Pipeline: Tell me a bit about Brandimensions – what you do and how you do it.
Bradley Silver: In 2001 we developed a proprietary Internet monitoring technology that combines technology and human intelligence to analyse Web information. What’s interesting about it is we have a patent pending on our process. We have a linkmap and a linkwalker robot that traverses the Internet, going from link to link, which we use to create a topology of the Internet. It illustrates how every page on the Internet is interconnected. The size of our database is larger than the MSN search engine. We program our bots and they run out to the Internet to identify content or discourse on blogs, message boards, discussion forums and news groups – anywhere where there is consumer and media and industry information being exchanged.
That information is downloaded into a database, at which point it goes through a process of language analysis. We apply a series of algorithms, and those algorithms extract irrelevant information and then rank, order and categorize relevant content. From that point the information goes out to (our) plus-400 data analysts across North America and they contextualize the information and provide detail as to who is providing that information. So things like if I use the word fox versus dog: depending on who is saying it and what the product is, it has very different meanings. That same word can mean both good and bad. Then they’ll say the individual has told us X, Y and Z about themselves. If that person uses the same online handle in multiple locations, we can track their influences and what they’re saying and where they’re saying it.
Pipeline: Is anyone else doing this sort of thing? It sounds fairly unique in terms of market research.
BS: There are two or three other companies in the word of mouth analysis space, but we are the only company that applies this process to analyzing information – the others primarily use technology alone to derive consumer sentiment.
Pipeline: Why did you choose to look at the consumer market in the research you did on BlackBerrys?
BS:This type of research is typically a leading indicator of what is going to happen, and we wanted to get an understanding from the consumer’s perspective what the environment looked like. We wanted to understand if the lawsuit was having an impact on their purchasing decisions, and how they were aligned in terms of brand awareness, recognition and loyalty so we can take this information and give a heads up to the manufacturers and the market as to what the future may look like.
Pipeline: So when you say consumer what do you mean exactly?
BS: Typically when we apply the word consumer relative to the type of research we do it is people who are on some level engaged in the product. So they either have recently purchased and want to talk about why they purchased, or they’re about to purchase and are looking for information from other like-minded people to help guide them through the decision-making process, or they’ve recently purchased and have had a negative experience or are on some level engaged or have an active interest in the industry and want to talk about that perspective.
Pipeline: So the definition of consumer is changing?
BS: One of the things we do with our clients is help them redefine what the marketing and manufacturing process looks like. So it’s no longer, ‘we are the business community’ on one side of the fence and there’s the consumer market on the other side. We retrain them to understand that marketing is about participating in a conversation and no longer about distributing a mass message out to a market and trying to influence people around that mass message. We show them how to integrate the end user into the manufacturing, design and marketing process, and in doing so have those people become advocates and influencers on behalf of an organization. They also will invite the manufacturer into the conversation. So the lines between consumer and business are now blurred. It’s one likeminded, I wouldn’t say homogenous, but it’s one dual interested community of people who want to sell a product to a group of people who need that product, and are both involved in the design and development of that product.
Pipeline: Would you say you’re looking not so much at market share as at mindshare?
BS: Typically. That was one of the interesting findings of the report, because typically in a mature market we find that buzzshare or mindshare is usually tied to actual market share. We know that RIM owns 80 per cent of the market now, but in terms of mindshare or buzzshare it’s the inverse, so it demonstrates from a brand or marketing perspective they’re on pretty shaky ground right now.
Pipeline: What did the results of your research tell you in terms of how RIM should market its products to consumers if it wants to capture a bigger part of that market?
BS: They need to engage the end user. They need to communicate with the end user, and make them become part of the process. That’s where Palm or Treo has been very effective with Web sites like Treonauts, TreoCentral, MyTreo, EverythingTreo — there’s a customer community out there, and Treo is involved in communicating with that community and letting them participate in all elements of business, and RIM needs to do that.
Pipeline: One of the stories I saw talks about the possibility of adding things like cameras and MP3 players to the BlackBerry. Is that a positive approach to conquering that market?
BS: It’s interesting. There are three or four other products that now will be carrying the Microsoft operating system, which clearly indicates they will be attacking both the business and consumer markets. From RIM’s perspective it’s an interesting decision from the marketing group because they are very much synonymous with being the business entity. One thing they don’t want to do is confuse their subscriber base and cannibalize their own audience because what we’re finding is because there is very little brand loyalty or engagement at the RIM level, there is an opportunity for Motorola and Palm to create conquest shoppers, which is less available for RIM. So they need to be very careful about how they execute on that strategy and anything they do that is consumer-oriented does not take away from the business application of the product and that they have not changed their dedication to building better solutions for the business community.
Pipeline: It appears that one of the reasons business users use the BlackBerry is because it is clearly a business product. You’re saying there is a danger of diminishing that interest if it becomes a really consumer-oriented device.
BS: I think the other concern is the decision for the RIM product is typically made by the IT manager who makes a corporate decision, so there has been no evaluation by the end user on which application is better for them because there really hasn’t been a choice. Now with these other products coming in there is a choice, so there will be pressure from that end user on the IT (department) to say, ‘we have an affiliation from other devices which work on both a business and consumer level,’ and there’s a lot more brand loyalty with those other devices.
Pipeline: You’ve mentioned the key for RIM is creating a community of users. Is there anything else RIM could do create the kind of attachment and loyalty Treo and iPod users have?
BS: That is the key. Identify who the brand advocates are, engage in discussion with those people and find out what they want out of the product. Find out what they like, what they dislike and bring them into the whole manufacturing and marketing process. They’ll tell you what they’re willing to accept and what they won’t.
Pipeline: How do you bring them into the marketing process?
BS: Just by virtue of making them part of the design process they become loyal brand advocates and they in turn will go out and engage in conversation with other likeminded consumers, help spread awareness and help convert people by sharing their opinion, and if they know what your design and manufacturing plans are, what the next best thing is going to be, they will pitch that on your behalf. And when a consumer hears something from their neighbour it’s much more influential than when it comes through an advertising or marketing message.
Pipeline: How does a company balance that with their need to protect their secrets?
BS: You have to take a very high level approach. Just last week RIM announced it would be adding multimedia applications to their device. That would have been a great message to send to a loyal community months ago when they were distracted by the NTP case. A lot of people who went out and bought other devices may have held off.