BBM: Thanks to the NSA, It’s Making a Comeback, but Can It Become Cool?

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    Folks have been writing off BlackBerry for some time now and for good reasons. However, as Apple showcased, it isn’t over until it is over and sometimes events outside of the vendor’s control shift interest back to a core product, feature or service. Take BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), for instance. With the revelations that the NSA (and likely other governments who didn’t have a Snowden event) is monitoring communications on personal devices, BBM has been making a comeback, likely due to the fact that it is secured end-to-end and now runs on Android, BlackBerry and iOS.

    BBM has long been a favorite of IT managers because it was designed to comply with a variety of financial, governmental and health services laws and policies, but to really experience resurgence, it needs to become cool. With recent Epidemiological Modeling suggesting Facebook will go under by 2017, a growing opportunity is available for BBM, or something else, to take up the slack. Let’s talk about this resurgence and what it would take for BBM to become the next Facebook-like service. In short, can BBM become cool?

    NSA: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

    The NSA disclosures seem to be designed to destroy all faith in U.S.-based technology products and services. The sequential release of proof that the government monitors its citizens, after each U.S. administration position effectively declared that to be false, has undermined trust in most U.S. technology companies—particularly those supplying smartphone platforms. The current administration’s latest response hasn’t been well received. Networking systems, messaging systems, and the phones themselves have all been shown to likely be monitored and while the U.S. administration has tried to make this seem like the targets were outside the country, IT knows better because the methods used would have no way of assuring geographic presence. While it is doubtful that more than a small number are actively spied on, the impression created is that everyone is at risk and that has driven companies and governments to look for more secure solutions from firms located outside of the U.S.

    BlackBerry, which had penetrated the most secure of industries, showed up on the short list and now it appears that BlackBerry is once again being favored by professionals. However, a lot has happened in the last decade. Users now buy their own phones and IT often doesn’t get much of a vote. BBM runs on most smartphones, which is driving the resurgence, but if users wanted to use BBM, this would sharply accelerate.

    Can BBM Be Cool?

    Cool, trendy, desirable—whether it is fashion or technology, it takes a scientific method to make something cool. Steve Jobs, while he lived, was the leading expert in the application of that science. He first showcased this with the iPod, a product that was effectively priced out of the market at $500 when MP3 players were selling for under $100, and yet it took the market by storm because he made it exclusive and because he effectively seeded it to influencers who then used the offering publicly.

    Messaging systems aren’t MP3 players, though, and as Microsoft discovered with Zune, if you need two people to make it work, you have to get both folks on board. Zune’s killer feature was music sharing but it only worked if both people had a Zune MP3 player. A messaging system has the same problem: Like a one-handed clap, it isn’t very effective until you get each side using the same system.

    In addition, a growing opportunity has come about as social networks are starting to decline because the promised benefits, particularly with advertisers, haven’t fully emerged. BBM is specifically designed to better engage customers with the brands they love and, according to the companies that use it, it is far more effective than a social network in this regard. People love their celebrities, sports brands, technologies, shows and movies. If user love can be coupled with vendor engagement success, BBM becomes cool and in a far more sustainable way than we saw with the social networks. This is because the resulting communication is designed to be more personal and less like the one-to-many nature of the social networks. In effect, BBM becomes a social-network hybrid with more legs.

    Wrapping Up: BBM Success

    BBM success is predicated on three legs: IT support, which it has; a hybrid social model, which it has; and advocacy to users, which is where the brands that successfully use it come in. They are the lever that BBM has, and if these brands promote BBM to their users as a better way to connect with them, then the users are moved to adopt BBM and the third leg to this success stool is complete.

    The parts are there to make BBM cool. The question is: Can BlackBerry get the brands to step up? Given that it is in the brand’s best interest to do that because the result is increased loyalty, engagement and ad conversion to sales, I think they can do it with the right pitch. But coming up with that pitch and driving the resulting impression through the market is where the heavy lifting will need to be done. BBM can be cool again. The opportunity for it to displace social networks for brand engagement and address current security concerns provide the drivers, but it is up to BlackBerry to execute the plan.

    Rob Enderle
    Rob Enderle
    As President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, Rob provides regional and global companies with guidance in how to create credible dialogue with the market, target customer needs, create new business opportunities, anticipate technology changes, select vendors and products, and practice zero dollar marketing. For over 20 years Rob has worked for and with companies like Microsoft, HP, IBM, Dell, Toshiba, Gateway, Sony, USAA, Texas Instruments, AMD, Intel, Credit Suisse First Boston, ROLM, and Siemens.

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