Okay, I’ll admit it — I’m a gadget geek. I love consumer electronics, a passion that has made CES a cherished pilgrimage for nearly three decades and certainly made my 15 years working with Panasonic more than just another client engagement. Lest you need more bonafides, I will even admit to buying The Newton back in 1993, the first “personal digital assistant” or PDA, a $100mm failure that Steve Jobs mercifully killed shortly after his return to Apple in 1997.
I share this background less for the camaraderie of fellow gadget geeks (although feel free to share your favorite new “toys” or apps) and more to set up my appreciation for the challenges of marketing these products, a challenge that Belkin CMO Kieran Hannon has risen to for four years now. With product lifecycle’s lasting 3-6 months, rapidly changing ecosystems around IOS and Droid product reshaping the accessories market and retailers being both partners and competitors, it’s amazing any brand can survive let alone thrive yet that’s just what Belkin and sister brands Linksys and WEMO have done.
How? As you will glean from my interview with Kieran below, the answer almost always come back to being customer centric. The more input you get from your best customers, the more likely you are to satisfy their needs. The more you respond to customer feedback on social channels, the more likely you are to maintain or improve brand loyalty and advocacy. The more highly content you provide, the more likely you’ll convert a browser into a buyer. But don’t take my word for it. Read on to find out how this approach goes from theory to practice faster than you can say “gadget geek.”
Drew: Have your products changed or been shaped by consumer feedback particularly social feedback?
Kieran: Absolutely. Our brand DNA is about people inspired products so we’re passionate about how consumers interact with our products, and how these product give them the experiences they want. We can get this information through product development in the classic sense and do research with the voice of customer and beta communities. For instance, on Linksys the feedback loop and the community loop are hugely important. With WeMo, our Smart Home brand, a roadmap was informed by feedback from the current products in the market. For instance, we actually flipped some priorities and we accelerated the development of a light switch because consumers really loved our Insight Switch. So, that was one of the very first products we brought to market based on feedback from the community. Our beta communities are also very important. At Linksys, we spend an inordinate time testing out products with our beta community so we get a lot of valid feedback before it goes into production. We listen constantly through our Customer Advocacy (care) organization. Then, they incorporate their findings to a feedback loop that goes into the product development and management team.
Drew: You’ve previously mentioned something about 10,000 positive social interactions a month. Can you elaborate on that?
Kieran: A few years ago, we made it a priority to really engage with consumers via social media. As you know, when someone has a problem or they want to give feedback, they go to social media. Social is real-time listening and being able to respond instantly if there is a problem; for this, empathy is really important. Empathy is acknowledging that you’ve heard their comments and, that in itself is a very rewarding component of the voice to the customer. After the first year of prioritizing social, we’ve over 10,000 successful engagements a month. This has that improved our customer satisfaction scores; it’s also improved our net promoter score. More importantly, it’s resulted in very satisfied customers because we’re able to help them and guide them should the problem be elsewhere.
Drew: Interesting. I’d like to hear more about the beta communities you mentioned earlier. What does that community look like in the case of Linksys and how do you engage with them?
Kieran: One of our product families under Linksys is WRT. It’s an open source platform, and is also very much for a “prosumer” audience. We actually solicit the feedback of this prosumer community and we ship them alphas and betas of our products. We recently launched a new software app for Linksys – Linksys Smart Wi-Fi. As a part of that, the community provided feedback on the app and the experience in an alpha and beta mode. Nothing gets to market without going through those valuable steps.
Drew: How would you advise a fellow CMO who had not developed a private community? How do you rationalize the investment?
Kieran: We bring products to market that people are clamoring to get so for us, it’s not a decision of doing or not doing it, it’s a must do. It is part of our DNA that there’s no another way to create these compelling experiences without others being able to provide feedback. We’re working on something for over a year and the amount of research and testing that we’ve done really shows how dedicated we are to this. At every touch point, we spend an inordinate amount of time evaluating, testing and ensuring that the product delivers a great experience. It’s not just for consumers but also for the retail partners with training, helping their employees understand what it is that we’re solving for their customers. It’s about content as well: the right content, the right place, the right time with the right emphasis.
Drew: Thank you for bringing up content. Can you pick a Belkin brand and walk me through your approach to content development?
Kieran: We recently launched the new upgraded Linksys software app and created highly relevant content especially for parents who were looking for more control over family WiFi usage. For example, when your kids are supposed to be doing their homework, you can actually have their WiFi devices turn off at a certain time everyday.
Drew: That’s very cool. Any more examples you’d like to expand upon?
Kieran: Yes, another great example that we have around content and use case marketing is also within Linksys. How many times have people come to your home and right away ask for the Wi-Fi password? Then we all go hustling through our drawers to look for the piece of paper where we’ve written that down. Now within the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi app, you can text the Wi-Fi ID and password to your guests as a onetime access. The person just clicks on the text message and load it straight into their device WiFi login.
Drew: Nice. Let’s talk about content when it comes to articles and video. How is Belkin thinking about other forms of content?
Kieran: As a brand, content is paramount and has expanded to include reviews. So, encouraging reviews is very important on our own sites and also on other ecommerce sites. Star ratings are another form of content that people look at as an indicator of quality and performance. So, you’ve got to think broader than just paid media. Earned media which is user generated content is also extremely important for us. Additionally, scaling content is critical and we create a lot of content here. We’ve done a lot of testing in the last year with videos, different types of videos, different formats. This year we’re also including different durations and layouts.
Drew: How do you make sure there is some element that unifies the story of your brand?
Kieran: It comes back to the DNA of the brand and the position of the brand. I have talked about how Belkin is about people-inspired products and Linksys is Wi-Fi for life. We did some great research last year with IDC and one of the things that came out was the role of Wi-Fi in people’s lives. If you look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, right after food and shelter is Wi-Fi! Understanding the role of Wi-Fi in people’s lives and being able to use that as a connective tissue in how we create meaningful content is really important. We spend our time stitching stories together in bitable chunks or what I call mobile moments for people who want to absorb more information and learn about our products. Our USB-C Resource Center is a place where consumers can learn more about these new connectors. We’ve built an emulator where you can enter the device you have and then find the appropriate USB-C products. We’ve had a lot of our retail partners take that emulator and use it for training their store employees as well. That’s another great example of understanding how our products play a role in people’s lives.