank Boulben, BlackBerry CMO

But with the release of the company's latest smartphone platform, BlackBerry 10, Mr. Boulben is determined to turn BlackBerry from David back into Goliath. So far, the company has taken over The New York Times home page, hosted the newspaper's inaugural Dealbook conference in December, run its first Super Bowl ad and changed its name to BlackBerry from Research in Motion. (Mr. Boulben is keynoting Ad Age's Digital Conference April 16-17 in New York City.)

Mr. Boulben's biggest obstacle, however, will be convincing the world that BlackBerrys are no longer just for the boardroom.

Ad Age: BlackBerry has always been the quintessential professional device, but now you've built all these entertainment experiences into it.

Mr. Boulben: We invented the smartphone category back in 1999. What happened six years ago -- and it was primarily driven by the U.S. market -- a new paradigm emerged in which three elements became important: web browsing, multimedia and apps. We started to develop those on BlackBerry 7, but BlackBerrys were used primarily in the corporate environment. The applications on the device were being restricted by IT departments. Consumers were not experiencing the full scope of what was developed for those devices, and very often you'd go to Wall Street and see people with two devices.

A screenshot from the new BlackBerry 10
A screenshot from the new BlackBerry 10 Credit: RIM

Ad Age: One for work, one for play.

Yes. And so what we wanted to do with our new platform was address all facets of your life: the personal and the professional. On a smartphone today, you expect a great browser, great multimedia capabilities and a large number of apps. We've built those three things, but that's table stakes.

The dominant paradigm right now is something I call "in and out." You want to do something, you click on the app icon. If you want to do something else, you press the home button and you click on another app. The paradigm we've introduced is there is no home button. You flow seamlessly from one thing to another with simple gestures.

Ad Age: I was surprised at how happy people were when you announced that the Q10 would have a physical keyboard.

Mr. Boulben: Some consumers want a physical-keyboard-typing experience, so they can type without looking. But they also want the largest possible screen.

Ad Age: So there's a segment of your target market that's willing to trade that inch of screen for a physical keyboard?

Mr. Boulben: We're not going to dictate which form factor people are going to take. But we're going to try to do the best possible of both. If you want the large screen of the Z10, there's no compromising your typing experience. On the Q10, if you're a die-hard physical-keyboard person, we've extended that screen by 20% and it gives you a great viewing experience. I'm pretty sure that a number of "die-hard" physical-keyboard users will switch to the Z10.

Ad Age: What makes you think people who haven't previously transitioned to an all-touchscreen phone are going to do it now?

Mr. Boulben: Not only is it the predictive text, but the phone learns which keys you are likely to press. There is a heat map under the virtual keyboard. So, if you have a tendency to press in between certain keys and correct yourself three times, it will learn what you meant to type and correct it automatically.

Ad Age: What's your marketing plan to recapture share?

Mr. Boulben: Marketing is all about showing what you can do vs. telling. What we started to do a number of months ago is conduct face-to-face demonstrations of BlackBerry 10.

Ad Age: With whom?

Mr. Boulben: Application developers, carriers, CIOs, CEOs, celebrities, reporters and BlackBerry fans so that they can see for themselves so they can talk about it, tweet about it, blog about it. If you look at sentiment in the U.S. over the past six months it's changed substantially.

Ad Age: What was it before and what is it now?

Mr. Boulben: It moved from 55% negative sentiment, to more than 70% positive, according to Meltwater.

The second stream of activities is real-time marketing techniques. We've developed a dozen videos showcasing each of the key features of BlackBerry 10, and consumers can access [it] on any device. That will include mobile takeovers. If you have an Android or iOS device, you will see a video taking over your screen showcasing the BlackBerry 10 keyboard.

The third stream is the Keep Moving Projects with [author] Neil Gaiman, [singer] Alicia Keys and [filmmaker] Robert Rodriquez. We will be documenting how they have been using their BlackBerry 10 during their creative processes.

Ad Age: That seems like a shift in your brand. BlackBerry was always a physical manifestation of professionalism, and now you are promoting it as a device for creative-minded people.

Mr. Boulben: Yes, but the underlying thought is a bit different. It's the fact that there isn't the professional person in you and the private person. You're one individual and you ideally only want to carry one device. Alicia, as an example, is an artist, but you can also characterize her as an entrepreneur and a mom.

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