No, I'm not worried that the end of the world is nigh, no matter what some interpreters of the Mayan calendar may insist. I'm a scientist by training, a pragmatist by nature, and don't have time to pay attention to apocalyptic predictions, so I expect December 21, 2012, will be just another Friday. I will admit, however, to a passing professional interest in the way 12.21.12 has been turned into a marketing opportunity, and not just for books and movies on the subject. Ahead of the holidays some businesses were urging consumers to make the best of "the last Christmas" -- what you might call the ultimate "now or never" sales pitch. But 21.12.2012 doesn't worry me.
What about politics? There has been a lot of anger in the air, and some of the rhetoric has been worrying in tone and content. Yet, as we count down to the election in November, the overall tone feels calmer than two years ago. The American people seem to be responding to signs of steady competence in the debates rather than gloves-off aggression. I find that reassuring.
Like most people I do worry about the economy and the slow growth of jobs, and about what's going to happen if the Eurozone falls apart. The word on the street and in the Economist suggests that the impact of a Eurozone implosion on the U.S. banking system would make the bankruptcy of Lehman seem insignificant. Even accounting for exaggeration, that's a big worry for the company where I work and our clients, my colleagues, my friends, and, consequently, for me, too. Even so, there seems to be far less panic in the air than there was in late 2008.
What's really worrying me now is much more personal. It's BlackBerry.
I'm not a techie, nor am I a brand addict, and I don't consciously identify myself as a BlackBerry person -- although unconsciously I suppose I must be, just like millions of other businesspeople. I've had a BlackBerry in or near my hands day and night for virtually all of the past 10 years. It gets more of my eyeball time than my TV or my computer. I almost never switch it off, aside from on planes and in yoga classes.
Until the past year or so, I didn't spend much time thinking about my smartphone. I just used it. Now I'm thinking about it a lot more often. Every time I see bad news about BlackBerry or its parent company, RIM, my heart sinks, and I fret: the flop of its Playbook tablet; service problems last year; the jokes and jibes; constant media reports about BlackBerry users jumping ship or preparing to; RIM's share of the U.S. smartphone market dropping to 16.6 percent in November 2011 from 19.7 percent in August; angry investors calling (successfully, as it turns out) for a change of leadership; a key new product launch pushed back well into 2012; a share price of around $16 compared with just under $70 less than a year ago. There's a lot for a person to worry about!
The Motley Fool went so far as to ask the unthinkable: "Will RIM Live to See 2013?" Like millions of long-standing BlackBerry users, my stake in the company isn't financial; it's the time and effort I've spent learning to use my BB. Actually, spent is the wrong word; it should be invested. Cradling the BB in my hands and typing with my thumbs over 10 years, I've developed my technique to the point where I can write faster on my BB than on a full-size computer keyboard. It's a skill I've been forced to develop in a job that involves sending and receiving 1,000 emails a day.
Of course BlackBerry isn't the only smartphone on the market that's suitable for business users, but it's the only one that started off focusing on the enterprise market. To my mind it's always been the true business phone, even though it's added more consumer-oriented models. I love the iPhone in principle, and the Androids look very cool, too, but they're all flat-faced; they don't have the little keyboard buttons that I've learned to tap at hyperspeed over the years. Beyond that, my BlackBerry -- apart from the odd service outage -- has been a trusted gadget and a comforting presence in my life for all these years.
Maybe I shouldn't be worrying about a relatively trivial piece of technology and should instead be worrying about the headier issues of our time. That sounds good in theory, but it's not my reality. The truth is, it's the BlackBerry issue that's most often nagging away on my mind, and I know I'm not the only one. Practically, I worry about how much longer it would take me to deal with 1,000 emails a day on a different phone. Emotionally, I have a high level of comfort and satisfaction with my BlackBerry; I feel positively about the company that made it, and I want it to be successful over the long term.
There's another level, too. Professionally, this experience has brought into play some of the core elements of marketing. Knowing about me and BlackBerry, what would another brand and its marketers need to do to make me jump ship? What would BlackBerry need to do to keep me on board?
Part of me feels it's trivial to fret about a gadget. I should be concerned about weightier issues. And of course I am. Yet, like anyone else, I also worry about the things that make my life a little better or a little bit worse day to day. As a marketer, it's important not to dismiss these feelings. We need to recognize the importance of whatever consumers are really feeling, rather than what we think they "should" be feeling. Chances are that these so-called "trivial" matters and concerns are having a far bigger influence on consumer behaviors than are any of the topics aired at Davos or in the Oval Office.