We have reinvented ourselves

Written by Sudhir Chowdhary | Updated: Feb 19 2013, 01:48am hrs
Research In Motion (RIM) pioneered the concept of on-your-hip email back in the late nineties with its first BlackBerry phone. The company quickly cornered the market for secure corporate emails. Its elite clientele comprised busy executives who relied on their BlackBerry devices to stay in touch with their clients and their offices. But competition soon followed and RIM lost market share to Apples iPhone and devices using Googles Android technology.

Unfazed, BlackBerrys fight to stay relevant has begun and its new platform and phones are raising surprised eyebrows, especially among those who had written off the company and its previous products. With a strong focus on emerging markets, it is moving very aggressively in India in terms of investments and positioning its products for customers here. The new devices will be launched here soon. It is also innovating locally to be more relevant to its customer and partners.

India is one of the largest emerging markets in the world for BlackBerry, admits Sunil Dutt, managing directorIndia, BlackBerry. Sunil has a deep understanding of the Indian consumer and a demonstrated capability to define new markets and businesses. His ability to successfully compete in extremely aggressive industries has been the hallmark of his career. In a wide-ranging interview with Sudhir Chowdhary, the BlackBerry MD shares his plans to intensify operations in India. Excerpts:

BlackBerry has significantly lost market share in recent years. What went wrong, why did you lag behind

I wont say anything went wrong, but yes, we were a bit late in getting the right products into the hands of the customers. In America and some other countries, the carriers had a quick requirement as they were migrating their network to the 4G/LTE platform. Another thing was that we were in the process of getting a new platform and we wanted to get it right. We wanted all the new devices to be on the new platform in order to match up with the needs of the customers.

From a global perspective, we are growing everywhere including India. The adoption of mail-on-the-go is very strong and very popular. For people, no matter what kind of new products that the competition has come up with, the email experience of BlackBerry still remains the best. Most people who own a BlackBerry are addicted.

Other than that we have matched up to the needs of the rest of the world. And yes, with BlackBerry 10 coming up now, we are confident that we will be able to address the needs of those markets as well.

How has the market responded to BlackBerry 10 phones Who are adopting these smart devices

The first reactions from the markets where we have launched the product has been extremely exciting. In UK and Canada, the day we launched it, the store and carrier ran out of products. In other markets too, where we have launched the product, we were out of stock in few days. Keeping this view, we consulted with the global team to increase the number of devices to be launched in India so that the customers get the product when it hits the market.

A whole lot of existing top-end BlackBerry customers are upgrading and migrating to BlackBerry 10. We have also noticed that 45% of our customers who have gone and brought the BB 10 devices are first-time users of BlackBerry products.

BlackBerry now has a new identity and new products. It is indeed a fresh start...

Re-designed, re-engineered, re-invented, thats what we say. Its a fresh start but keeping in line with our roots, thoughts and philosophy. BlackBerry 10 will be co-existing with the earlier BlackBerry OS for a certain foreseeable future. We are re-designing, re- engineering and re-inventing so that we can address the needs of the markets which has been looking for and expecting innovative solutions from BlackBerry. Yes, its a fresh start but we have a lot of strengths on which we are banking upon.

Are you confident about a turnaround What is the sentiment within the company, especially at the management level

I am very confident regarding the turnaround. For the first time in many years, the senior management across all countries is showing exuberance and confidence. I see a palpable excitement in the BlackBerry India team too.

BlackBerry has achieved considerable success in the Indian market. Share with us the mantra for success.

The mantra for success has been several fold. When we started our business here in 2004, we came in along with carrier partnerships and the first market that we addressed was the enterprise market. Over a period of time, we re-invented ourselves to move from being an only enterprise product to becoming a consumer product, and also moving into the hands of the retail customers. That happened because the retail customers realised that here is a product which was giving them immense connectivity for social as well as office-related activity. It was seen as a great productivity tool.

Even from a brand stand point, we successfully moved from being a product for enterprise to a product for everybody. If you put the right kind of wind behind the sails on the brand, then you become relevant to more customers and that is what BlackBerry did very successfully in India. We have kept our relevance alive by bringing in new products. For example, for our youth customers, we launched two very successful products in the last two yearsCurve 9220 and 9320. We introduced FM radio which was a first time in BlackBerry phones, and we added language inputs to the phones. We brought in the dedicated BBM key for the users of BBM which is the great connectivity tool for the youth. Also, we brought in a longer battery life to support them. All of this is about listening to the customer and bringing in new, relevant products to the market.

The other success factor is the way we expanded our channel and distribution networks. A year ago, we were in 80 cities and now we are present in more than 250 cities. So we are able to reach out to more and more retail points across the country. Last but not the least, we have invested in talent by bringing in right kind of people with the right skill-set to be able to execute on the strategy.

What according to you is the key to succeed with the Indian consumer

The mantra to succeed here is to be able to connect with a diverse set of customers, cutting across the different barriers of age, gender, income, education and to become relevant for most of them. As far as BlackBerry is concerned, we dont address all price segments. There is a certain imagery associated with owning a BlackBerry and we want to keep that intact and alive.

The customers in our target segment are excited by things like innovation, convenience of owning and using a product which means that the education of customers is extremely important. A BlackBerry customer in real sense is not looking for an affordable, cheap solution.

The other bit is in terms of association with the brand which is aspirational, which is on the top, exciting and catches their imagination. Last but not the least, we have a huge enterprise base for whom it has to be a very efficient productivity tool. These are the aspects which Indian customers have been looking at and we have been successful in catering to it.

Tell us something about your sales, marketing and branding strategy and how it has contributed to the success of BlackBerry in India

On the sales front, it is about reaching the customer. For the retail customers, it is about expanding to the number of towns where there are customers who are looking for better products. They have the wherewithal capability to buy and use those products. Today, we have a market in many small towns.

Our first and foremost focus has been to expand our distribution in those markets.

We have made concerted efforts to strengthen our enterprise go-to market because we provide the best possible enterprise solutions and are still most favoured by CIO community for the secure communication backbone that we provide to them. We are working very strongly on that.

We have worked really hard to keep the brand aspect in the imagination of the customer. Last year, we brought out a new positioning for ourselves known as Action Starts Here. This was related to the fact that most of our customers are action-oriented people, who always keep moving and impacting lives, society, industry and social behaviour.

What are the factors that are driving consumer preferences in smartphones

From being a fad of being able to own good looking devices to actually using them for productivitythis is the transition which I see happening in the Indian market. The initial fad of entertainment and information is soon changing to information and entertainment. People are now utilising the productivity aspect of the smartphone. While there is a need for fun and entertainment, there is also a strong need for productivity apps and social related apps and those are the things which smartphones are able to deliver as a better experience.

How important is the India market for BlackBerry in terms of business

India is amongst the focus markets worldwide and there are 20 such focus markets across the 175 countries in the world where we have business.

Is there a good talent pool in India for app development

Definitely. I think India is blessed to have a pool for app developers. We have grown from 400 developers two years ago to 40,000-plus today. And these are the people who are not just developing apps, but their apps are actually getting ported onto our devices. India is one of the top countries in terms of contributing apps for the BlackBerry 10 platform. We have a large base of IT, engineering and software graduates coming out of various institutions.