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2006 Marketers That Mattered MARK GUIBERT, RIM’s VP of corporate marketing, says a hunger for wireless e-mail means the time is right for the BlackBerry Pearl Research in Motion has the stuff marketers dream of. Fan websites are devoted to its flagship product, the BlackBerry. Oprah Winfrey hyped it as one of her “favourite things” […]

2006 Marketers That Mattered

MARK GUIBERT, RIM’s VP of corporate marketing, says a hunger for wireless e-mail means the time is right for the BlackBerry Pearl

Research in Motion has the stuff marketers dream of. Fan websites are devoted to its flagship product, the BlackBerry. Oprah Winfrey hyped it as one of her “favourite things” on a holiday show. Celebrities like Paris Hilton are photographed with their “crackberrys.” And founders Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis have themselves achieved star status in the business world.

Pop culture cachet? BlackBerry has it in spades. The device is also hailed as one of the great innovations in communications, and is one of only a handful of global Canadian brands.

RIM “managed to really hit a need and do it better than anybody else,” says Joel Baum, a professor of strategic management at Rotman School of Management in Toronto. The BlackBerry “has managed to-and you can’t plan this-become an icon.”

And here’s what makes marketers truly envious-RIM did so without splashy ad campaigns or multimillion-dollar media buys.

Starting out as a wireless e-mail device for the Wall Street set, there are now six million BlackBerry subscribers around the world. The BlackBerry is available on 200 carrier networks in 90 countries-RIM drove expansion into new markets in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific and Latin America this year.

In September, RIM made its first entry into the consumer market with the BlackBerry Pearl, a “smart phone” with e-mail and text messaging capabilities as well as a digital music player and camera. In fiscal 2006 (ending in March), revenues for the Waterloo, Ont.-based company surpassed $2 billion.

Another plus this year was settling a long-running patent dispute, which some say actually helped the brand. Media reports speculated on a court-ordered shutdown of BlackBerry in the U.S., arguing it could hamper response to emergencies and threaten business productivity. “They got so much press over the lawsuit and you can’t beat that kind of press,” says Baum.

While RIM couldn’t have planned that kind of attention, BlackBerry’s iconic status didn’t happen by accident. What started RIM off was “brilliant branding,” says Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto. “Calling it a BlackBerry and positioning it as that kind of intensely personal aid was a key part of their success.”

In its early days, RIM seeded BlackBerrys within corporations and law firms in the U.S. and Canada. It also educated IT departments about the benefits of wireless e-mail and the security of the BlackBerry network. This approach “really served us well in that it fuelled significant word-of-mouth,” says Mark Guibert, vice-president of corporate marketing at RIM.

A key part of its marketing strategy today is that its telecommunications partners handle the local marketing, which Middleton calls a brilliant move. Instead of having to learn about each global market, “they’re using the people who have the deepest level of market knowledge (to) do it for them.” In Canada, Bell, Telus and Rogers-RIM’s three major carriers here-all promote the company’s products.

This year, for the first time, Research in Motion launched a campaign aimed at the consumer market. Print ads show how the Pearl fits into people’s lives, and feature author Douglas Coupland, Martin Eberhard, CEO of electric car maker Tesla Motors, and actress Mariska Hargitay. There’s also a new campaign by Rogers and its agency, Publicis. Print ads position the Pearl as “sleek, smart, stylish.” Radio ads highlight how the Pearl can help small businesses.

RIM’s Guibert says the timing was right for the BlackBerry Pearl because “there’s growing interest for wireless e-mail among cellphone users.” He adds that the Pearl is “attracting a lot of people who never previously considered BlackBerry.”

RIM has “pretty much been a B2B story until now,” says Bev Tudhope, chief executive of Interbrand Canada, a brand consultancy in Toronto. “But now with the Pearl and getting the consumer franchise going, it’s going to take off even more strongly.”

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