The BlackBerry maker has made a concerted push to woo the masses, even securing the services of iPod spokesdudes Bono and U2. But without a clearer marketing strategy, can it really trounce the Apple/iPhone juggernaut?
Toronto-based radio DJ Alan Cross flew to Boston last month with a plan to find a way into a secret U2 concert at an old vaudeville-era theatre. What he ended up with was an exclusive peek at a landmark business deal between the iconic Irish rockers and BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. After Bono and his band wrapped up their gig at the intimate Somerville Theater, Mr. Cross ended up at a crowded reception at a nearby pub in Harvard Square and came face to face with the U2 front man. To strike up a conversation, he told Bono he had friends who worked for RIM. Then he asked Bono about the new partnership between RIM and one of the biggest rock acts on the planet, which the Waterloo, Ont.-based company announced in a routine press release just two days earlier.
“I’m very excited about this,” Bono told Mr. Cross about the RIM deal. “Research In Motion is going to give us what Apple wouldn’t — access to their labs and their people so we can do something really spectacular.”
Mr. Cross couldn’t believe his ears. Was RIM working on a special U2 application that would help the band interact with fans as part of its “U2 360″ tour?
“You’re not far off,” Bono said, before slipping away into the crowd.
A tie-up with Bono and U2 is nothing short of a marketer’s dream. But what’s it worth if only one man in a crowded bar hears about it?
And why was Mr. Cross getting the real story — that U2 was tapping RIM’s engineers — from the music icon himself rather than the company that stands to benefit the most from the deal?
Therein lies the latest challenge for RIM as it weathers the recession and looks to its next phase of growth. An engineering and design wunderkind, the BlackBerry now needs a brand image and strategy that reach the masses. Or to use co-founder Jim Balsillie’s baseball analogy for RIM — “there’s two down in the second” — it’s time to think about the middle innings.