Driving Change From the Inside Out



BlackBerry

We shortened this case study to accommodate humanity’s collective inability to focus for a long period of time. For the full monty, click here.



 

DNA: Mechanic

The Challenge

How to transform a smartphone pioneer from a hardware manufacturer to a leading enterprise software company and make it relevant to a new audience.

In 2016, BlackBerry stood on the precipice of what may turn out to be the greatest technology turnaround since Apple’s. But while the company’s stock rebounded and buzz about the “new” BlackBerry continued, it wasn’t that long ago that the smartphone trailblazer was considered to be on life support.

 Even as BlackBerry overhauled its business model, the press remained deaf to even a hint of a turnaround, continuing drumbeat of a legendary company in a death spiral. In the eyes of the world, the disruptive-to-disrupted BlackBerry story had already been written. It needed a new narrative, one that acknowledged its legacy and could bridge the issue of how its software, security and mobility assets represented a boon to its new business strategy. It also required a strategy that would shift the conversation from BlackBerry as an irrelevant former hardware manufacturer to BlackBerry as a highly relevant enterprise cybersecurity software player. 

 

The Aha!

One of BlackBerry’s biggest pain points was that the media, analysts and potential customers considered the company to be in the smartphone category; they did not recognize that BlackBerry, a Mechanic, had moved beyond smartphones and had acquired an extensive product portfolio. An important factor in changing that perception would be to associate BlackBerry with another category. But which one?

 Recognizing a huge opportunity for the company to play a leading role in the red-hot Internet of Things (IoT) category, we zeroed in on a new segment within Internet of Things landscape that offered enormous opportunity: the B2B side of IoT, which we would call the Enterprise of Things (EoT). 

 The EoT exists behind the consumer-facing IoT and enables it to thrive, since businesses must be able to securely transmit sensitive data between endpoints. As it moved away from smartphones, BlackBerry had acquired and developed new technologies to secure and manage many other “connected” things in the Enterprise. We appropriated the term Enterprise of Things as a way to define BlackBerry’s new category. BlackBerry would become known as a security software and services company dedicated to securing the EoT. 

Next, we constructed a compelling story arc that described BlackBerry’s journey from smartphone leader to software leader.We then created a 360-degree communications plan using a rigorous framework to mark the goals, initiatives and deliverables required to make BlackBerry’s transition real in the market. At the center was the company’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal: To reposition BlackBerry for a new relevance as an enterprise software cybersecurity company.  

The next priority was to inject the new narrative throughout the company and out into the world. For the next year, we assumed day-to-day leadership of the company’s global communications function, overseeing BlackBerry's existing staff and outside agencies. 

 

The Result

Clear, concise positioning enabled BlackBerry to distill its transformation narrative, which is now embedded throughout all communications, both internally and industry-wide. The company rallied around the new story, which has been disseminated everywhere, including marketing, product, events, sales and HR. Analysts, the press and customers have recognized BlackBerry’s leadership in (and ownership of) the newly validated EoT space.

The shift in public perception began almost immediately. Whereas coverage had been relentlessly focused on Blackberry’s demise (Forbes: “Lessons From the Fall of BlackBerry”), the commentary shifted, first to BlackBerry’s pivot to the software and services industry (Fortune: “Yup, BlackBerry is now a software company”), and later to an acknowledgement of its renewed promise (Business Insider: “It looks like BlackBerry’s focus on software is starting to pay off”).

 The BlackBerry story is no longer about the smartphone; it’s about the smart in the phone—and in cars, containers, medical devices, wearables, consumer appliances, industrial machinery and ultimately the entire enterprise. Our collaboration with BlackBerry resulted in an overhaul of its narrative with the press and analyst communities and set the stage for the company to lead in a new market. 

Going through a turnaround?


 

Driving Change From the Inside Out

 
 

The Challenge

How to transform a smartphone pioneer from a hardware manufacturer to a leading enterprise software company and make it relevant to a new audience.

 After spending the previous few years executing a pivot from smartphone manufacturer to enterprise cybersecurity software leader, in 2016 BlackBerry stood on the precipice of what may turn out to be the greatest technology turnaround since Apple’s. But while the company’s stock rebounded and buzz about the “new” BlackBerry continued, it wasn’t that long ago that the smartphone trailblazer—which once controlled over 50% of the market and whose “CrackBerry" upended the way we communicate and work—was considered to be on life support.

 Even as BlackBerry overhauled its business model, the press remained deaf to even a hint of a turnaround, continuing drumbeat of a legendary company in a death spiral—“a case study,” as Time magazine noted, “about what happens when a tech giant fails to innovate in a consumer-technology market evolving at breakneck speed.” In the eyes of the world, the disruptive-to-disrupted BlackBerry story had already been written. 

 As the onslaught of negative headlines continued, the company knew it needed to offer a compelling alternative, one that could break through the smartphone noise. As W. B. Yeats warned in “The Second Coming,” his poem of anarchy, “The falcon cannot hear the falconer.”

 BlackBerry needed a new narrative, one that acknowledged its legacy and could bridge the issue of how its software, security and mobility assets represented a boon to its new business strategy. It also required a new strategy that would shift the conversation from BlackBerry as an irrelevant former hardware manufacturer to BlackBerry as a highly relevant enterprise cybersecurity software player. 

 Over an 18-month period, beginning in 2016, BlackBerry and Cunningham Collective worked together to change the public narrative and make BlackBerry relevant again, this time to a new audience.

 

The Aha!

It was clear that one of BlackBerry’s biggest pain points was that the media, analysts and potential customers considered the company to be in the smartphone category; they did not recognize that BlackBerry, a Mechanic, had moved far beyond smartphones and had acquired an extensive product portfolio. Thus, one of the most important factors in changing that perception would be associating BlackBerry with another category. But which one?

 We considered “security software” and “enterprise software” but quickly realized they were too broad (e.g., security software encompasses everything from a personal firewall to government-level spyware) and crowded. Through extensive research, we recognized a huge opportunity for the company to play a leading role in the red-hot Internet of Things (IoT) category. The good news was it naturally leveraged BlackBerry’s heritage and current product suite. The bad news was that the IoT as a category was also too broad and crowded.

 

A New Category: The Enterprise of Things

 After a review of the company’s innovations and future plans, including its groundbreaking work in connected and self-driving cars, we zeroed in on a new segment within Internet of Things landscape that offered enormous opportunity for growth: the B2B side of IoT, which we would call the Enterprise of Things. The EoT exists behind the consumer-facing IoT and enables it to thrive, since businesses must be able to securely transmit sensitive data between endpoints. The EoT is a collection of devices, computers, sensors, trackers, equipment and other “things” that communicate with eachother to enable smart product development, distribution, marketing and sales. BlackBerry was uniquely qualified to address this emerging market need because of its legacy leadership and ongoing innovationin securing and managing mobile devices. As it moved away from smartphones, BlackBerry had acquired and developed new technologies to secure and manage many other “connected” things in the Enterprise.

 We appropriated the term Enterprise of Things—which already existed but had only been used in a minor way—as a way to define BlackBerry’s new category. BlackBerry would thus become known as a security software and services company dedicated to securing the EoT.

“The concept of owning a category and owning an expression was eye-opening, said Marty Beard, BlackBerry’s former chief operating officer, who described the notion as the company’s first Aha moment in the positioning process. Initially, however, he and the executive team resisted the idea. “I wasn’t sure [the Enterprise of Things] would be distinct enough from the Internet of Things.” He said. But our team’s confidence in BlackBerry’s ability to win in the EoT category won them over. Let’s own that category, Beard recalled us saying. Let’s really own it!

 

 Creating a Compelling Narrative

Now, for the last piece of the puzzle, we needed to construct a compelling story arc that described BlackBerry’s journey from smartphone leader to a software leader—one that the company could coalesce around.

“Cunningham Collective was great at helping us think about the strategy and distill it down to a vision and statement that really became a rallying cry for the company,” said Beard.

BlackBerry’s new narrative and positioning:

 Once upon a time, BlackBerry was a giant in the land of smartphones. Most people who needed or wanted one had a BlackBerry smartphone. We invented much of what the smartphone is today and we built one of the world’s most globally recognized brands.We were the market leaders and we ruled the roost. But more than that, we developed a strong emotional connection with our customers that persists even today. They love us. 

 But the market changed. Apple introduced the iPhone. Google brought Android to market. Suddenly competition was everywhere and moving fast. We weren’t fast enough. We lost our grip and fell behind. We watched our market share drop significantly and our relevance diminish over time.  But all the while we continued to innovate in connected security and mobility, and we began to focus that innovation on software rather than hardware. 

That’s when our board brought in a new CEO. 

 John Chen joined us as our leader in 2013 after a very successful stint turning around Sybase. He recognized our legacy and believed that BlackBerry could be a leader again, but this time by taking advantage of our software, security and mobility assets and phasing out the manufacture, distribution and marketing of handsets. And we are nearly there.

 In addition to our new leadership and the focus on software, we are also blessed with the market conditions to win

 The time is right for BlackBerry to be a leader again.

 OUR VISION: Build a Safer World

OUR MISSION: Secure the Enterprise of Things

OUR VALUE PROPOSITION: With our BlackBerry Secure platform, we provide the most secure and comprehensive platform to connect people, devices, processes, systems and organizations for the Enterprise of Things.

With the positioning in place, we were ready to carry BlackBerry’s new story into the market. We created a 360-degree communications plan using a “strategic wheel,” a rigorous framework to mark the key goals, initiatives and deliverables required to make BlackBerry’s transition real in the market. At the center of the wheel was the company’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal: To reposition BlackBerry for a new relevance as an enterprise software cybersecurity company.  

 One of the benefits of envisioning the plan as a wheel is that it makes it clear that every action taken by the various working groups must be in unwavering support of the central objective. 

 The next priority was to inject the new narrative throughout the company and out into the world. Just as a virus moves through a biological ecosystem, infecting and replicating as it goes, we wanted to infuse BlackBerry’s entire ecosystem with a message virus that would be disseminated frequently and consistently.

 Everyone involved understood that this would be a soup-to-nuts effort; Blackberry wanted a wholesale, inside-out communications rebuild. A 180-degree industry pivot requires more than press releases and blog posts, no matter how well crafted. With BlackBerry in a fight for its life, the company needed to communicate not only that it occupied an entirely new business category, but also that it could win in that new industry. In addition, it needed to boost public and industry confidence that BlackBerry could indeed win as an enterprise software player.

 For the next 12 months, we assumed day-to-day leadership of the company’s global communications function, overseeing BlackBerry's existing staff and outside agencies. The department encompassed public relations, social media and employee communications across 14 countries throughout North America, Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. With a new narrative that captured the essence of its brand, BlackBerry could begin to crystallize its position in a new market. The communications overhaul ensured that all internal and external communications were aligned against that new narrative and optimized to fulfill the company’s updated objectives.

 

 The Result

Clear, concise positioning enabled BlackBerry to distill its transformation narrative, which is now embedded throughout all communications, both internally and industry-wide. The company rallied around the new story, which has been disseminated everywhere, including marketing, product, events, sales and HR. Analysts, the press and—most important—customers have embraced it as well, recognizing BlackBerry’s leadership in (and ownership of) the newly validated EoT space.

 After years of decline, BlackBerry’s stock hit a four-year high in January 2018. Even before that, Reuters quoted a Morningstar analyst as saying, “The growth specifically in enterprise software is good to see.” And as CNN Money noted the previous month, “BlackBerry has emerged as a big player in connected cars and the Internet of Things thanks to its QNX software unit.” 

 But the shift in public perception began almost immediately after we introduced the new narrative. Within two months of the execution of our strategy and the debut of the new narrative, the media’s tone started to change. Whereas coverage had been relentlessly focused on Blackberry’s demise (Forbes: “Lessons From the Fall of BlackBerry”), the commentary shifted, first to BlackBerry’s pivot to the software and services industry (Fortune: “Yup, BlackBerry is now a software company”), and later to an acknowledgement of its renewed promise (Business Insider: “It looks like BlackBerry’s focus on software is starting to pay off”).

 Other articles have been even more effusive. TechCrunch encapsulated the optimism surrounding BlackBerry’s transformation: “When you think about dead companies walking, BlackBerry was clearly one that came to mind, but…the company is actually making a comeback as a software company focused on security, and its latest quarterly earnings report suggests the pivot is working splendidly.” 

“Moving to own the Enterprise of Things space [LC7] was exactly the right positioning for the company,” said Beard[LC8] , pointing to the reaction following an Analyst Day the company hosted to debut its new positioning. “We really hammered home the Enterprise of Things, and the feedback we got was excellent. People thought it was very consistent with BlackBerry—where we’d been and where we’re going. They could see it as distinct from the more-consumer Internet of Things. The initial positive feedback gave us the confidence to more aggressively roll out the narrative.” 

 The BlackBerry story is no longer about the smartphone; it’s about the smart in the phone—and in cars, containers, medical devices, wearables, consumer appliances, industrial machinery and ultimately the entire enterprise. Cunningham Collective’s collaboration with BlackBerry resulted in an overhaul of its narrative with the press and analyst communities and set the stage for the company to lead in a new market: The Enterprise of Things. 

 “You changed the mindset of the company,” said CEO John Chen, pointing to the success of Cunningham Collective’s method of driving change from the inside out. Successful brand transformation requires that all stakeholders embrace a new mindset—that they have a narrative to coalesce around. Only then can a company’s culture be shifted.

Although BlackBerry’s final chapters have yet to be written, the future appears promising. To answer Yeats, the falcon can now hear the falconer.

Going through a turnaround?

 
Andy Cunningham