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Four Ways BlackBerry Can Win Back Subscribers, Get Back to Its Roots

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BlackBerry has to offer solutions that support its claim to be the most secure and efficient messaging platform on the planet.

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BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) used to be known worldwide for secure messaging. How did we know our BlackBerry messaging was secure?

BlackBerry offered consumers a service called BIS, and it used a proprietary network (far from the Wild West of the Internet) to compress, encrypt, and push messages out to customers. Moreover, BIS was intelligent enough to follow the user wherever they travelled, thereby saving loads of roaming fees. It also had PIN-based messages if you wanted to appear really stealthy.

BIS was a "walled garden" email and messaging system. One had to be a member (subscriber) to enter the garden, and thus it felt…well, secure. BlackBerry, via BIS (and its enterprise big brother BES), was synonymous with secure, compressed, push email and messaging. And the business users rejoiced, slept better, and generally ignored the security snob who tried to debate the merits of other secure solutions.

However, with BB10 (at least for consumers), BIS is gone…and so, too, is that secure feeling. We've been kicked out of the garden.

My BB10 is now just like everything else. It uses the Internet and "polling" to get email. It uses ActiveSync or Pop3 or iMAP to sync email. BBM (its proprietary messaging client) does use BlackBerry's network, although I had to look hard to find that to be true.

Still, a BB10 phone feels like every other smartphone we can use in the Wild West. I also lost my data compression (important in some emerging markets with lower bandwidth connections), my push email, and my encryption. Without these features, I might as well get a "cooler" smartphone.

Which, if you are BlackBerry, is a huge problem.

If one is lucky enough to be an employee of a company that uses BES10, he can segment the company side of his device from the consumer side, with the former being secured. I'm now one-half secure. However, there are many millions of small businesses, business professionals, and consumers who are not part of a BES-enabled organization, though still want…require…the same services.

Earlier this week, I wrote about the service problem facing BlackBerry (see BlackBerry Has a Business Model Problem). Or more specifically, a "lack of services" problem – for every consumer BB7 user that moves to BB10, BlackBerry loses a $4/month in subscription revenue. But, as I point out above, it also turns a customer that values secure messaging into a customer that doesn't have a choice to get secure messaging.

In its attempt to be like Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), BlackBerry is ruining its brand. Instead of pushing email to its customers, BlackBerry is pushing customers to Apple or Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. (OTCMKTS:SSNLF).

The BlackBerry brand is supposed to mean "data efficient," "guaranteed delivery," and "secure messaging." Not "some messages are secure." Not "sometimes delivered."

It should mean fast, reliable, secure messaging. (And it's always been a plus that I can use a real keyboard that allows my adult thumbs to pump out a large number of secure messages.)

BlackBerry has spent more than a billion dollars on its global network. It is the heart of the company's business model, its competitive advantage…its brand. It brought in $4 billion in fees in 2012 (but those same fees will be down double digits this year). Years of lousy handsets didn't seem to keep users away.

In the new world of BB10, with much better handsets, the company is losing customers (subscribers) faster than ever before. BlackBerry management thinks it has a device problem. It really has a services problem that is turning into a branding problem.

BlackBerry has to get back to its roots in secure messaging. It needs to bring back the next generation of BIS. It must offer cross-platform BIS. It has to offer a set of value-added solutions that support its claim as the most secure and efficient messaging platform on the planet.

And it must be able to charge for these services. As shareholders, literally and figuratively, we have to believe that a billion dollar global, secure, data-efficient messaging network has to be good for something. Here are a few suggestions where to start (there are no doubt many more "services" that can be introduced, but this is a beginning):
  • Introduce next-gen BIS email for BlackBerry 10 Users. When BlackBerry ships BBM for iOS and Android this summer, bring back BIS email for BB10 users. Mr. Snowden, courtesy of the NSA, just provided about $1 billion in marketing funds supporting a truly secure email and messaging solution.
  • Introduce BIS email and BBM to iOS and Android devices. Deliver a cross-platform secure email client that shares a single address book and calendar with BBM.
  • Make BBM a cross service messaging client and service. Support AIM (NYSE:AOL), Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), Google Talk (NASDAQ:GOOG), MSN (NASDAQ:MSFT), Skype, LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD) and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) users in a single interface. Moreover, to the extent possible, provide presence information and make those communications secure.
  • Introduce BIS email and messaging to the Windows and OS X laptops and desktops. Offer the secure messaging client and a plug in to make Outlook more secure, on both Windows and OS X.
Why can't I have secure messaging on all my devices?

Would you, a business professional, pay extra to know your email and texts are secure? Would you love to be able to have a contact list where you actually know if the other person is there and receiving your messages? Would you like to be able to "recall" a message you sent incorrectly? For the price of one Latte a month, professionals could have peace of mind.

There are other valuable services the company could offer if it becomes the network of secure messaging. For business, it can offer archiving and e-discovery services for a fee (this is actually a robust business that's right now going to, among others, Symantec Corporation (NASDAQ:SYMC), Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ) and ProofPoint Inc (NASDAQ:PFPT). It can strike a deal with Microsoft to offer secure delivery of Office 365 (Exchange, Lync, and SharePoint).

There is a subset of smartphone customers (right now 72 million) that will pay each month to be a subscriber to the services a network like this can provide. In marketing circles it's called differentiation, and BlackBerry can use a big dose of that.

But BlackBerry can't be just a little secure. It can't just be for BBM messages…it has to be ALL messages. For all people that value security and speed (not just employees of companies using BES).

That's the marketing edge. And it's already in place. WITH a brand.

BlackBerry management has been quoted as saying the BES10 plus BB10 handset combination is the most secure. That may be true today, but it shouldn't be an excuse to not be fully cross-platform. I suggest the company call VMware, Inc (NYSE:VMW) and see if it can rent its VM technology for smartphones (after years of work, VMware can now push an app in a VM "bubble" out to an iOS or Android device, and have it isolated from the rest of the user's system).

The opportunity is staggering.

The Total Available Market (TAM) is 600 million Windows machines, plus 1 billion smartphones, plus 70 million OS X computers, plus 200 million Tablet users, plus... ? And it equals a lot of potential endpoints that could sign up for secure messaging.

What if there was no additional charge for a BB10 handset with a standard data plan, but the company charged $2/month for each secure messaging application a user adds to other devices, billed via your wireless provider or BlackBerry World? A well-constructed plan could quickly make up for the loss in BB7 BIS services.

BlackBerry can still charge for full BES10 MDM/MAM licenses for companies that want secure and manageable "everything." That should be a decent business, too. It can still pursue a "mobile platform" strategy (BB10 on devices that are not phones). It might even have an opportunity to get out of the manufacturing business and run a global, secure messaging and management business.

I urge BlackBerry to get back to its roots, take advantage of its 15 years of brand equity and its material network assets and experience. As Sun Tzu might tell BlackBerry management if he were on the Board, "When the enemy is too strong to be attacked directly, then attack something he holds dear."

Disclosure: Minyanville Studios, a division of Minyanville Media, has a business relationship with BlackBerry.
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Copyright 2011 Minyanville Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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