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Arabic Blackberry: Adapting to the Language of the Market

In October 2007, the launch of the first Arabic Blackberry was announced in the United Arab Emirates. The device had Arabic language input and an Arabic interface. Up until this point, the Blackberry was restricted to U.S. and European use. The new initiative to bring the Blackberry to the Middle East and Africa had begun.

The UAE's mobile phone provider telco Etisalat collaborated with the creators of the BlackBerry, RIM (Research InMotion), to create the Arabic version of the e-mail smart phone. The device allows Arabic customers to compose Arabic e-mails, browse Arabic Web sites, and input Arabic text into the PIM (personal information management) software applications. The device is fully integrated with IBM Lotus Domino, Microsoft Exchange, and Novell GroupWise servers.

The Blackberry has brought about the buzz word "push e-mail' into the business world. The concept is actually very simple. It works on the principle that rather than pulling e-mails at intervals on a mobile handset, the technology actually allows the e-mails to be pushed. In other words, each and every e-mail is delivered instantaneously and individually to handsets.

In the Middle East, the move towards a mobile workforce is gathering pace. Many businesses in the region want and need the flexibility of having their employees out in the field with the capacity of receiving e-mails and the ability to send them. Nokia's head of enterprise solutions in the Near and Middle East, Joe Devassey, explained: "Do [the businesses] have a mobility strategy? No. A lot is happening accidentally. It's not as if the IT managers in most companies in the Middle East actually have a plan like they do for installing networks or firewalls. It's happening more randomly, but there's definitely a lot of interest there from governments, banks, and the hospitality industry across all the verticals really."

Rather than the handset manufacturers or service providers trying to create a demand for the product, it has been the enterprises themselves that have been driving the conversion to push e-mails. In fact, some employees have been buying their own handsets to make their jobs easier, to match their mobile roles, and to ensure they are instantly contactable wherever they are based. This is confirmed by Harout Bedrossian, Motorola's regional sales manager for the Middle East: "The funny thing is that we've also seen individuals within the enterprises who have shown demand and started adopting devices even though their own companies and management didn't show any interest in the device. They know about the brands and about the technology and when it enters the region, they don't wait for their companies. They just go out and buy the handsets."

At present, the one thing holding the widespread adoption of the technology back is other businesses in the supply chain and those who are either unwilling or unable to adopt the technology. Some simply do not understand its value, while others are unaware of the emerging technological benefits of the system. In order for any new technology to reach its potential, all of those in a supply chain need to be using the same technology. That way, the needs of the customer can be paramount and can drive the day-to-day use of the technology. Husni El Assi, the general manager of Sony Ericsson Middle East, explained the difficulties: "One of the main challenges is the lack of awareness in the technology itself and its benefits. We have an ongoing educational program for our distributors and retailers, and that is how we update our business partners on the latest innovations and the latest technologies available in the mobile communications industry. In addition to that, we have our merchandising team which is in regular contact with the trade and helps to educate and inform the retailers on a regular basis."

One of the major drivers in the adoption of push e-mail in the Middle East has been the fact that the handset vendors, the network providers, and the businesses that have already invested in them are all supporting the same system. Harout Bedrossian, with Motorola's regional mobile-device unit, confirmed that this was the case: "We have operators in the region as well as mobile device manufacturers pushing push e-mail in the region. Etisalat, Du—companies from Oman to Saudi—everybody has started actively marketing push e-mail, be it Blackberry or Microsoft Exchange. Demand has therefore picked up considerably."

The long-term adoption of the system is entirely reliant on the resellers of the products that can make use of push e-mail. The retailers dealing with customers on a daily basis needed to feel that they are stakeholders in the technology and that they have a vested interest in pushing the system in the Middle East. It would be their role to help to raise the awareness customers have of the product to the end users. In this way, the end users that had adopted the system early on can then be used to explain the system to others and to highlight its virtues in the business.

Nasir Aijaz, a senior manager at EmitacMobile Solutions (EMS), was a key player in the distribution of the Blackberry in the Middle East. It was EMS that extolled the benefits of the Blackberry and the push e-mail system. Aijaz explained: "The phenomena is that everyone wants to be connected all of the time. It's the convenience that is attached to it—users don't want to carry around laptops—the biggest thing that a device like a Blackberry offers is the freedom to move. Information is available anytime, anywhere, and the workforce is always connected. It offers better customer service and retention, a more productive workforce, and a more efficient use of limited resources."

Certainly, the adoption of push e-mail is the first step in improving the mobility and communications between businesses and within businesses in the Middle East. Ultimately, it is hoped that this will open the door to other services and applications that will allow users to experience the advantages of an office environment no matter where they may be. Devassey explained the potential behind the adoption of push e-mail and what it could bring in the future: "When we're offering a solution, we're offering a platform for mobilizing everything. So when we go to the business—we say you can mobilize push e-mail, but push e-mail alone is very basic, and it will be pervasive. In 24 months, it'll be just like SMS. Everyone with a phone will have push e-mail. What we're saying is if you first start with push e-mail and you find that your staff are comfortable with push e-mail, then on the same platform we can also mobilize your ERP, and your CRM, and your field force and sales force. We can pretty much mobilize your whole organization, but it has to happen step by step, and push, e-mail is just the first step."

Aijaz was firmly of the opinion that the Blackberry would only get better and this would accelerate the mobility and freedom of the users: "The Blackberry add-ons can connect to CRM systems or even GPRS systems. Recently I saw an airline booking and confirmation system on a Blackberry. You can book your tickets, cancel, or amend them, and it will tell you about cancellations and delays to your flights. These add-on functions are becoming very important."

Resellers of the products that can deliver push e-mail are vital in making sure that the products not only retain their popularity, but new users are drawn to them as solutions to their communication problems. The profusion of additional features and applications is the key to this to keeping the product fresh and up to date. Not only this, the resellers have a vested interest in ensuring that the push e-mail system remains a product in great demand, it is lucrative to them. Bedrossian explained: "Firstly, resellers need to understand how to get the device to work in the user's corporate e-mail. When they take it out of the box, end users expect it to work so resellers need to be able to facilitate that."

Clearly, there is great competition between the handset sellers to become the leading device that achieves the dominant market share in the Middle East. Each handset manufacturer is working hard with developers to ensure that they offer applications that can be resold at the point of purchase by the resellers, not only to lock the user into a particular handset, but also to provide the reseller with a valuable, ongoing income stream. Devassy explained the skills that resellers would need in order to take full advantage of the commercial opportunities: "In terms of skills, they need basic networking, networking integration, messaging, and some element of expertise in security. If the channel wants to take advantage of everything from ERP to push e-mail, then it would be great if they're already into doing developments in Java for devices, or if they are partners of Oracle, SAP or Siebel. These kinds of resellers would potentially see the benefits of partnering with Nokia."

Some of the other handset manufacturers see things rather differently and are at pains to point out that their competitors are trying to make the technology appear too complicated in order to ensure that the resellers are part of the supply chain. In other words, they believe that push e-mail is very straightforward and can be easily understood by the end user, so there is no need to involve resellers and make the application seem more complex than it is. They feel that this will only inhibit the adoption of the system. Once such critic is Vishnu Vardhan, who is the executive director of the mobile handset vendors HTC: "Push e-mail is very simple to implement. Only a few parameters need to be changed. People like to complicate things. They like to make out that push e-mail is some complicated technology, but it's very simple:" HTC's handsets have been made simpler by the involvement of Microsoft. All of the handsets are Windows Mobile handsets. They are easy to set up and use, either by the end user or the software vendor.

Marketing the handsets and the push e-mail in the Middle East has not been as effective as it could be. Although it is popular, it has not achieved the market penetration of the U.S. or Europe yet. There are other issues, too, which have impeded the adoption of the push e-mail system. The devices are very expensive. In itself, this is not the issue, but replacement costs would be prohibitive if they were lost or stolen. This has certainly held back many businesses from making the investment. The other key issue is security and the fact that sensitive data could be lost or stolen by a company's competitors. The vendors and resellers have a tough job on their hands to convince the end users that the data is safe and that it can be managed and removed from the handset remotely. Bedrossian explained the concerns: "We see a lot of IT managers asking for protection and data security, as company-sensitive data is in a small handheld device that you can easily leave in a taxi or a restaurant without noticing. So, the next level of contribution that a reseller can add is providing advice on how to protect data on the device through password protected applications or antivirus applications."

HTC is facing a similar task in trying to allay the fears of users. However, the company has the backing of Microsoft, which is seen as an advantage. As Vardhan explained: "This is a Microsoft product. They have addressed the security issue. They make sure it is fully secure from the moment you buy it."

Nokia's long term plan is to provide a product and a service that can effectively replace the laptop as the mobile business gadget of choice. This will require a change in people's attitudes because the mobile phone is still seen as an ancillary business tool. Devassy explained the conundrum facing Nokia: "The PC came from the business to the home. The mobile phone is going from the home to the business. When the PC was in businesses, they had already thought about compatibility, manageability, security and so on, so getting it into the home was easier. Our challenge is that the phone is a consumer tool, and we're putting a consumer tool into the business."

All of the push e-mail handsets are still premium priced at this stage of their introduction into the Middle East. It is understandable and the norm for high technology products. Resellers earn a considerable margin from the sale of each, and the retention of the margin is vital in order for the resellers to continue to promote the push e-mail. Bedrossian explained why this arrangement with the resellers was so vital to the introduction of the technology: "Currently push e-mail devices retail at $300-plus, and the profit margins are really worth the effort and time. But the prices will drop soon. Moore's law still stands: Within 18 months, the price of new technology tends to halve. It's still true today and will be for push e-mail."

For Nokia, push e-mail is just the beginning; it is just the first stage in the development of a truly mobile office service, as Devassy hoped: "We tell resellers to not consider push e-mail as the area where you will make all your money. Your money will come when you mobilize other applications. Push e-mail is just a foot in the door. Your whole strategy cannot be based purely on push e-mail."

So where is the market in the Middle East for push e-mail, Blackberry handsets and the competing devices? The United Arab Emirates is a key battleground for vendors because there are huge numbers of corporations sited there. Saudi Arabia is, of course, a major market, as is Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman. The Blackberry is doing exceptionally well in Jordan, but as far as Aijaz is concerned, the main market has to be Saudi Arabia: "Saudi really has the highest potential, and it's gradually picking up. We're launching the Arabic Blackberry in the GCC soon. The current versions display Arabic, but the new one will allow you to write in Arabic as well, and with the Arabic device we expect demand in Saudi to really pick up."

So who has been buying into push e-mail as early adopters o* the technology? Banks and the hospitality and the financial sectors have been the main purchasers. Most small-to-medium-sized businesses are waiting it out until the price drops and the technology is fully proven. Once these two factors fall into place, the demand for the new technology will be enormous.

Questions for Discussion

1. Analyze the decision process buyers of a typical push e-mail device go through before purchasing the devices.

2. Apply the concept of aspirational groups to the Blackberry brand. Should marketers have boundaries with regard to this concept?

3. Explain how both positive and negative consumer attitudes toward a brand like Blackberry might develop. How might someone's attitude toward Blackberry change?

4. What role does the Blackberry appear to be playing in the development of the mobile handset market in the Middle East?

Sources: Quotes and other information from www.itp.net, July 2007; Gulf News (www.gulfnews.com); ABQ Zawya Ltd (www.zawaya.com); Nokia (www.nokia.ae); Digital Media Asia (www.digitalmediaasia.com); and Blackberry (www.blackberry.com).

Chapter 6

Defining yaffcetirtg and "the Marketing Process {Chapters 1,23 Understanding the Marketplace and Consumers (Chapters 3,4, 5, 6)

Designing a Customer-Driven Strategy and Mix (Chopfets 7,8,9,10,11,12,13,M, 15,16,17) Extending Marketing {Chapters 18,19,20)

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Responses

  • crystal
    How both positive and negative consumer attitudes toward a brand like Blackberry might develop?
    8 years ago
  • nicholas
    How might someone's attitude toward blackberry changes?
    8 years ago
  • rodrigo
    What role does the blackberry appear to be playing in the development of the mobile handset market?
    8 years ago
  • thomas
    What roles does the blackberry appear to be playing inthe development of the mobile hanset?
    7 years ago
  • arabella
    How might someone's attitude toward blackberry change?
    7 years ago

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