RIM marketing chief to leave, shares fall nearly 3%

BlackBerry maker struggling to maintain smartphone market share, establish PlayBook

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"Personal reasons," along with "to pursue other opportunities," is corporate-speak for a hit job, a firing.

So we can safely assume that Research in Motion chief marketing officer Keith Pardy was asked to leave the company where he worked since 2009.

(Also see: Who's winning in U.S. smartphone market? (Hint: It's not Nokia))

Pardy's departure might have been the catalyst for shares of RIM (NASDAQ: RIMM) to fall 1.98, or 2.9 percent, to 66.47 on Friday.

I hope this isn't an indication of where RIM thinks its problems lie. Because if the Canadian company believes that putting the right person in charge of marketing will reverse the company's slide toward second-tier smartphone status, it's sadly mistaken.

RIM's competitive woes begin with its, well, competitors. Apple is the largest technology company in the world, an aggressive innovator, and a brand-building machine that engenders fierce loyalty (and thus an always healthy percentage of the market). Google, meanwhile, has developed a mobile OS -- Android -- that in less than two years has gone from nowhere to 29 percent of the U.S. smartphone market, ahead of Apple and RIM, each with 27 percent.

Worse for RIM, the company's long-time stronghold -- the corporate world -- is now in play as iPhones and Androids are becoming the new favorite smartphones among millions of professionals.

And that's not because of RIM's shoddy marketing. It's because consumers like their iPhones and Droids, and because a growing number of mobile device integration vendors offer platforms that allow IT managers to handle iOS and Android phones and tablets. Enterprises opting for BlackBerries is no longer a foregone conclusion.

And while RIM is pinning a lot of hopes on its PlayBook tablet, Apple just introduced its second version of the iPad and has anywhere from 85% to 90% of the tablet market. PlayBook's delayed entry into the arena puts it in a tough position. That's not marketing's fault, either.

RIM continues to sell record numbers of BlackBerries, even as its market share continues to deteriorate. That's because the smartphone market is expected to grow for at least the next few years. But where will the company be in, say, three years, when smartphone sales plateau and RIM has only 15 percent of the market? And a comparable slice of the tablet market?

I keep reading that RIMM shares are undervalued these days, which may be so. But I don't see a viable strategy for the company to compete head-to-head over the long haul with giants such as Apple, which at a market capitalization of $330 billion is nearly 10 times larger than RIM, and Google, which is more than four times larger.

My prediction: After the partnership with Nokia falls apart, Microsoft buys RIM. You read it here first.

Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.

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