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BlackBerry tries a new brand formula

James Pearce
November 4, 2014

Canadian manufacturer hopes £12 million in Mercedes F1 sponsorship will help restore former glory

As Lewis Hamilton crossed the finish line at the Russian Grand Prix last month, clinching his ninth race win of the season, it wasn’t just his Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates celebrating victory.

For BlackBerry – lead technical sponsors of Mercedes since 2013 – the win meant its brand was again taking centre stage before a global TV audience north of 500 million, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of publications and websites.

Just days after the latest victory, the 13th for Mercedes this season, the Canadian manufacturer invited journalists on a tour of Mercedes’ F1 headquarters in Brackley, Northants, to show how its relationship with the firm has benefited both sides and contributed to Mercedes’  constructors’ championship-winning season.

“Mercedes is a role model for BlackBerry,” commented BlackBerry regional managing director for Europe Markus C Müller during the media day at Mercedes’ Brackley HQ this month. “We are in a difficult situation right now but Mercedes has had great success and BlackBerry is trying to do the same thing. It’s a winning partnership.”

“When we took the decision to make this relationship, Mercedes was not as successful as it is today.  For us it was a risk but we took the right course at that point in time. Being associated with the most successful Formula One team is great.”

The three-year partnership was struck at the beginning of the 2013 Formula One season when BlackBerry was in decline, having seen its handset sales fall from 49 million in the fiscal year ending March 2012 to 28 million a year later.

The Mercedes team was also struggling to catch-up with its rivals. Having won the constructors’ championship in 2009 as Brawn-Mercedes GP, the car manufacturer finished fourth twice in the following seasons before slumping to fifth in 2012.

Since agreeing to the partnership, believed to be worth around £12 million, Mercedes has seen an upshift in momentum. The German manufacturer finished second in the 2013 constructors’ championship, losing out to Red Bull.

Races to spare
On October 12, a first and second finish for drivers Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi sealed the 2014 constructors’ championship for Mercedes with three races to spare.

The two drivers sit first and second in the drivers’ championship respectively, and leader Hamilton has a 92-point lead on third-placed Daniel Riccardio with just 100 points remaining, meaning a Mercedes driver is also likely to win the drivers’ championship.

Müller said the firm is following Mercedes’ lead by getting back to basics. Under chief executive John Chen, BlackBerry has focused on what it counts as its four key strengths: security, productivity, communication and collaboration.

“When John Chen took over, he set a clear strategy for BlackBerry with the focus on the four key strengths. Those four pillars dominate everything we do.  We want to play those four angles in the enterprise market, which is our core focus.”

Müller points to the relationship with Mercedes as an example of how BlackBerry can become central to a business. Mercedes staff use more than 200 BlackBerry devices, split across Z10s, Z3s, Q10s and 20 of the new BlackBerry Passport range which have been given to key members of staff.

Users at Mercedes also get full access to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) 10, and any technological updates the firm releases before they go to market, including the rollout of BES 12 later this month.

450 million viewers
In return, BlackBerry branding appears on Mercedes F1 cars, merchandise and clothing worn by the drivers, which was seen by more than 450 million viewers worldwide in 2013, according to a Global Media report.

Müller said that while branding is important, it isn’t the only benefit BlackBerry gets from the association with Mercedes, adding: “By being connected with hi-tech firms, with car development, we can be seen as a technology leader.

“It’s a great way for BlackBerry to show off how technology can dominate a business and that’s an area we want to be associated with.”

In a presentation which was held at Brackley, Mercedes made it clear how important Blackberry technology is to its championship-winning operation. All work-related mobiles used by Mercedes employees have access to its BES server, including home-brought devices (BYOD), meaning the 800 staff at Brackley can all communicate using BlackBerry Messenger.

BBM is one of the key features used by the team, according to Mercedes AMG Petronas IT director Matt Harris, who oversees all of the devices provided by BlackBerry.

Harris said: “We always use BBM as it allows us to send messages and know they’re delivered and read – we don’t have to send several messages checking if someone has picked it up if they haven’t replied.

“We use BBM across marketing, IT and the technical departments. Whenever there is an issue, we’ll set-up a BBM group to resolve it as it’s quicker to solve any issue than having a group email chat.”

Harris told of an issue the team had experienced the previous week. Following an upgrade to its SAP audit system, Harris got a 10pm invite to a new BBM group with four of his IT team and two third parties. The group was able to solve the issue within five minutes, allowing the system to be rebooted. He added that would not have been dealt with as quickly by email.

Mercedes also gets early access to some BlackBerry software. Harris said the car firm was able to use BBM Channels before it was launched in November 2013 and Mercedes was one of the first companies to launch its own channel.

Mercedes uses the channel to send information and updates to its 125,000 subscribers from the marketing team.  On race day, a team in the pit lane sends updates on how the drivers are doing, how the team is performing and other information. Harris revealed that Mercedes has the third-largest BBM channel.

He added: “BBM just improves that performance and speed of the productivity during a race weekend. We haven’t got a lot of time if you think about the three days we’re there. The amount that goes on is non-stop and things move and change and are quite fluid.”

Full article in Mobile News issue 576 (November 3, 2014).

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