When an established vendor dismisses an upstart’s product as a “toy”, it’s time to run for the exits. So I was surprised to see RIM’s new Blackberry ads in New York City. Earnest looking young men stare out from billboards under the headline, “We need tools, not toys”. Similarly, a business woman says, “I’m about action. Not distraction”. The ads deliver a clear message, “Our Blackberries are hard to use and completely out of touch with what consumers want today.” RIM to NY: “We’ve dropped dead”.
Clayton Christensen laid out the dynamic of the disruptive innovation more than a dozen years ago. A company establishes itself as a market leader by delivering more and more of what customers have always wanted. (Let’s call this WCHAW). For wireline phone companies, for instance, the WCHAW was voice quality. Customers had always wanted it and wireline companies assumed that they would always want more. Sooner or later, however, customers decide that they have enough WCHAW. It’s good enough, thank you very much. Customers don’t need more and they won’t pay for it either.
When customers reach this point, they start searching for something else — what customers want now (WCWN). This often involves products that are more convenient, easier to use, and less costly. When mobile phones challenged the wireline vendors, they were dismissed as “toys”. After all mobile phones delivered worse voice quality and voice quality was WCHAW. What the wireline vendors didn’t detect was that voice quality was good enough and that mobile phones delivered a new WCWN — mobility and general ease-of-use. When customer sentiment shifted, it did so quickly and forever.
RIM is now dismissing the new breed of smart phones as toys. It’s a self-defeating strategy. They’re saying, quite bluntly, that they can’t deliver what customers want now but they can happily deliver what customers have always wanted. They’re shooting themselves in both feet and doing it quite efficiently.
The odd thing is that RIM has an ace in the hole and they’re not playing it. RIM’s private network is much more secure than the public Internet. And customers have always wanted — and still want — more security. RIM should be talking about what makes them different rather than what makes them old and out-of-touch.
You can learn more about disruptive innovations in the video.