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For 21st Century Brands, “Iconic” Means More Than Recognizable



By Dr. Robert Passikoff

After months of looking for a buyer, BlackBerry has given up plans to sell and has indicated their intent to raise one billion dollars to use re-booting their brand. Oh, and they’re just plain booting Thorsten Heins, current CEO, and replacing him with John Chen, former Sybase CEO. Mr. Chen was quoted saying, “BlackBerry is an iconic brand with enormous potential, but it’s going to take time, discipline, and tough decisions to reclaim our success.” That kind of depends on how you define “iconic brand.”

BlackBerry, once a market leader, lost share in a dramatic shift in the business world to a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy for employees, but mostly to other brands like Apple, Samsung, and pretty much any phone running Google’s Android software. In the smartphone category, those are the brands that have become icons, i.e., brands that best meet the consumers’ expectations for the Ideal for mobile devices, and BlackBerry doesn’t do that so well anymore, so A) it’s probably not the wisest thing to position yourself as an “icon,” and B) it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of tough decisions to make any gains, if any at all, and have the brand survive intact.

According to leading-indicator Brand Keys Loyalty and Engagement Indices, the BlackBerry death spiral of market share puts a real damper on icon status and any real potential for a fast and/or significant brand bounce-back. This October’s brand rankings look like this, with percentages indicating how well the brand is seen to meet expectations for the Ideal smartphones by the brands’ own customers:

Apple 92%

Samsung 89%

LG 84%

Nokia 82%

Motorola/HTC 80%

Blackberry 54%

If you think the BlackBerry evaluation is low, well, it is. It was 14% higher at the beginning of 3Q’13, and even then they only had a 4% share of market. As of the latest quarter, the brand accounts for less than 2% of all new smartphone shipments, so pretty much an engagement death spiral, too. Oh, and they’ve reported the company market cap is only $4 billion, a 95% drop in five years. Somehow you’d expect more from a truly “iconic” brand.

Anyway, it might be worth pointing out to Mr. Chen that being “iconic” as the term gets so loosely tossed around today – a synonym for “recognizable” – doesn’t quite work as well for brands as it did in years past. Sure, you need to be recognized, but today you need to be recognized for something that matters to consumers and that emotionally or rationally differentiates you from the pack. And, at the very least, you need to be able to meet consumer expectations at some reasonable level. If you can’t, consumers just fly off to other brands that can.

Anyone remember Pan Am?

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