Research In Motion Ltd. and its new CEO, Thorsten Heins, should not try to replicate Apple Inc. or Google Inc. Instead, they should refocus themselves on their core business of providing the most up-to-date smartphones, with maximally secure e-mail – ones that are highly effective in performing the tasks their users want and need.
The world has room enough for three or four major brands in this industry. Among those competitors, differentiation of products and, more broadly, of culture is both desirable and necessary.
RIM’s recent troubles are partly attributable to an oversensitivity to criticism from the Apple world – a milieu with a different sensibility. Its efforts to copy Apple’s playfulness have sometimes been heavy-handed.
As Matthew Kelly of Level5 Strategic Brand Advisors says, RIM customers primarily “want to get stuff done”; they are glad to be getting Angry Birds, too, but that is secondary. The sense of fun should be accommodated, and a tablet should be among RIM’s range of products. The priorities, however, are reliable and safe service, a convenient keyboard, and delivery of new products on schedule – in an age when people update their devices about every 18 months. The customers’ trust in RIM’s timing must be restored.
No doubt, the vacancy in the position of chief marketing officer should be filled, as Mr. Heins promises to do soon. But the essential message has to come from the CEO himself – especially after years of the unconventional two-headed leadership of Michael Lazaridis and James Balsillie – which worked well at first but was not viable in the longer term. Mr. Heins has said there will not be a “seismic shift” under his leadership, but a subtle, barely detectable repositioning will not suffice. The markets – customers and investors – want to hear a convincing narrative. In the end, of course, the performance of the products will be decisive.
In spite of the fall in RIM’s share price and its loss of market share in North America, RIM continues to be profitable and has a great deal of cash. It has one of the world’s four major mobile operating systems. And it has global reach. In large developing economies, RIM is well ahead. North America may still have a more sophisticated electronic culture, but the BRIC countries and other similar economies will be the sources of most of the economic growth of the next few decades.
Research In Motion Ltd. has many strengths. Its missteps must be taken seriously; a new forfeiture of trust could be fatal. But if the company reasserts its superiority in the practical products and services in which it has excelled, its future will be bright.