Marketing’s New Black

    March 31, 2006

What’s black and white and read all over? The answer to this limerick used to be “a newspaper.” Today it’s the Blackberry.

New York is a big newspaper town. We have four majors, two freebies plus of course two nationals. During my seven years of commuting to work on the Long Island Railroad, the country’s largest commuter rail, I have watched the newspaper to gadget ratio slide heavily in favor of the gizmos. The machines have won. People spend far more time fiddling with their iPods and Blackberries than they do reading print. It even cuts across all generations. So how do we reach this captive and important audience?

To reach the iPod crowd we have audio and video podcasts. Though far from perfect, if the programming is compelling enough and marketed effectively through other means , you can grab a tiny share of pod if the consumer decides to let you in.

Blackberries are another story entirely. These aren’t entertainment gadgets but business tools. Most of us want to reduce what’s on here, not expand it. Nevertheless, the Blackberry is an incredibly fertile marketing ground if we can find a way to court the businessperson to let us in. It’s more valuable real estate than the back page of the Wall Street Journal.

The key things to consider when developing marketing programs for mobile devices are how they are used and what the consumer will reasonably accept. This means that more traditional forms of online marketing won’t work on a Blackberry. Busy businesspeople will be outraged if they need to wait for an interstitial ad to load when they have an urgent need to read an important news report.

The Blackberry, unlike the iPod, has historically been an information tool rather than a means of entertainment. But lately, I have seen lots of people using the devices to play Sudoku or surf the mobile web. The picture may even be brighter when considering the potential for mobile video. Blackberry Cool reports that 41% of mobile phone users are interested in some form of video service on their mobile phone. So although the device is still all about managing the flow of business, the promise of entertainment is rising. Here are three potential ways to market by Blackberry right now …

1) Brand Mobile Games – as Blackberries become more sophisticated, marketers should consider launching free downloadable Java midlets that incorporate their brands into the games.

2) Focus on Data – At their core, Blackberries are all about business. These professionals have real-time needs for information. Consider building downloadable applications and/or email on-demand services that put essential information at users fingertips. For example, a broker could build and brand a real-time stock application or an airline might build a flight tracker.

3) Go MVNO – To date Blackberries have been most popular in medium and large businesses. They’re too costly sometimes for smaller enterprises to buy. According to IDC, with the consumer wireless market approaching saturation, all the attention is going to turn to the business market. There’s a window for someone like American Express to come along and launch an mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) Blackberry service for small businesses. Think Virgin Mobile for businesses. Such devices could even be co-branded. Expect to see business MVNOs this sometime this year or next.

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Steve Rubel is a PR strategist with nearly 16 years of public relations, marketing, journalism and communications experience. He currently serves as a Senior Vice President with Edelman, the largest independent global PR firm.

He authors the Micro Persuasion weblog, which tracks how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the public relations practice.