The 2013 edition of Thorsten Heins, seen at Blackberry Live this week, glowed with a well-deserved aura of vindication.
A year ago there weren’t too many left who believed the company formerly known as RIM would make a comeback. It was starting to look like Nortel 2.0. Few could imagine anyone capable of reversing the dramatic decline of Canada’s greatest tech success story after the ignominious departure of Blackberry Brothers Lazaridis and Balsillie. RIM was on top of the world, got cocky, took its eye off the game and had the rug pulled out from under it by Apple and Android. Then from behind the curtain came the lanky Teuton. As a rookie CEO, he didn’t exactly radiate confidence. But he’s defied the odds and pulled off a solid turnaround.
In so doing, Heins has led Blackberry across the brand chasm. He’s successfully separating it from its past mistakes and dissociating it from it the memory of its founders, who may have been great engineers but had no idea how to manage a brand. The fact that they could never sort out their split (brand) personality made Heins’ decision to retire RIM in favour of Blackberry – always the more accessible of the two names – look like both a stroke of genius and a signal of common sense at the helm.
Rescuing a brand from its overweening parents, especially when it is at its most vulnerable, is a very difficult thing to do. Heins has done it, and deserves kudos for it. But there are more lessons in this brand saga. The most salient is the need for agility and flexibility in response to the speed with which empires rise and fall in the volatile global tempest called wireless. The swing from domination to dimunition can now be measured in quarters. One season it’s Blackberry on top, the next it’s Apple. Then before Apple shareholders are even finished counting up their wins, what was the world’s most valuable company for a quarter or so starts to look like a laggard amidst the rising tide of Samsung.
Brands are spoken of as long term plays. But in the turmoil of the 21st marketplace, the 20th century brand positioning toolkit is starting to look as useful as a buggywhip in the hands of a Lamborghini driver. Time for a new set of brand management apps? wn
Photo: J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail
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