FEATURES/Big Bet | Oct 18, 2011 | 15869 views

BlackBerry's Success in India

RIM's new approach to tap the trendy young consumer in India pays off


Infographic: Sameer Pawar

Harish Bijoor, brand expert and founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, explains why RIM has succeeded. “Their mix of plans and pricing seems to be working quite well and has retained the aspirational value. Young people are able to stay connected 24x7, at an affordable price with a brand that they can show off,” he says.

For the first time, BlackBerry made a device, the Curve 8520 specifically for the Indian market. A model similar to the sub-10,000 Curve was earlier priced around Rs. 14,000. Bundled with the phone was the access to BBM. For Nupur Raval, an MA student at JNU, this was a winning combination.

“If I were to take an iPhone, it woudn’t suit my budget. With the Curve, I can chat on the BBM, send files to anyone across the globe and it is all free. Its plans are within my budget,” says Raval.

Now in India, 90 percent of mobile connections in India are prepaid. BlackBerry sat down with operators, and renegotiated new, cheaper plans for its BBM and e-mails. “It was for the rich kids earlier, now it’s almost a lifeline of communication across all levels,” says Anirudh Dube, 31, who runs a company, Ducom, in Bangalore. The game-changer, of course, was BBM. For the young consumer, it is more about remaining connected 24x7 than phone calls. For RIM, teenage to college-going women is a market they have tapped, and which holds great potential. Which is why expect to see more of candy-coloured variants in the Curve range, which have been a hit. “I would go for them any day, rather than phones in only black and white which have been around for ages,” says Anjali Grover, a student of Amity University. Good Internet connectivity is a plus too. “The Internet connection is better than any other device,” says Balaji Shankar, 24, who works with Wipro in Bangalore.  He gave up his Samsung for a Blackberry.

 Now the challenge for RIM is to extend its success. For that, it’s now hitting larger number of cities. Presence in more cities with new models, like the ones launched a month ago, will be pivotal in expanding market share. “We will be in 6,000 outlets with majority of them in Tier-II and Tier-III cities by the end of this year. We are also planning to expand the product portfolio in 25 new cities this year,” says Sanjay Kaul, senior director, channel and sales.

Currently, it is present in 80 cities through 3,500 outlets. RIM has launched seven new devices along the price band that starts at Curve and goes on till Bold 4, which retails at Rs. 32,000. RIM is targeting not just the individual retail customer, but also the millions of small businesses who will get e-mail and BBM bundled in a single package. “This is the most secure connection I can have. While there are lots of phones which cost the same as the Curve, there is only one with BBM and secure Internet,” says Dube.

RIM officials will take heart from the upgrade trend in the smartphone market. “We see people starting off at Rs. 1,500 or so and then going up to the Rs. 7000-10,000 range in a year or so,” says Elkana Ezekiel, VP and chief marketing officer, Samsung India. Most of them are young, and within that category, the people upgrading frequently are those finishing school in metros and moving to college. In that group, some upgrade again, to Rs. 15,000-20,000. “This is the main market — the mid-level segment of Rs. 5,000-15,000,” he says.

The key will be to launch new models as competitors like Micromax are eyeing the ‘low price’ smartphone territory. Micromax will be adding more features to its phones at the lower end and is also trying to enter the Rs. 20,000 bracket. Equally aggressive is Samsung’s Ranjit Yadav, country head of mobile and IT. The company has around 23 percent market share in the smartphone market at the moment.

“The key to success will be to have a range of smartphones at entry, mid and high-end levels,” says Yadav who said that commenting on competition is not their policy. With the newly-launched Curve to the new Bold, RIM now has handsets from Rs. 9,000-Rs. 30,000.

According to Peter Misek, analyst at Jefferies & Co., RIM’s success in emerging markets can continue with new models that launched a few weeks ago, along with the BBM and secure internet. That said, the company will face a test next year “The key here, is when will QNX handsets be launched, and how they perform.” All models will move to the new platform, expectedly by mid-2012. If that turns out well, RIM will get a boost across all markets, and especially in emerging ones like India.

This article appeared in the Forbes India magazine issue of 21 October, 2011
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Comments (2)
Rohini Joseph Oct 31, 2011
I am quite familiar with mobile tech and have read many articles on BlackBerry and and most of them have been on how its either doing a lousy job in the US or how its doing good in India. The ones on India were sadly short of detail and poorly done. This one is the first such story that I have enjoyed reading, and would rate as the best. It took me a while to find it in the magazine though, and maybe it could have added a little more background on what happened in the US. Otherwise its a job well done. Please bring us more such stories.
Uzair Oct 18, 2011
I feel manipulated now that I have a blackberry.
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