BlackBerry plan to pay iPhone users to switch 'desperate,' says prof

BlackBerry's latest marketing tactic, to lure customers away from Apple by paying them to switch phones, hasn't convinced marketers.
The new BlackBerry Passport, displayed during the launch of the phone in Toronto in September. BlackBerry is offering iPhone users up to $600 to switch to a Passport phone. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

BlackBerry's latest marketing tactic, trying to lure customers away from Apple by paying them to switch phones, hasn't convinced marketers. 

The Waterloo, Ont.-based tech company is offering up to $600 to Apple users to ditch their iPhones in favour of a BlackBerry Passport. 

​​Sarah Wilner, a marketing expert and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, said it's a "desperate" move. 

"Pricing is a signalling strategy, and so what this is signalling to me is that people will not switch without some kind of incentive, and that's what the company believes," said Wilner, in an interview with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition host Craig Norris. 

"My sense is, is this is for a very, very specific niche of consumer. So I do think they are switching back to their enterprise roots, and this is for what they are calling 'power professionals,'" said Wilner. 

BlackBerry is offering iPhone users up to $400 in trade-in value depending on the model of iPhone, plus a $200 top-up, as long as they purchase a new BlackBerry Passport phone online from the BlackBerry store between December 1, 2014 and February 13, 2015. 

Neil Bearse, the director of marketing at Queen's School of Business in Kingston, Ont., said it's an aggressive marketing tactic and could send the wrong message. 

"Any time you're putting this type of cash incentive up front, what you're actually saying is, 'We know the other product is better and now we have to actually bribe you to come and try ours," said Bearse.

He said good phones will attract loyal customers without a cash incentive, and doesn't expect many iPhone users will take BlackBerry up on its offer.

Promotion is long-term move

But Grant Packard, an assistant professor of marketing at Wilfrid Laurier, said it's too early to call it a bad strategy.

"I don't see how this could improve short-term cash flow. To me, this is a long-term play. Like, there's no real benefit to adopting, to giving these incentives, because they'll show up on the books this year. This is a bet for the long [term], for two, three, four years out," said Packard. 

Packard said the promotion could be a creative way to win back users from the business community. For it work, he said those who take BlackBerry up on its offer will have to be satisfied with the product, otherwise, they'll just switch back to their iPhones.

Wilner said the promotion is a marketing move to show consumers BlackBerry is still a phone maker. 

"This is about getting attention, this is about telling the market and the public that BlackBerry is still in the phone game,  and not just in the software or security game. I don't think it's really about incentivizing consumers," she said.