Hail Mary BBM

Yesterday news came out from industry research firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech showing that BlackBerry’s US share of the smartphone market slipped to a miniscule 1.1% compared to an already painful 4% in the year ago period. The data accounts for US smartphone sales, not installed base, and covers three month period ending June 2013.

It’s clear that BlackBerry has been suffering in the US market. We hardly need an industry report to validate this feeling. But it’s still important to have our finger on the pulse of exactly how poor the US market situation has been. This slide in market share happened despite the company’s best efforts with the Z10 launch, although obviously the Q10 hasn’t been on the market long enough to make much of a dent in things.

The good news for BlackBerry is that things really can’t get any worse in the US. Even if share dropped to zero it would hardly make a difference to their financial position. The installed base of BlackBerry is obviously much bigger than 1.1% on US soil, but the last three months of sales gives us a very clear idea of where the installed base is going ... and it’s not up, at least not now. So what is BlackBerry to do?  The way I see it their “Hail Mary” pass is to launch BBM for iOS and Android as a means to rebuild their brand power.

The good news for BlackBerry is that things really can’t get any worse in the US.

First, they need to ensure that the iOS and Android versions are incredibly smooth, deliver the promised core features, and are free of any major bugs. That is table stakes if they want this to succeed.

Second, they need to launch a co-ordinated marketing blitz so that people in the US market know what makes BBM different. Thankfully, many of them will fondly remember the app when they actually loved and owned a legacy BlackBerry device, before abandoning the brand. BlackBerry needs to do one hell of a job marketing their cross-platform launch, hopefully using their existing user base as a way to create viral awareness of the app on Android and iOS.

In the meantime, while this brand rebuilding exercise is happening, BlackBerry can focus on gaining traction with BB10 devices in other markets. We need to see an uninterrupted push of new devices (high and and low end) into all markets where BlackBerry still has an enormous appeal.

If they can accomplish this, and if they can make more progress closing the app gap, then I think it’s fair to say they may see a comeback in the US market. A rebuild of brand loyalty and brand recognition will then lead to more device sales. Given how far they’ve fallen, there is plenty of ground to recapture. But this will not be an easy path to navigate, and this is pretty much the last shot they have in the US.