From the Trenches of Transformation



by Andy Cunningham


So you need to transform your brand, huh? Sales are drooping. New technology is disrupting. Pipeline is stagnant. People are leaving. It’s a cruel world out there and your company is no longer competitive. How could that be? Just a few short years ago you were on top of the world! Customers were clamoring for your products and services, and talent was lined up down the street for the chance to work there.

Brand transformations are rare. Sure, you can replace the CEO, slap on a new logo, create an enticing new tagline and, if you’ve got it, spend money on advertising to tell the world -- all of which gives your company a bit of a facelift as you do battle in the market. But a real brand transformation involves reimagining the company, redeploying assets, reorganizing structure, redesigning product, renewing the economic model, rewriting the narrative, reviving the spirit, re-engaging the stakeholders, reconfiguring marketing and sales, and resetting expectations. There’s a lot of “re” going on! Everything has to be “redone” from the ground up.

Transformations are at the very core of growth. When the environment shifts (as it inevitably does) and the market changes (ditto), companies must adapt or begin the long slow decline toward death. As they say, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. When there’s a new world out there someone has to reposition the company for success. And that someone might as well be you.

This new blog series explores the top ten keys to becoming a transformational marketing agent.


#1. Reimagine the Company:
A New World, A New Relevance
BlackBerry’s Pivot

BlackBerry is a company in full swing of transformation with an impressive leader in John Chen at the helm. At one point, BlackBerry was a giant in the land of smartphones. Most people who needed or wanted one had a BlackBerry. The company invented much of what the smartphone is today, and it built one of the world’s most globally recognized brands. BlackBerry was a market leader, and ruled the roost. But more than that, the company developed a strong emotional connection with their customers that persists even today. They love the company.

But the market changed. Apple introduced the iPhone. Google brought Android to market. Suddenly, competition was everywhere and moving fast. BlackBerry wasn’t fast enough. They lost their grip and fell behind. They watched their market share drop significantly and their relevance diminish over time. But all the while they continued to innovate in connected security and mobility, and they began to focus that innovation on software rather than hardware.

That’s when the board brought in a new CEO. John Chen joined in 2013 after a very successful stint turning around Sybase. He recognized BlackBerry’s legacy and believed the company could be a leader again, but this time by taking advantage of its assets in software, security and mobility, and phasing out the manufacture, distribution and marketing of handsets. 


While John Chen was busy reconfiguring and restructuring, we got to work on reimaging. We found a white space in the market in the larger Internet of Things space and identified a hole we felt BlackBerry could fill and labeled it the Enterprise of Things (EoT). Just a few short months after going public in the new world with the new relevance the company was met with extremely positive reactions from industry analysts and business press as well as customers and shareholders. 

Positioning BlackBerry for a new relevance enabled the company to rally around a new north star and emerge with a totally new narrative, which has been disseminated everywhere, including marketing, events, sales and HR. Analysts, the press and — most important — customers have embraced it as well, recognizing BlackBerry’s leadership in (and ownership of) the newly validated EoT space.

After years of decline, BlackBerry’s stock hit a four-year high in June and is up 50% this year. But a shift in public perception began almost immediately. Within two months of the execution of our strategy to position the company for a new relevance, the media’s tone started to change. Whereas coverage had been relentlessly focused on Blackberry’s demise (Forbes: “Lessons From the Fall of BlackBerry”), the commentary shifted, first to BlackBerry’s pivot to the software and services industry (Fortune: “Yup, BlackBerry is now a software company”), and later to an acknowledgement of its renewed promise (Business Insider: “It looks like BlackBerry’s focus on software is starting to pay off”).

Today’s headlines are even more effusive. TechCrunchrecently encapsulated the optimism surrounding BlackBerry’s transformation: “When you think about dead companies walking, BlackBerry was clearly one that came to mind, but…the company is actually making a comeback as a software company focused on security, and its latest quarterly earnings report suggests the pivot is working splendidly.”  Although BlackBerry’s final chapters have yet to be written, the future is promising. 


At the very core of a successful transformation are two intangibles. An inspirational north star and the will to win. The north star represents potential and possibility. It is evidence of a new destination. A guiding light for operations. The will to win emerges from a new belief system within the company. A winning attitude. The possibility of success. Not very concrete, yet so very critical. These are the stem cells of new growth. If you’re going to be a transformational marketing agent, you’re going to have to identify a new north star and then you’re going to have to infuse the will to win throughout the organization. 

While this may at first seem like an impossible task, it isn’t. When attacked with logic and rigor, it becomes rather obvious. The key is identifying the company’s assets and matching them with market opportunity. The asset inventory is the first step. Go ahead. Go crazy. Write down all the assets of the company. Then edit it down to the really core ones. There are probably two or three that really matter in this exercise. Take it down to the very nub. 

Then look at the market for the solutions your company is seeking to solve as it transforms itself. Detect all the white spaces. Pay special attention to those that are susceptible to your company’s assets. Then stake out the territory. Claim it. Name it. Own it.

Now for the will to win. Without it, the north star is invisible. Inspiration is the key here. And a difficult emotion it is to incite. What it comes down to, though, is a belief system. The stakeholders and the market must have confidence that a new strategy is in place and that leadership is committed to it. Then they have to believe in that strategy. It has to make sense. It has to be easy to understand. There has to be continuous evidence of its logic. But it also has to be visionary and aspirational. It has to capture something new and interesting. Each and every stakeholder has to believe he or she has a role to play in the materialization of the vision. And the market has to believe it has a role to play as well. 

If you can create a ripple of emotion in the market through the articulation of an inspiring north star and you can show people their role in making it come to life, you have a shot at igniting a transformation. And there is nothing more rewarding for a marketing transformational agent than that! BlackBerry has inspired the industry with a new vision for itself in a resegmented market. It is no longer about the smartphone, but the smart in the phone—and in cars and containers, medical devices and wearables, consumer appliances and industrial machinery, and ultimately the entire enterprise, the Enterprise of Things. 

What’s your north star?