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BlackBerry CMO: Alicia Keys Gives PowerPoint Presentations for Our Marketers

Emerging Markets Will be an Area of Emphasis for BlackBerry as It Looks to Change Its Image as Challenger Brand

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Frank Boulben, CMO of Blackberry, speaks with Ad Age editor Abbey Klaassen at the Ad Age Digital Conference Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in New York.
Frank Boulben, CMO of Blackberry, speaks with Ad Age editor Abbey Klaassen at the Ad Age Digital Conference Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in New York. Credit: Photo by Patrick Butler
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Blackberry CMO Frank Boulben conceded that challenging Apple and Samsung for U.S. market share is still years away. The company's immediate goal is to emerge as the third most-popular mobile platform in the U.S.

But don't tell Mr. Boulben that his company is a challenger brand. While the company's U.S. market share has decreased significantly -- from 30.4% in January 2011 to 5.9% in January 2013, according to comScore -- BlackBerry remains the most popular device line in emerging markets such as South Africa and East Asia, Mr. Boulben said Wednesday morning at the Ad Age Digital Conference.

BlackBerry will be releasing an array of smartphone products -- not just top of the line ones -- in order to reach consumers in developing countries.

Non-Western markets are in many ways more advanced than Western markets when it comes to using mobile computing, Mr. Boulben said. He pointed to Indonesia, specifically, where taxis list drivers' BlackBerry Messenger PINs on their cars instead of phone numbers.

BlackBerry is still focused on the U.S., though, and Mr. Boulben said that the company has made drastic changes to its marketing strategy compared with past years. Marketing spend has shifted toward digital, social, search and mobile, as well as recruiting celebrities to market its new platform and devices.

Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys Credit: AP

One of the most notable celebrity endorsers is singer-songwriter Alicia Keys, who was recently named the company's global creative director. Giving celebrity endorsers formal job titles has been a trend of late, but many times the titles are merely superficial. Mr. Boulben said that was not the case with Ms. Keys.

Appointing Ms. Keys global creative director occurred only after she had illustrated interest in BlackBerry's technology. Ms. Keys has sat in on five marketing meetings with the company, even presenting her own PowerPoint slides at one, he said. She is also expected to give a presentation at the company's upcoming BlackBerry Live event.

Ms. Keys's participation in BlackBerry's business decisions is emblematic of the new brand perception the company is trying to project. BlackBerry wants to retain its professional image, but also be cool.

Despite inventing the smartphone, BlackBerry is now a challenger brand competing against deep-pocketed market leaders Apple and Samsung.