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Amid expansion, BlackBerry security faces branding dilemma

BlackBerry continues its push into security by addressing a number of endpoint devices. But analysts discuss whether the former mobile device maker has a perception problem.

BlackBerry is a company that finds itself in many different endpoints -- perhaps too many.

Since BlackBerry's acquisition of endpoint security vendor Cylance last year, the former mobile device maker has delved further into security. The BlackBerry security strategy has expanded the company's reach; between its enterprise software, IoT technology, and BlackBerry Cylance's cybersecurity products, it's in cars, electric motorcycles, the International Space Station, mobile phones and more.

Last week at RSA Conference 2020, the company continued its expansion into security with enhancements to its BlackBerry Spark platform in hopes of bringing zero trust security to devices. During an interview with BlackBerry vice president of product marketing Nigel Thompson, SearchSecurity posed the question: How do you market BlackBerry as a security company when so many know it as a device you hold in your hand?

"It's a really good question and we talk about that internally a lot," Thompson said. "We've had some analysts that say, 'Well, you should change your name!' The double-edged sword of having a really powerful brand is that how do you communicate to the right people about what you want to talk about? And I think the thing where it gets a little tricky is that the end users know BlackBerry as a thing they held in their hand, and now it's aging, old people … [but] young people don't know what you're talking about. But the business, the buyer, still knows who BlackBerry is."

Does BlackBerry have a perception problem? Should the company consider changing its name, which is synonymous with smartphones?

"There's no question BlackBerry has a perception problem," said Eric Parizo, senior analyst at Ovum. "The name BlackBerry is very closely associated with its legacy handheld device business, which has been slowly dying for years. Few realize BlackBerry no longer even manufactures its namesake smartphones. It now outsources that operation to third-party manufacturers in Asia. Among enterprises, particularly government, financial, and legal verticals, there's still strong awareness of and affinity for its BlackBerry Enterprise Server, the security-centric back-end server software powering the BlackBerry messaging and management system, now known as BlackBerry UEM. But even that offering is just a piece of what BlackBerry now offers."

Doug Cahill, vice president and group director of cybersecurity at Enterprise Strategy Group, offered the perspective that "the broad adoption of smartphones necessitated BlackBerry diversify their product portfolio, which creates a brand association challenge of connecting the BlackBerry brand with mobile device management and endpoint security buyers."

He made the comparison between BlackBerry's situation and how Bit9 acquired Carbon Black "and also went through a rebranding process, albeit with different dynamics."

ESG senior analyst Dave Gruber had a more positive outlook on BlackBerry's security strategy and approach.

"BlackBerry has employed a niche GTM strategy over the past couple years, focusing on their areas of strength to rebuild their brand. The side effect of this is that their overall brand is not well understood by the general corporate security buyer, creating some challenges in selling certain parts of their product portfolio, including the Cylance products. That said, because BlackBerry is a significant, recognizable brand, it has the potential to transcend markets with the right brand marketing investment. I actually respect their current approach and think it is serving them well as they continue on their journey to rebuild the company and regain industry confidence."

In contrast, Parizo said the technical overhaul is only part of the challenge for the company. "The reality is that BlackBerry has reinvented itself as a software vendor, and its business and revenue model reflect that, but that reinvention does little good if enterprise buyers don't associate the BlackBerry brand with enterprise software, particularly cybersecurity."

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