Finding my old Palm Pilot in a kitchen drawer led me to ponder how brands can fade away. Is BlackBerry, the formerly ubiquitous mobile business tool (and iconic case study for naming–thank you, Lexicon!), finally a victim of its own early popularity? It’s hard to say the word now without thinking of pleated khakis, PDAs (remember the Handspring Visor?) and other business accoutrements of the early 2000s. So will BlackBerry be the last great brand of this era?

This ‘first era of mobile’ is not completely gone.  Much of what was established in those years is still with us, terminology such as ‘synching’, engagement directly with the screen (or nearly so with the stylus) that began to compete with the mouse and keyboard metaphor, as well as on-the-go connectivity and portability; the whole idea of a computer in your hand or pocket was established by these early achievers.

So BlackBerry’s struggles may remind us how brand perception can be as important to business success as the technology features of the product: Some fourteen years ago, a quirky name combined with on-the-go email hit a (dare I say it?) juicy sweetspot for business travelers. The devices, ubiquitous in airports and meetings, are now an icon for the second era of mobile: the one that came during and just after the era of the Personal Digital Assistant.  The third era began more or less with the iPhone. And the next device to represent the mobile category is up for grabs, but the outlines of what it could be are there.

But because you’ve lost your early popularity doesn’t have to count you out for the rest of the game. Some well-established early leaders (think of another fruit name, also see above) recovered to become leaders of the future; however, it’s certainly true that many brands become so wedded to a particularly moment in culture and technology their names (like Palm, maybe Sony, perhaps like Yahoo!?) are permanently associated with earlier, more glorious eras. The success of a brand, is, thus, very often its greatest challenge.

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