The foundations of entire industries have been shaken by new changes in technology - from those they did not even believe in their widest dreams could be competitors.
Let’s take a look at the Blackberry brand.
By the end of 2013 Blackberry as we know it might no longer exists as an organization. Key products like the Blackberry Messenger (BBM) may probably be unbundled and sold off as software to competitors. This is pretty sad for a company that once looked impregnable.
I believe that Blackberry got its approach and business model wrong – at least in Africa. In an industry fraught with frightening innovation, the 2 compelling features they had were the BBM and the ability to push emails to the Blackberry phones of users. Initially the brand targeted large corporate organizations – an enterprise approach. Organizations bought and handed the handsets to their managers and senior executives. Back then having a Blackberry phone was a real status symbol.
Again the company goofed when the telecommunications firms it partnered with to market its phones started offering the phones at prohibitive prices - way out of the reach of even the middle class. The telecommunications firms made us believe that any Blackberry phone that was not bought from them was fake. However as other discerning entrepreneurs moved into the mobile phone importation business, this myth was dispelled and the once elusive device became easier to obtain.
When individual users initially signed up for the BBM service, many had to pay a steep price for quarterly and monthly subscriptions. The appeal of Blackberry to less financially endowed people was understandable – its BBM service drastically reduced the cost of texting and voice calls. Data was the new kid on the block.
As usual the network providers were slow to modify the product and service to meet market expectations. When it became crystal clear that insisting on quarterly and monthly subscription plans was a great barrier to improving revenues they introduced forthrightly, weekly and finally daily plans. This opened a floodgate of subscribers into the market but albeit it was too little too late. The rising number of subscribers in developing markets like Nigeria was unable to reverse the massive drop in Blackberry phone sales and subscription figures in leading markets like North America, Europe and Asia.
There was a time when Blackberry’s fight for the Nigerian market was basically with brands like Nokia. Unfortunately for it the revamp of its business model in a market like Nigeria came at a time when Samsung’s wind of change and innovation was sweeping through the market. With a wide variety of aesthetic, more robust smart phones, pocket friendlier price points, a more reliable operating system (android), significant and growing app store, push email service and messaging apps like Whatsapp and Viber, Samsung greatly and increasingly blunted the value proposition of Blackberry by the day.
I personally gave up on Blackberry earlier this year. I had just landed in a new country and bought a SIM card. I inserted the line into my Blackberry phone and was asked to insert my Blackberry user ID and password. I inserted these details and received a prompt stating that they were wrong. I clicked on the forgot password link and received a prompt to check my email address. I clicked on the email link and changed my password. However all attempts to input the new password as part of my login details proved abortive. I tried this process severally over a period of 3 months. To make matters worse when I put back the original SIM, another drama started. From that moment on, the date/time feature on my Blackberry phone went haywire.
Despite many attempts to reset the date and time or adjust it to network settings the phone refused to display the correct date and time. The wireless internet feature of the phone also stopped working. To make matters worse, the phone kept switching off during calls even when fully charged. Maybe it needed a new battery or maybe I just didn’t know how to use this iconic gadget.
Irrespective of the reasons, I have since moved on. I have said no to my Blackberry phone and to any other device they would launch because the fundamentals of their innovation have failed. Until they come up with phones that are rugged, robust, reliable and smart enough to keep my productivity at the level I need it to be, I want no more part in the Blackberry phenomenon.
I wish them well but their story is a clear reminder that “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”. Innovation died in Blackberry many years ago. Since they brought BBM and push email to the market, they went to sleep basking in the euphoria that decision makers had their devices. They probably would have been better off selling BBM as pre-installed software to all phone handsets manufacturers. BBM could have even been on the app stores of its competitors. At least they would earn a fee per phone installed in. This would have enabled them cut costs and channel funds into research and development efforts aimed at improving the software part of the business. They should have sold off the hardware side of the business long ago.
As Blackberry approaches its twilight moments, the words of Lee Iacocca, rings even truer now – “you can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere”.
Your business is going to be disrupted by a competitor you may not even be aware of today. What are you doing about it?