BlackBerry: It's all in the name

BlackBerry: It's all in the name

Summary: In an attempt to forge a new path, Research In Motion has taken the name of its most popular brand, BlackBerry. What does it stand for?

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(Credit: BlackBerry)

Some nights, I stay up cashing in my bad luck/Some nights, I call it a draw/Some nights, I wish that my lips could build a castle/Some nights, I wish they'd just fall off/But I still wake up, I still see your ghost/Oh Lord, I'm still not sure what I stand for/What do I stand for? What do I stand for?/Most nights, I don't know anymore.

Know that tune? It's called--appropriately--"Some Nights," by the American indie pop group Fun. You may not know that name, but if you call the US home you've no doubt heard the band's song on top 40 radio during the last five months. It's hard to avoid.

And yet today, watching the Canadian technology company formerly known as Research In Motion (RIM) reintroduce itself as "BlackBerry" and introduce its BlackBerry 10 mobile platform and fully touch-responsive Z10 handset, I couldn't help but recall the stirring chart-topper above, about a lonely soldier far from home. If there's one thing RIM--forgive me, BlackBerry--has been for the last four and a half years, it's lost. And like the protagonist in the aforementioned tune, it has spent a lot of time grappling with existential angst as it watched consumer and enterprise customers alike eschew its devices for those from Apple and Google. From a financial standpoint, this was war, and co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Laziridis watched as the enemy set their business model--and profits--ablaze. It was an unprecedented destruction of the company's wealth, accelerated by a global economic meltdown.

No disrespect to my genial British colleagues, but traditional QWERTY BlackBerrys in the age of the all-touch smartphone were the equivalent of the British Army's famous red coats during the most tense moments of the American Revolutionary War: uncomfortable and easily targeted.

It's not all the company's fault, of course; when your name and product becomes synonymous with an era in technology--mentions of "BlackBerry thumb" in the news peaked in 2005--it is a challenge to pivot into the next. Which is why the former RIM's choice of "BlackBerry" as its new name is so terribly interesting.

What does BlackBerry stand for? For most of the North American company's international customers, as well as consumer customers on every continent, the company itself. "Research In Motion" relative to BlackBerry is no more identifiable than AMR is relative to American Airlines, its famous globe-trotting subsidiary. The consolidation removes a layer of ambiguity.

Yet simultaneously, BlackBerry stands for failure. It stands for barrels of spilled ink (pixels?) in headlines declaring the company and its products for dead. It stands for the phone that you gave up in 2009 for the Android device you have today. It stands for the tablet your eye wandered past before picking up an iPad. It stands for business tools that took a hard look at the consumerization of information technology and turned up their nose.

To choose the BlackBerry name, then, demonstrates that the company's leadership team believes the tremendous name recognition the brand commands across markets is more important than the four years it has spent inadvertently sullying it.

What will BlackBerry stand for in 2013? To borrow an idiom from those red-coated Brits, the proof will be in the pudding. As we know from the rise, fall, resurgence, and subsequent dismembering of another mobile technology company best known from another era--Palm, Inc--naming yourself after your product will not alone guarantee success. As Palm learned, even developing a superior product won't save you.

The challenge for BlackBerry is slightly different. It still has a tremendous foothold in the enterprise, despite recent losses. And even with the ongoing consumerization of IT, the company continues to enjoy a relatively sympathetic ear in business. A great product that leapfrogs over the competition will be noticed here. That's different than the fickle consumer market, where it's HTC and Motorola today, Samsung and someone else tomorrow.

But BlackBerry does need the consumer market to survive as an ecosystem--even if it's just consumers who wear a white-collared shirt to work. (In this way, I slightly disagree with fellow Philadelphian John Gruber, who envisions a far steeper challenge.) As my colleague Jason Hiner noted in a 2011 article about the company, the ongoing issue with app availability for the BlackBerry platform demonstrates that the company didn't take this largely consumer innovation that seriously, even as the business audience it did want left it for that reason. In other words, the former RIM failed to recognize that its professional customers were also professional consumers.

To get back in black--and the game--BlackBerry needs to reinforce the notion that it is a company that makes business phones for business users of all kinds, not just those served by a centralized IT department.

The New Yorker's James Surowiecki wrote just as much last February:

One way or another, consumers are going to have more and more say over what technologies businesses adopt. It's a brave new world. It's just not the one that the BlackBerry was built for.

What should BlackBerry stand for? The answer is clear: The future, not the past. It starts by taking a well-known brand and reframing it. Then the rebuilding begins.

Topics: Consumerization, BlackBerry

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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11 comments
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  • BlackBerry, when fresh, is probably the best berry I ever tasted

    It is super-fresh, delicate tasted (comparing to stronger, more specific taste of raspberry) -- pure heaven to eat.

    However, if blackberry lays just few days more than being really fresh, it becomes sour (unlike raspberry, which is much more resilient).

    So if we use this real-life analogue, there is nothing what could save RIM/Blackberry. The berry is a goner, not matter what you do.

    However, we obviously can not use the name for more serious analysis of Blackberry's chances.
    DDERSSS
  • You know nothing

    All you can do is express an opinion, you do not know what is in the mind of users.

    Apple is getting kicked because it is too successful and Blackberry is getting kicked because it is not successful enough. Forget Window Phone Microsoft has blown it.

    Apple is at the top of their product cycle and in my opinion iOS is looking dated. Blackberry is at the bottom of their product cycle and I commend them for bringing out a product that looks very good to me (I currently do no own a BB). If this is where they are starting from then if they get sales they deserve it will be a different story in 6 months time.

    I showed my wife the Blackberry presentation last night where the BB hub and flow was being demonstrated and she liked what she saw. She is now going to look at the Z10 as a replacement for her phone.

    I have already made my mind up, I have looked at the iPhone, Nexus and Nokia Windows phones, and I going to go for the BB Z10. Why, like my wife I like how BB10 looks and feel.

    Only time will tell if other people will agree.
    pjc158
    • Surely you realize the hypocrisy you just typed

      "You know nothing, all you can do is express an opinion..."

      [...]

      "I have already made my mind up..."

      I mean, seriously? Here's the deal, pjc158: I'm a user just like you. Only I'm paid to pay attention. You can take what I write with a grain of salt -- please do, in fact. But to add your own opinion after dismissing mine? What? Has the universe folded over, Inception-style? Because I think I just arrived where I came from.
      andrew.nusca
    • Wow dude did you actually read what you wrote?

      "All you can do is express an opinion"

      Yes indeed - we all do here.

      "Apple is at the top of their product cycle and in my opinion iOS is looking dated."

      So wait - you jump on Andrew for expressing his opinion about Blackberry - and get bent out of shape because he disagrees with your view but then you express yours? Yup, definite hypocrite.

      I really hope that Blackberry makes BB10 and the BB10Z a huge success that makes them relevant again. But time will tell if this particular Blackberry is still fresh or past it's expiration date.
      athynz
    • You don't have to wait long

      The BlackBerry 10 OS and devices are adequate but there is nothing revolutionary in the OS,or the hardware. As a matter of fact they are introducing hardware that was out of date 7 months ago when the windows phones were first leaked.

      I will be shocked if the make any traction in this hyper competitive market. Microsoft has Billions of dollars to spend and they will spend it to get market share. They know that they can't be relevant without a mobile OS. More partners are discussing coming out with a WP8 offering. I think that we are at a tipping point right now. Momentum is important for both companies.

      It will be interesting to watch but I believe that they will end up like Palm.
      Burger Meister
  • much like PCP,

    the crackberry craze has ended. Nothing to see here. Move along...the droids you really want are not here :)
    timspublic1@...
  • Qwerty Keyboard...

    Well, Nokia is selling an awful lot of Aisha's.......
    amclpreston
  • ..

    I don't quite personally understand the motivation behind this move. Keeping BlackBerry as a product line only should have remained.

    "Who makes BlackBerrys? Oh, that's BlackBerry."

    "I want a BlackBerry BlackBerry Z10."

    IDK, to me it seems like they're losing more of their identity than they're gaining.
    jhnnybgood
    • Yes, the "who makes BlackBerrys" question

      ...gets a little "Who's on First," doesn't it?
      andrew.nusca
    • The last few times I bought a Blackberry

      I didn't ask for a "RIM Blackberry Curve/Storm/Torch/Bold" I asked for a "Blackberry Curve/Storm/Torch/Bold". I'm not sure about the logic behind your theory that Blackberry is somehow losing their identity.
      athynz
      • It's Semantics

        I don't feel it's going to necessarily hurt them (already a dead horse), but it's just an odd move to me. BlackBerry has always been a product produced by RIM. Now that they're named BlackBerry, it just feels like they eliminated their own self identity. I mean, they can't call their new phones BlackBerrys anymore either because then like I mentioned it would be a double BlackBerry scenario. Like I said, in the eyes of the public it probably wont matter and will likely go unnoticed.
        jhnnybgood