How RIM Lost its ‘Product’
Research in Motion (RIM), maker of the once popular BlackBerry, has taken a terrible turn this year. From being the darling of the burgeoning mobile tech market to almost a has-been in the tech sector, RIM seems to be in dire straights.
What caused the sudden demise?
Answer: RIM lost its ‘Product’.
I’ve written a couple of articles on the importance of properly structuring marketing around the 4 P’s: Product, Promotion, Place and Price. Although it seems to be an overly-simplistic framework, loss of focus in any one area can severely affect a company’s future. Blockbuster was a casualty of losing focus on Place and now RIM seems to have lost its way regarding Product.
RIM was an R&D spinoff from the Canadian Waterloo University, well known for its strong Engineering program. This technically-savvy company built a strong, first-mover business on mobile email. It was a brilliant strategy of implementing a proprietary network of email servers through which all BlackBerry emails are processed. By using this strategy, RIM was able to provide secure, mobile email when the alternatives had to deal with the inconsistency of a variety of email servers and Internet infrastructure. The end result was that RIM had a vastly superior product in terms of reliability and security.
RIM rode the wave of its technical superiority until the competition started to catch-up. RIM had first-mover advantage and had all but conquered the business market. However, seeing Apple’s rise in the consumer market, RIM must have thought, “if we make our products sexier, we can compete with Apple.” The result was a series of BlackBerry products that were much more sleek than the original models, but without substantial technical innovation (at least compared to Apple).
The death knell for RIM was the Playbook. In the rush to catch-up with Apple’s iPad, and to meet analyst expectations of a competing tablet, RIM rushed the PlayBook to market. The bugs and limited set of applications could, perhaps, be overlooked. What cannot be overlooked, though, is the fact that the PlayBook was released without built-in email!
RIM made the fatal mistake of abandoning the one thing that it always did best – support reliable, secure, mobile email. That was closely fallowed by network outages which crippled anyone with a BlackBerry device.
Although the co-CEOs have now stepped aside, it is interesting to note that the first executives to abandon ship (pushed or jumped) were the marketing executives. I believe that these marketers saw the writing on the wall.
You can’t fix a marketing problem with engineering and you can’t fix an engineering problem with marketing. An organization must remain aligned in the two disciplines, or it will have trouble delivering a consistent end user experience.
The take-away for any product-based business is to remember what you stand for. What is the one thing, above all else, that your customers associate with your product. If you move away from that main point of differentiation, you had better know what your doing, or you’ll likely be playing catch-up for a long time.
Chris McPhee, MBA