Market Quietly: Unsolicited Advice for Research in Motion’s New CMO


Welcome, Frank Boulben, Research in Motion’s new CMO. You’re charged with making the Blackberry relevant again. No one expects you to succeed.

You’ll be surrounded by the din of detractors, media hacks, and a few people cheering you on. There’s a chance you’ll try to hit a home run when it would be so easy for RIM to get back on track by hitting singles and doubles.

My overarching hope is that you’ll see the importance of ignoring the deafening roar on all sides. That you’ll discover the power of marketing quietly. Of protecting your own company from mass market madness — and protecting your own customers from the same thing.

As I type this, I’m reminded of the brand American Apparel. I’m wearing a cotton cardigan made by same. Stylish, yes. Does it shout? No. Sure, American Apparel has frequently been in the press, as much for their “made in LA not in sweatshops” ethos to the lecherous behavior of the founder (and yes, plenty of stylish marketing).

Funnily enough, though, the clothes generally don’t shout. They’re “generic,” yet the cool kids sense you aren’t wearing a Hanes tee. As Naomi Klein might say – they have “no logo.” Yesterday I was out golfing [note to clients: it was 9 holes at twilight] when the wind started howling. Instead of official golf jacket / outerwear, I had an American Apparel thin sweatshirt (thick henley) in the bag. Put it on. Felt way less dorky than I would have in an Adidas shell to match my Adidas golf shirt. Functional, too. Great fit. Bold blue color. But no logo. No one told me how I had to use the product. It was my discovery. Hey, no one tells me what golf apparel I have to wear!

That saves me money, too. No need to shop in the golf shop and duplicate all the clothing I already have in my closet. It’s generic! You can use it for anything! (Even though it isn’t an unstylish kind of generic.)

To use the device analogy, many people are going to have one smartphone. They aren’t going to have a tablet or even an iPod. You weren’t off base when you released great Blackberries with good quality sound, better cameras, etc. — you do have a market if you keep releasing better and better ones.

Research in Motion should position and market its products quietly, like that. With quiet confidence that their fans are their fans. No silly contortions around the brand. Follow what the brand already is. Don’t graft imaginary personas over it. Let customers put themselves into the picture in their own way. Do you really think at this point that people need to have it explained to them that people come in all colors, all ages, multiple genders, etc.? That’s what I fear your next traditional ad agency is going to try to do.

Your product and your company never talked down to people in that way. Should your advertising?

Here are my three unsolicited pieces of advice, jumping off the theme of ‘Market Quietly’:

  • Forget the mass market. Serve, understand, and sell brilliantly — and quietly — to your existing customers. Understand your fans. Make them happy. Don’t mass market to them. Better yet, don’t mass market to anyone else, either, in a way that would turn off your existing core.
  • To do that, use the ‘database of intentions’ to recognize and respond to (and market to) that core group. You can save tens of millions of dollars, maybe hundreds of millions, by winding up the majority of the traditional advertising, packaging, and other “mass market” campaign work. For a fraction of the cost, you can effectively get your message out there to every single person that is doing a Blackberry-related search (and other super targeted online stuff). Display, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. Master every single one of these channels. Build out a respectful and accomplished team that does nothing but that. Stop wasting everyone’s time, and your company’s money, with top-down mass market ad campaigns from the 1980’s. Use whatever is left over to focus on new forms of PR and earned media etc. etc., yadda yadda yadda. Free publicity is great, too.
  • Leverage those communities and those massive amounts of signals from inquisitive customers to develop the products of the future.

Do all those things, and I’ll still be proud to answer my RIM phone on the golf course… though to be honest, I usually keep mine turned off. Golf types are like that. They also really don’t want to have to throw in the towel on RIM and switch to a (shudder) iPhone. Android? Can’t let Google take over everything. If you believe Apple and Google should take over everything, and that there is no fervent Blackberry fan base out there… or if you’d rather spend every morning reading the opinion pieces by ivory-tower journalists, wondering if your company is really populated by a bunch of clueless clowns or whatever… you might as well give up now.

At this point, with a powerful new OS and a global customer base still (somewhat) loyal to you, there is plenty to build on. And unlike the din in the press, in the real world fan base, people typing queries about your product as in the screen shot below, are simply interested and engaged in the nitty gritty details. [There’s a lot more where that came from. Are you truly leveraging searcher intent? Are you building too many half-baked mass-market promo microsites, and not enough communities and resources?] They want to get on with their next phone purchase so they can get back to being quietly effective.

P.S. No need to take potshots at the other companies’ devices, calling them “play toys,” etc. We get it. Take the high road.

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