5 Political Lessons from Blackberry

Welcome back!
Here we are with one of the most beautiful autumns in memory (at least for most parts of North America); with major league baseball playoffs filling our screens, all the football and hockey you could want, everything seems perfect. And yet...... Congress can't pass a budget bill, the U.S. debt ceiling deadline is days away...the iconic Canadian technology company, Blackberry, has collapsed, Ontario's government giving away $1 billion in penalties for canceling the gas plant contracts, and the ongoing saga of Senator Mike Duffy and his expenses. Is there anything that connects the dots in all these events?
Blackberry's Lessons for Politicians
At a time when one of Blackberry's rivals - Apple - has just knocked Coca Cola out of the slot for the No. 1 brand in the world (with Google no. 2).  That's gotta hurt - when you consider that Blackberry once 'owned' the smartphone world. On a personal note, as a longtime Blackberry customer, as with millions of others, I genuinely agonized over the new, but less-than-thrilling - Z10 before I decided to go 'over the side' to the Samsung Galaxy 4. The Globe and Mail ran a great piece recently that tells the story of what went wrong: Inside the Fall of Blackberry
However, in my view, many of those lessons are transferable to the world of politics:
5 Political Lessons from the Blackberry Debacle
1. Not listening to customers (voters)
The smartphone marketplace was changing dramatically and Blackberry appeared not to listen to their changing desires. Instead, they became overly reliant on their legacy products, while delaying the entry of a brand new operating system.  This week's Nova Scotia provincial election saw the incumbent NDP government, led by Darrell Dexter, dumped to third place behind the victorious Stephen McNeill-led Liberals (and losing his seat in the process). The Dexter government clearly disconnected with the voters - raising harmonized sales taxes and creating a massive deficit clearly led to the voters' disenchantment. The volatility of voters means that they will now usually give you only one chance to make good on your promises before they give governments the chop (B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who found life after certain death only by the questionable campaign of the Adrian Dix-led NDP.)  So all political parties better be truly listening - and delivering. Remember the eight words that get governments re-elected: "We did what we said we would do."
2. Loss of focus
While Blackberry wasted time delaying - and finally releasing - their Tablet (that tanked instantly in contrast to the game-changing iPad), they took their eye off the ball. The creative forces within the company were split - with some developing the Tablet and the others the new phone. The result was a loss of communication and coherent leadership. When a political party divides itself (Tea Party Republicans vs. mainstream Republicans, they tend to plunge in the polls (witness the fact that 62% of Americans blame the Republicans for the budget debacle).
Senator Mike Duffy's ongoing saga appears to only get worse with each new 'revelation'- causing a continued de-focus for the Harper government, who clearly want it all to just go away. If Senator Duffy remains in the Senate, it will continue as a de-focusing exercise for the Government as the House of Commons reconvenes next week.
3. Failure to adapt (while disappointing your base) The Republican Tea Party base has been temporarily satisfied in the budget battle. But even they will be disappointed when the inevitable compromises are made (stand by for that). Stephen Harper's Conservative government works hard at satisfying the party's base, (witness the battle over competition in the telecommunications sector), yet they need to bridge over and regain the support to the middle ground. For months now they have trailed Justin Trudeau and are only slightly ahead of Tom Mulcair and the NDP. (Look for the Throne Speech to hit the themes to reach 'families' and the 'middle class' as they try to regain traction with the voter).
4. Ignoring or discounting your competition Blackberry under-estimated the Apple brand promise and the resurgence of the less-expensive-but-very-cool Samsung product line. As the Republicans have been slamming Obama at every opportunity, after a while they sound like yesterday's news. People want to know what you're constructively going to do. Competition for voters is as much up in the air as in the business world. Loyalty to a particular company - or political party - has mostly gone by the wayside.
5. Failure to protect your brand
Your brand is your promise to your customer. Blackberry failed to deliver - and to deliver on time. They missed the window of opportunity. The brand of a political leader will usually diminish over time, so it's important to be innovative, to refreshen the brand and to keep moving forward. Stephen Harper is clearly facing that challenge - as is Barack Obama.
Then there's the sad legacy of the McGuinty Government in Ontario incurring over $1 billion in costs for the cancellation of the gas plants in order to save two or three ridings in the last provincial election. It's  an example of a complete failure to protect the brand of Dalton McGuinty and the Liberal Party. Even though it seemed to work as a short-term tactical (albeit a highly cynical move, one might reasonably deduce), it put paid to his declining brand and as more evidence emerges of the true cost and the political calculations around it, even his departure may not be enough to save the Kathleen Wynn-led Liberal government. The Premier apologized profusely but where's the action to somehow make up for it? When it gets that bad, apologies are not enough. Sometimes, though, one is saved by the quality of one's enemies (Clinton's 1995-96 government showdown with Newt Gingrich); (Harper vs. Stephane Dion in 2006); B.C. Premier Christy Clark vs. the NDP's Adrian Dix earlier this year). You just can't count on it happening.
So to sum it up, politicians - as well as companies - are gradually waking up to the reality that your brand is everything - understand it, refresh it, build it with tangible accomplishments - but ignore it at your peril.
Favorite Video of the Week
There's something about upending the conventional friendly news anchor-reporter banter that is particularly enjoyable to watch. In this clip, a local news anchor rakes a reporter over the coals for his lack of reporting skills: check this out and enjoy!
Until next time....

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