The Playbook is being Marketed to Fail

I don’t think this iteration of the BlackBerry Playbook will do very well, and I blame RIM’s marketing team.

If you’re not sure what the Playbook is, let me explain — and thank you for proving my point. The BlackBerry Playbook is a tablet computer released last week by Research In Motion, the company behind BlackBerry phones. It’s chief competitor in the tablet space is the iPad, followed by the handful of Android tablets that are currently available.

It’s a great device. The hardware is plenty powerful, and the software is certainly good enough for a 1.0 release. It supports native apps written in several languages, and web apps that can take advantage of HTML5 and Adobe Flash.

The Playbook has a lot going for it, but the one thing it’s sorely lacking is a marketing strategy. Without this, it will fail.

People need to know you have a product before they can buy it.

I spend a lot of time on this Internet thing. I read too many blogs, I stalk people on Twitter, I waste time on Facebook. As a tech-savvy 20-something year old, you’d think I would be the target market for a sexy new tablet. But alas! Everything I know about the Playbook, I learned from friends that work at RIM. Is that how the marketing team was expecting to reach me?

What’s their plan for everyone else? Let potential customers hear about it through word of mouth — weeks or months after launch — if at all?

That doesn’t work anymore. If you’re going to compete with someone like Apple, you have to be loud about what you’re doing.

And that brings us to an even bigger problem with RIM’s silent strategy:

When you don’t make your product sound great, your customers don’t either.

iPad users don’t need to think to explain why they love their iPads. They need only recite whatever Steve Jobs and the rest of the Apple Marketing Messiahs have told them about it.

What are potential Playbook users going to say when they talk to their iOS brethren?

“It has Flash”?

Fail.

Specs don’t sell products. Potential users want to know which tablet will improve their day-to-day life, not which one has more RAM. And that’s marketing’s job.

We’ve seen this before.

If RIM isn’t convinced that a lack of marketing will kill their product, maybe Google can sway them.

Remember when Google Wave launched? It was going to replace email, and add awesome features, and be everything to everyone!

Not a single person I knew could explain what it was in one sentence. What followed was confusion, lacklustre adoption, and ultimately, termination.

I loved Google Wave. It was a fantastic product that was constantly misunderstood because there was no marketing message to support it.

And as I read article after article, I can’t shake the feeling that I know where the Playbook is headed…

This post also appears on the Macadamian blog.

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8 Responses to “The Playbook is being Marketed to Fail”

  1. Frank Kuschnereit Says:

    I have to disagree. First reports are that the PB sold over 50,000 units on its first day and is on track to sell 500,000 in this quarter.(Not as much as iPads but way more than Xooms or Galaxys). RIM has increased factory orders 100% and 4G version will be out in June. see here: http://www.enterprisemobiletoday.com/daily_news/article.php/425788/4G-BlackBerry-PlayBook-Coming-in-June.htm
    The fact is that RIM is letting its retailers do a lot of the advertising. PBs are on the front page of the Futureshop and Best Buy flyers although we are starting to see some TV ads. Much to do was made about the small lineups at stores on opening day but then again PBs were launched in 20,000 retail stores vice a few hundred Apple stores for iPads. Preorders were also allowed for PBs but not iPads. The fact remains that if you have an iPhone you likely will get an iPad but if you have a Blackberry(and there are 50 million of us) then you will need a PB.

  2. dan Says:

    I definitely agree that the Playbook performed well on launch day, and that existing BB users will flock to it. It’s a great device, and we desperately need more competition in the tablet market.

    The problem I see is in attracting new users. RIM is focusing almost exclusively on existing BB customers, and that will catch up with them eventually. Their phone platform is slowly losing market share, and they won’t be able to ride its coattails forever.

    It’s fine to let retailers advertise, but that’s not the same as making a compelling case for your own product. The commercials are a good start, and hadn’t started airing when I posted this. Let’s hope they keep it up!

  3. Frank Kuschnereit Says:

    I think RIM’s long term plan is to switch all their phones to QNX. What do you think of QNX OS as compared to IOS?

  4. dan Says:

    Picking up QNX was a really, really smart move. RIM got a great OS out of it, and a lot of really great people as well.

    I haven’t used the Playbook enough to really comment on how its OS stacks up to Apple’s, but from what I have seen it’s definitely a solid interface. I can definitely see it being ported to the phone line as well.

    What’s most impressive about the new OS (to me) is how versatile it is. It supports Flash/AIR, HTML5, Java/Android, and C++. This is a really, really wide set of languages and frameworks, so there is a ton of potential for making cool apps. No other mobile platform is anywhere near this flexible.

    It’s an excellent time to be a gadget geek, there’s just so much going on right now!

  5. Frank Kuschnereit Says:

    I have not used any Apple products but I picked up a Playbook on the first day and am very happy with it. It is fast and slick and works very well with my Blackberry. In order to bridge the two all I had to do was show my phone a QR scan and it did the rest. I use my WiFi connection at home and the Blackberry data plan on the road. Since my Blackberry data is compressed I have yet to dent my monthly cap. The PB can be linked to my laptop in mass storage mode so it was easy to just copy over my music and videos without having to worry about DRM. The speakers on the PB are amazing. Sitting out on the patio and listening to music while surfing the web is a joy. Youtube videos stream smoothly. The browser is fast and every site renders perfectly. You can pinch to zoom in or out. Not a ton of apps yet but with such a great browser I just go to the site I need rather than installing a special app for it. I wont say that it replaces my laptop just yet but the PB is so portable that you can use it in so many more places. It slips into my jacket pocket or my wife’s purse. All and all a great device with a rock solid OS. BTW, congrats to MS window phone OS. I heard that with the latest update, they now have ‘cut and paste’ for the first time. :-)

  6. Simon MacDonald Says:

    Personally I think the PlayBook is great from a hardware and OS point of view but it really doesn’t feel like a BlackBerry device. I don’t know for certain but I have a feeling the PlayBook was in development by QNX and RIM bought up the company not only for their real time OS but also the PlayBook. RIM needed to get a tablet out quickly or be left behind and that’s why I think they rushed the PlayBook to market. The lack of native mail, calendar, contact applications makes me think the device was not initially designed as a RIM device from the ground up. Yes, I know you can pair the device with a BB phone to get that functionality but that is kind of a kludge to me.

    Dan you mention the proliferation of API’s for the PlayBook but I look at that as a minus instead of a plus. RIM has done a horrible job of supporting developers for years and there is no way they can split their focus between all of those different SDK’s.

  7. Frank Kuschnereit Says:

    I see it as a ‘What comes first – the Chicken or the egg’ type situation. Developers will write apps if there is a market but RIM has to sell a bunch of Playbooks first in order to create the market. I see more and more apps being announced for the PB every day now as developers realize that there will be a market for apps with the PB.

  8. dan Says:

    Simon, I love the way you describe it: “the proliferation of API’s”. That’s exactly what it is, and exactly what I like about it.

    While you’re probably right that it’s going to cause headaches for developer support, I think it’s truly amazing to have so many options. Some specific things I’m interested in watching:

    1. I’m excited to see which platform “wins”. I suspect one SDK will eventually overtake the others and become the de facto standard, and I’m legitimately curious to watch that play out.

    2. With this many options, most developers will have some experience that they can leverage to create software for the Playbook. This low barrier for entry will have all kinds of repercussions on the quantity, pricing and quality of apps and experiences available for the device.

    Regardless of RIM’s ability to support this many platforms, I think this will be a great experiment for the mobile development industry!

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