Minding Your Zs and Qs: RIM, BlackBerry, and Alphanumerics

By Laurel Sutton

February 1, 2013

This week’s big branding news was that Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry cell phone, is changing their name to BlackBerry. No doubt this is a smart move for the company, as BlackBerry is a far more recognized name than RIM. But it also raises a lot of interesting strategic questions about the interplay of brand, product, and company naming.

First, kudos to the company on this move. When the world only knows about a company because of its flagship product line, it makes perfect sense to rename the company after that product. Keeping a vague, obscure name like Research In Motion as the corporate identity has a lot of downsides. For one thing, it makes it more difficult for potential investors to find the company’s stock symbol. For another, if you are a company hoping to be acquired, it might be an easier sell if the corporate name lines up with the company’s single major product line. And, although the full name of “Research In Motion” sounds kind of sciency and cool, the acronym “RIM” was the subject of many Beavis-and-Butthead-type jokes.

When the stock was a high-flyer, it probably seemed unnecessary to rename the brand. In fact, it might have been counter-productive to change the stock symbol and all the corporate identity elements for a company that seemed poised to become an icon in the mobile telecom world. RIM’s rapid expansion internationally, and speculation about moves into other types of peripherals like auto navigation devices (due to its acquisition of Dash Navigation), fueled its growth and led to it being named the fastest growing company in the world in 2009 by Fortune magazine.

But the BlackBerry brand was the key to success. Everyone who owned a BlackBerry phone called it a BlackBerry – from business customers who liked the numbering system of the phones (BlackBerry 7700, BlackBerry 8800) to consumers who got attached to the brand names that RIM rolled out (Bold, Torch, Curve) – they were still BlackBerry phones in the end. RIM faded into the background, except as an endorser brand.

The rapid descent of RIM and BlackBerry throughout 2011 and 2012 led to decisions to refocus on the enterprise space. And this is the point where branding decisions need to be made as well. What do you do when your reputation in the market is less than stellar, and you’re still releasing products? RIM had the additional issue of being able to find available names for its new phones, a problem faced by many companies in the increasingly crowded technology space.

Catchword worked with RIM throughout 2011-2012 to address the strategic branding issues around the corporate name and their product naming system. We wanted to give them options for an intuitive and flexible naming architecture that allowed customers to identify and differentiate phones, and which called attention to the special features of each phone family. And it also had to allow room for growth, so that the BlackBerry brand didn’t become cluttered with dozens of unrelated names.

As part of our work, we recognized the enormous value of the BlackBerry name and the relative obscurity of the RIM brand. We thought it made more sense to tie the products and the company together more closely (and in the process, perhaps move away from some of the negative press attention). Changing everything to a simple BlackBerry brand would signal a re-commitment to the company’s core strengths, and highlight the great new products being developed. The Z10 and the Q10, announced this week, are the first to roll out.

And the naming architecture? In the end, after trying out lots of systems, we recommended using alphanumerics to identify the new phones. We chose the letter Z for the high-end touch screen phone because it sounded sleek, advanced, and premium; the letter Q was an easy choice for a phone with a QWERTY keyboard. The numbers are simple to work with – starting at 10 gives you lots of room to grow and no doubt as to which number represents the next generation.

BlackBerry’s move to a masterbrand approach to naming will make their marketing simpler and more powerful – no more endorsing brand, sub-brands, or questionable numbering schemes. They can present a unified front to their customers and investors. And they can focus on what they do best – developing really, really cool phones.

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