3 Business Decisions that Could Have Forestalled Blackberry’s Demise


When reading about business stories of the 20th century, the short-lived rise and devastating collapse of the Blackberry serves as a cautionary tale for both tech and non-tech companies. The Blackberry, created by Canadian firm Research In Motion (RIM), transformed the entire mobile communication industry with its integration of cell phone technology and email, becoming a hot ticket gadget for business leaders all over the world.

The dramatic fall of the Blackberry—caused largely by Apple’s disruptive innovation of the iPhone—is now being showcased as a feature film.

Since “Blackberry” is a movie intended to entertain rather than inform the audience, viewers shouldn’t expect too many clear business lessons about the missteps RIM took before falling out of the industry’s backend. Nevertheless, the narrative invites a broader conversation about the strategic decisions that all businesses must make to capitalize on opportunities, and the measures they must take to avoid a fate similar to Blackberry.

Carving Your Own Position in the Market

Despite being a pioneering force in the mobile technology industry, Blackberry found itself on a downward trajectory due largely to several strategic missteps. Among these, the most notable was its failure to actively define and communicate its unique point of view and value proposition. Instead of taking control of its market positioning, Blackberry allowed external forces to shape its identity.

The importance of market positioning is emphasized by Geoffrey Moore, author of "Crossing the Chasm." Moore suggests a simple exercise to help businesses communicate their value proposition, which can apply to a wide range of industries. 

The exercise includes identifying the target customer, understanding their primary needs, recognizing the product's technology category, and highlighting the primary benefits of choosing their offering. This approach not only maintains a consistent narrative across all sales and marketing channels, but also leverages the company's unique selling proposition.

Blackberry missed the chance to effectively position itself in the market. By not intentionally and dynamically engaging in an exercise of defining and reinforcing its value proposition, Blackberry missed the opportunity to create a consistent narrative across its sales and marketing channels and reinforce itself as the leader in mobile security.

Continuous Surveillance of the Market

To stay competitive and adapt to changing market dynamics, businesses need to engage in regular market surveillance, which includes an ongoing SWOT market analysis. This methodology identifies potential avenues for leveraging strengths, confronting weaknesses, pursuing opportunities and mitigating threats. 

Blackberry made the critical mistake of neglecting continuous market surveillance. It failed to invest regularly in a SWOT market analysis, an oversight that hampered its ability to adapt to shifting market dynamics and maintain a competitive advantage.

A company's continuous product-market fit assessment and use of its customer base also play pivotal roles in preventing complacency and driving progress. Engaging actively with user communities, whether through customer research or user group events, can unearth valuable insights for market and product development. This not only fosters loyalty but also fuels and validates innovation. 

Despite an installed base exceeding 40%, Blackberry fell short of fully tapping into its user community for customer research, missing key insights and leading indicators that could have guided market and product direction.

Understanding the ‘Innovator’s Dilemma’ and Forecasting Market Shifts

"The Innovator's Dilemma," written by Clay Christensen, illustrates the challenges companies face when encountering disruptive innovations and technologies. As market landscapes and customer preferences evolve, companies need to respond effectively and in a timely manner. This entails a commitment to continuous customer engagement, investing in new products and markets, and an honest assessment of market trends.

The basis for competition was shifting, and Blackberry failed to respond effectively. To overcome the innovator's dilemma, companies must listen to customers, invest in developing new products and markets, and assess market trends with complete honesty. 

Blackberry could have anticipated rapidly changing market dynamics and evolving customer needs - by not doing so, a staggering loss of market share ensued for the company.

While these mistakes won’t be deeply examined in the no-doubt entertaining film inspired by Blackberry, the company’s demise emphasizes the importance of strategic positioning, constant evaluation of market dynamics, and effective communication of value propositions.

Tim Manning is a CMO with Chief Outsiders.