How Smart Is That?

Aug 28, 2023

One of the great things about movies is they can capture the past and bring it forward to new generations. Take Apple TV’s recent release, Blackberry. For Gen Z, they missed the “Crackberry” era and the innovation of the smartphone. It was wild. As forecasters predicted, it would become the catalyst for the mobile workforce. Be accessible and productive from anywhere, at any time. It was smart, and the device wowed us from the onset — power in the palm of your hand. In many ways, you have RIM to thank for the device in your hand today.  

This Canadian company was the quintessential youthful, shoestring startup that fell into a powerbroker, who, according to the Apple TV release, took them on a rollercoaster ride that ended badly.   

Some have said ego enabled a 45% market share to evaporate. Others would say failure to innovate ahead of or even with the market was the cause. And yet others might say it didn’t understand the importance of brand. Maybe it was a little of all three.   

Not losing sight of the irony that Apple TV [sister division of iPhone, the Crackberry killer] produces a tech-docudrama called “Blackberry,” we learn that the RIM brain trust believed the keyboard was the essential consumer holy grail. The research didn’t show it. Social media couldn’t voice an opinion because, well, it didn’t exist. So, the company went with its gut or ego. 

While the tech drama shows the company making attempts at innovation, like a larger screen to compete with the iPhone, it could not match the iPhone’s experience and understanding of what was important to the consumer, not simply Apple’s leadership. It wouldn’t take a crystal ball for RIM’s leadership to glimpse into this future. After all, anyone paying attention to innovation and product killers would have been witnessing the iPod wreck the once iconic Walkman. In 1999, Sony had sold 186 million units since the product’s launch 20 years earlier. The Walkman created an industry, pioneered an obsession and by 2011, it was discontinued. In three years, Apple’s iPod would sell almost as much as it took Sony to achieve in 20 years.   

Fast forward to today and something still holds true: Apple doesn’t get hung up on pioneering a category. As we have seen from both the iPod and iPhone, it can be just as successful in disrupting existing technology as it is at creating new ones. It’s also very good at anticipating what the consumer wants and demands. One could say both RIM and Sony were so enamored with their pioneering technologies that they opted not to consider the New-New Thing that the consumer would eventually crave. And Apple has always given great attention to how important brand is to the consumer. Brand reputation, identity, packaging and marketing all serve as an extension of the product and its experience.   

So, you’re a new brand or maybe a brand that has lost its way. How do you avoid losing or failing to gain market share? Five things to keep top of mind:   

  1. Empower your marketing team or agency to keep track of the competition and make sure R&D is at the receiving end.   
  2. Understand your customer and what they need or want to make their lives easier, more effective, convenient and independent. 
  3. Keep your brand relevant in voice, identity and channel. 
  4. Get outside your own head. Look forward, but sometimes look backward, say at nostalgia.  
  5. Do something unexpected as long as it checks the other boxes. Maybe even buy the new Sony Walkman, released 44 years after the original. How smart is that?