BlackBerry is one of the first smartphone manufacturers which empowered the mobile workforce with its iconic QWERTY keypad and robust hardware, its products symbolized sophistication, power, and convenience in the user’s palm. No wonder, Barack Obama, James Cameron, Kim Kardashian, Eric Schmidt, and your neighbor down the road–all managed business on BlackBerry.
But when BlackBerry decided to cease manufacturing its handheld devices and shift from B2C to B2B after 35 years, the business faced the mammoth challenge of shedding its old audience and acquiring a new one. How did BlackBerry achieve this prominence across the smart vehicle and robotics industries? How does it now sit in ~195 million smart cars?
ClickZ sat down with Mark Wilson, BlackBerry’s chief marketing officer, to uncover how the Canadian mobile phone giant seamlessly threaded the needle between B2C to B2B, transitioning from hardware to software, while adapting to a new consumer strategy, research, AI, content, ABM, and culture.
BlackBerry’s reflection on its USPs led to a two-part pivot of its product offering, moving away from handheld phones and pagers, to becoming deep-seated in cybersecurity solutions and mission-critical applications.
1. Examining USPs
Wilson and his team internally examined and used their strengths to reposition BlackBerry’s brand.
“We are really good at cybersecurity, mission-critical applications, and embedded systems for the biggest banks, healthcare networks, and governments,” he says.
“So we decided to take what we are really good at putting into a phone and deploy it into all kinds of connected devices.”
2. Identifying the need gap
After deciding to capitalize on its USPs of sophisticated cybersecurity capabilities and the Internet of Things (IoT) opportunity, Wilson’s team located industries that were in dire need of better cybersecurity.
“We were providing cybersecurity for some of the biggest banks, healthcare networks, and governments. So we thought, why don’t we secure all of their mobile devices?” Wilson says.
“And while we are at it, why not secure all of their PCs and servers? We have made a big push into the banking sectors saying, ‘what we did for you on the BlackBerry phone, we will now do for you across all the organizational endpoints.’”
BlackBerry now had three key goals, as Wilson put it:
- Refocus and reposition to attractive markets
- Lead in those markets
- Become profitable and grow exponentially
Consumer strategy: from impulse buyers to informed executives
Where a B2C buying cycle can last a few minutes, hours, or even days – B2B buying cycles can span up to 18 months, where an enterprise will introduce a software product into its environment, test and retest it, before finalizing a purchase.
BlackBerry needed to understand these skewed timelines and –
- Design pricing and discounting strategies that were then promoted through marketing
- Create assets that correlate with the B2B buyer journey
- Devise a distribution strategy by creating a reseller and distributor network/program
Building a fresh brand using research, content, and ABM
Sales follow when there is a positive and clear brand image. Wilson mentioned creating strong brand awareness, both in terms of brand perception and brand preference as a priority. Once BlackBerry started to develop its image, it became all about asking the right questions.
Wilson notes that when BlackBerry began considering consumer journeys, they looked to understand what customers were looking for, and where they were in the buying process. “Do they know they have a need? Are we trying to figure out how to articulate that they should have a need? Do they know how to solve it? Or are they looking at different ways to solve it?” Wilson expands.
Account-based marketing (ABM), and creating relatable content played a huge role in BlackBerry’s successful transition and much of this Wilson attributes to the teams they assembled to pull together unique information.
Know thy audience and know thy hacker (for content that connects)
“Well a car looks like a giant phone”, that’s one way to go about thinking but BlackBerry used research and AI to capture the smart car and cybersecurity markets through tailored content.
BlackBerry’s research intelligence and content teams worked closely to understand and implement customer experience nuances which are fed into the content creation strategy. Developing assets that inform their target B2B customers about their respective B2C consumers’ real-time needs.
For instance, Wilson shared BlackBerry’s thought process that helped them solve some of the hardest problems for the smart car market.
“We needed to understand: what makes electrified vehicles highly efficient?, How can a smart car get longer battery life? How can a smart car manufacturer master the autonomous driving experience? How do you ensure hackers can’t get into your car and hold you ransom in the parking lot?” Wilson said. “We are figuring out all of these things. And it is really, really cool to be able to do that.”
Wilson also said BlackBerry used sophisticated AI in cybersecurity to spot the latest malware and ransomware attacks which are frequently used to compromise an organization.
“Our research led us to realize cyber attacks are a highly transactional for-profit business, it is not a kid in the basement, hacking away on their computer at all. It’s a proper industry that has a well-defined, addressable market and size,” he says.
“When you derive those insights from a content perspective, that is content that will just spread like wildfire, or if you are identifying a new tactic, or a new way of how they are trying to hack into a system. This is something we share with all of our customers and governments around the globe, to make sure they’re aware of these existing threats.”
Applying analytical prowess for a strong ABM strategy
The gravity of the old ways is strongest when change is at play, and BlackBerry needed to intentionally resist this to achieve B2B marketing success. As BlackBerry had a strong brand recall value as a B2C product, Wilson demonstrated firm advocacy of leaning into analytical knowledge to meet the new B2B target audience and optimize advertising spend on acquiring them.
“Every dollar we spend, hitting a mass market or a broad consumer market, is a dollar not spent targeting our buying groups and decision-makers”, said Wilson.
The BlackBerry team capitalized on their understanding of the B2C attribution analytics and mirrored it for B2B to identify factors that drove people to their website and engage with their content. The team also mapped the B2C customer journey through the website to capture clicks and purchase triggers. Through this, the team was able to spot the most effective channels and double down marketing and advertising efforts on them.
BlackBerry’s workforce derived clear B2B buyer personas across accounts, engagement patterns, and how that resonates throughout the customer journey. These insights enabled BlackBerry’s digital marketing team with a more practical, rather than academic, approach to drive engagement strategies and build a comprehensive multi-touch attribution.
Wilson believes the last decade has been a watershed moment for BlackBerry in how it uses platforms, noting the business has been “much better, and much smarter” around how it drives engagement.
Architecting a connected B2B martech stack
To meet the new B2B model and audience, Wilson and his team dedicated time to evaluating and building a martech stack that aligns and integrates with BlackBerry’s current software gamete. This enabled the businesses’ marketing teams to lean into data analytics which is robust, connected, and cohesive.
“I would say that anybody trying to pivot from B2C to B2B must cut the whole stack and start from scratch with something new,” Wilson explains.
Wilson explained that while BlackBerry was happy with its martech stack, it would swap out modules to ensure it is integrated with the software it uses.“We use Salesforce, how does the stack integrate with Salesforce? We use Adobe. How does it connect with Adobe? And is it visible when we use Pardot?”
Greasing the culture wheels to catalyze change
Speed is always critical to the rate of organizational change. However, cultural stiffness can take away the reins from implementing transformation. Wilson shared how cultural change was the cornerstone for BlackBerry’s market pivot. He also elaborated on how they redesigned workflows and KPIs to help marketing teams meet the expectations that came with being a B2B business.
“In your brain, you know exactly what you need to do – throw out the B2C playbook and build a B2B one,” Wilson explains.
“It hardly takes three or four weeks to roll out. But culturally changing from a consumer-facing company to an enterprise-facing company is massively different and demanding.”
Wilson notes BlackBerry’s success in the past, from a cultural standpoint, was driven by the “polar opposite” of what will drive success for the company moving forward as an enterprise focused on software.
“For instance, with hardware, there is no patch that you send out. If the hardware fails you do a recall which is insanely expensive,” Wilson explains.
“With software, you continuously need to send out updates. So it’s not that you release the product, and then you are done. Every month or every quarter, you are sending out new updates to that product to improve it.”
The response to BlackBerry’s new offerings has been overwhelmingly positive, it has cemented its place as a leader in the IoT and cybersecurity space, and is now in over 195 million cars. BlackBerry solutions are used by the International Space Station, and globally in vending machines, medical devices, and surgical robots (in fact all types of robots).
Wilson believes BlackBerry is now well-positioned in two big markets today: cybersecurity and IoT. “Both are rapidly growing markets and we have very strong value propositions in both markets,” he says.
Wilson credits this success to the company’s goodwill in the market during its B2C days, and how people’s earlier experience with them has made them receptive to what BlackBerry may bring to the market in the future. In addition, ensuring its venture into new markets was centered on solid research, marketing, and content, has stood BlackBerry in good stead, Wilson says.
Looking to the future
Cybersecurity and IoT are both markets with huge growth potential and Wilson predicts, in time the two markets will converge leaving BlackBerry right in the center.
BlackBerry will continue to integrate AI into its customer offerings, marketing stack, multi-touch attribution, and especially predictive modeling.
“Everybody needs to fail a few times on AI projects because the promises may seem rosy but be prepared – it’s not always what you may think.”
“Use AI as a mileage benefit that will get better as your data sets improve. AI is a worthwhile bet. I wouldn’t over-invest in it for our marketing stack but I certainly would invest in it. Get your people focused on it because it will pay off a few years down the road.”
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