With BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion in turmoil as its stock price plummets and market share shrinks, marketing executives at the company are taking the fall. The Wall Street Journal reports today that Brian Wallace, RIM's vice president of digital marketing and media, is the latest to exit, joining Samsung Telecommunications America.
Former CMO Keith Pardy left RIM in February, just before the launch of the company's PlayBook tablet, and Paul Kalbflesich, a vice president of brand creativity at RIM for 11 years, also departed earlier this year. He was replaced by ex-Publicis Groupe executive Roger Baxter.
One takeaway from these moves is that a large part of the blame for RIM's sagging fortunes is being tied to poor marketing efforts. That thinking can be boiled down to "we have great products, we're just not selling them or positioning them well enough." Hence, a shakeup of the people leading marketing and branding strategy.
If that bears any resemblance to the thinking inside RIM's executive suite, the company should take a harder look at its products relative to the competition. Let's start with the well-documented app deficit of BlackBerry devices as compared to the iPhone and Android phones. Long content with catering to business users with keyboard-centric handsets, RIM was also slow to catch up with touchscreen-based devices and the rollout of its own tablet line. And when the company upgraded the BlackBerry operating system and rolled out touchscreen devices, reviewers were often underwhelmed and consumers indifferent.
And while the iPhone and Android have been able to make inroads among corporate users, BlackBerry hasn't been able to do the same on the consumer side. That's reflected in its steady market share decline, with BlackBerry falling to third place behind its two main rivals as of April in U.S. smartphone OS share, according to comScore. In April, Apple also moved into fourth place ahead of RIM among phone manufacturers.
It would take considerable marketing magic to make RIM's underlying product and marketplace challenges disappear. Another way to look at it is to consider the marketing blitz Microsoft put behind its launch of Windows Phone 7 last fall, only to have its revamped mobile platform continue to struggle against the iPhone and Android. Microsoft's mobile OS share slipped from 8% to 6.7% between January and April.
On the other hand, Android's explosive growth has had more to do with its strategy of working with multiple manufacturers than any particular marketing effort. And Apple gets plenty of marketing mileage from the ceaseless buzz generated online and elsewhere by its legions of devoted fans.
BlackBerry certainly has its loyal community of business users, especially in relation to security. But that doesn't translate easily into a marketing message for the broader consumer audience BlackBerry is now trying to reach. Even the most celebrated BlackBerry customer -- Barack Obama -- has It's possible he's not even aware RIM makes a competing tablet. Rather than a marketing failure, though, that would be in part because RIM let Apple get more than a year's head start in selling the iPad.