BlackBerry growth depends on youth

BlackBerry’s turnaround

BlackBerry has suffered a turnaround of fortunes since 2009: declining market shares (especially in key markets like India, Indonesia and South Africa) combined with a number of high profile announcements from traditional corporate buyers and government agencies that have opted for iPhone and Android.

BlackBerry has already pulled out of Japan and is now rumored to be pulling out of Korea (following HTC and Motorola), citing an inability to compete with Samsung on its home turf.

But despite the doom and gloom, BlackBerry has space to maneuver. With over $2bn in cash, BlackBerry could instigate a turnaround story but only if they maintain a lean structure with a core focus on the customer segments that drive their brand appeal.

The BYOD Movement

A significant market change that has worked against BlackBerry is the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement. The decision about which mobile phone to bring to work has shifted from the corporate IT department to individual employees. In a survey of 20-something employees, 55% view using their device at work as a ‘right’ rather than a ‘privilege.’ Additionally, 66% consider themselves – not the company – to be responsible for the security of the personal devices they use for work purposes.

BYOD is here to stay and the more vocal, younger employees are opting for devices they feel are more relevant such as Samsung and Apple. BlackBerry’s traditional enterprise-focused marketing is being made redundant by youth driven Earned Media. With Samsung’s recent move into the enterprise market, BlackBerry’s privileged position within corporate IT departments may also be under threat.

Why are youth key to BlackBerry’s turnaround story?

The youth of today will influence the executives of tomorrow. Once handset choice shifts from corporate IT departments to individuals, the decision is shaped by Earned Media. 65% of youth bought handsets based on peer recommendation.

Female teens are traditionally a core Beachhead for the BlackBerry brand. This group is twice as likely to own a BlackBerry handset compared to adults. Not only are they more likely to own a BlackBerry, young aspirant females are also the most influential. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a recent press interview that female Facebookers have 8% more friends and are responsible for 62% of all the sharing on Facebook.

The popularity of BlackBerry extends from the youth to the adult space. Recent industry data found that 56% of women own a smartphone, as opposed to 51% of men, and BlackBerry is clearly their preferred platform (21% of women against 15% of men).

Ethnic youth are also a key Beachhead for BlackBerry. African Americans in the US and young Caribbeans and African descendents in the UK have traditionally been the first to turn BlackBerry into a relevant brand to the wider youth market, preferring BlackBerry over iPhone 2 to 4 times more.

While youth mobile is a $400bn market annually, the value to BlackBerry is in how this market influences the future executive market. The key mobile applications of today have been driven by the youth market (SMS, Facebook and BBM). Now these applications are widely used and monetized corporates but they would not have reached prominence without the original youth Change Agents.

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About Graham Brown

Co-founder of mobileYouth. Cultural explorer, ethnographer and digital anthropologist. Author of The annual mobileYouth report and books The Mobile Youth: Voices of the Mobile Generation, All is Social, The Youth Marketing Handbook, Fans and Youth Marketing 101.

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