Tech companies need certain things to be successful: It must have a compelling product, it must be competitive, it needs a distribution channel and there must be demand for what its selling.
Above all, though, it must be visible — people are quicker than ever to move on to the next shiny thing, and a company that runs silent runs the risk of being overtaken and left behind. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is a prime example of a tech company that’s ticking all of those boxes and succeeding wildly.
However, Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) illustrates what happens when you let that all-important visibility lapse. And it also provided a recent positive example of how visibility can provide a much-needed boost. All it took was for Verizon (NYSE:VZ) to release a statement Friday saying it would support RIM’s long-awaited BB10 devices when they launch to boost the beleaguered smartphone maker’s stock by 7%.
We’re now in prime time for new product releases from tech companies — everything from Amazon’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) new line of Kindles, to Apple’s pending iPhone 5 launch and expected iPad Mini, Nokia’s (NYSE:NOK) new Lumia smartphones, and Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) new Windows launches (along with its own line of tablets).
Consumer demand for new devices is fueled in large part by the tech press, and successful companies leverage this by constantly staging press conferences and product launch events and sending out press releases. Sometimes this gets very competitive. In the past few weeks, we had Samsung upstaging Nokia’s Windows Phone 8-powered Lumia phone announcement, and Rakuten tried the same thing by announcing its new lineup of Kobo tablets and e-readers just days before Amazon’s big Kindle reveal.
Generally speaking, these high-profile events boost visibility drive consumer demand and often result in investor confidence. But occasionally things can go wrong — a recent case in point being Nokia.
- First, Samsung took some of the air of NOK’s sails by robbing it of the PR value of being the first to officially announce a Windows Phone 8 smartphone.
- Then the demo of the new devices stumbled with technical difficulties.
- Then the tech press discovered the promo for a key feature (the smartphone’s camera) had been doctored.
- Finally, crucial details — price, release date and carrier support — were lacking.
While Nokia did receive considerable press coverage for its new Lumia phones, investors were less than impressed by the stumbles and punished the company by driving its stock price down 16% in a day.
Another method of feeding the tech press is the fine art of the leak. A 2010 MacObserver article points out that Apple has been doing this for years, along with what purpose these intentional leaks serve.
I have no doubt, for example, that many of the iPad Mini and iPhone 5 “leaks” have been intentional on Apple’s part. Gauging public and press reaction to an iPad Mini has likely helped the company decide whether demand is there for the device or not, and what price points it needs to hit. Leaking the new dock connector that’s expected to be part of the iPhone 5 and all iOS devices going forward likely serves a different purpose: cushioning the blow of realizing that existing iPhone/iPad and iPod peripherals will no longer be compatible with new Apple devices (at least without an adapter). This should help deflect negative reaction from the official announcement.
Going back to RIM: Despite its many problems, the company has many of those ingredients for success. It has a loyal customer base and millions of customers waiting for new products to be released. It has a distribution channel. What it’s missing is visibility in the tech press — and reports on disastrous financial reports don’t count.
Instead, provide creditable information that shows actual progress on a real product, proving you haven’t literally disappeared from contention during the past year. Arrange for a few more choice leaks. Get the tech press excited instead of dismissive or skeptical. Now is an especially crucial time because the tidal wave of new iPhone and Windows Phone 8 coverage is going to become overwhelming, and BlackBerry customers who see no light at the end of the tunnel are going to be sorely tempted to switch — at which point they’ll be gone, at least for a few years (if not for good).
The BlackBerry 10 Jam World Tour isn’t a bad idea, reaching out to the crucial developer market. But RIM needs to get out there with some specifics to go beyond developers and get back on the radar of smartphone buyers. Verizon publicly committing to the new platform was a great start. Now it needs to be a little more aggressive and keep up that momentum.
Talk to the BB10 product roadmap (which also has been leaked), start to get some details out there about specs, build interest in the new devices and operating system.
And the time is coming to get more specific about release dates. After constant delays and the latest “Q1 2013” timeframe — which could mean any time from January to March — the company has a credibility problem. Because of the radio silence, many people have jumped to the conclusion that BB10 devices are seriously behind in terms of specs, the OS is half-baked or the BB smartphones are essentially vaporware.
With a determined push, RIM can undo some of this damage, prevent waves of its existing customers from giving up and hopping on the iPhone 5 bandwagon, and just maybe win itself some new converts.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.