Following an unprecedented growth in Nigeria that has shot past the firm’s continent leader, South Africa, the makers of the smartphone have announced plans to formally open an office in Lagos, the Nigerian business capital.
Disclosing this at the recent BlackBerry World conference in Orlando, Florida, the United States, Mr. Robert Bose, head of RIM for Central Europe, Middle East and Africa, said the proposed new office in Nigeria will seek to position the country as a specific target market.
Sales outside North America make up 70 per cent of total revenue, and regions making the biggest contribution to that chunk of income include South Africa, Indonesia, and Mexico.
BlackBerry is already the number one smartphone brand in Nigeria, but in a tiny smartphone market, which comprises less than 5 per cent of the phone market. And that is without having direct representation on the ground.
In most Western developed markers, all eyes would be on that smartphone chunk, both because it typically makes up half of the phone market in such territories, but also because it is a definitive marker of who leads the market.
The hidden factor behind BlackBerry’s success in Africa is one simple word: aspiration. It is the business phone that denotes having made it – even if you’re not in business. Strangely, the iPhone does not carry that cachet. It denotes someone with money, but it is also regarded as an expensive toy rather than a tool. In Nigeria, there is little aspiration for toys.
“The brand has gone viral in Nigeria, to the extent that a Nollywood movie was made about people trying to acquire a BlackBerry*,” says Bose. “We’re opening an office in Lagos in the next 60 days.”
BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), too, has been core to success in markets where BlackBerry dominates smartphones. It is those markets where take-up of BBM is highest among BlackBerry users: 99 per cent in South Africa and 97 per cent in Nigeria.
And then there is affordability. In markets like South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria, BlackBerry’s secret weapon was the Curve 8520. It is the single most popular smartphone model – across all brands – in each of these countries.
“A lot of people expect that the only devices we would sell in Nigeria would be the 8520 or the cheapest phones,” says Waldi Wepener, RIM’s regional director for East, Central and West Africa. “But we sell as many at the high end.
“Because Nigeria is not a subsidised market, and operators don’t subsidise devices down to zero, the price of the device at the user level is very visible. And that doesn’t hold back the market.”
Counterfeit devices, which bedevil the sales of brands like Apple in particular, are not as great a problem for RIM. Again, it comes back to the aspirational nature of the market. “Nigerians want to feel they are holding the authentic product.”