Belkin’s Kieran Hannon: “There’s no better time to be starting a company.”

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The Big Read, sponsored by Vodafone. Sutton-born Kieran Hannon has risen to the top of the hardware marketing world, as CMO of Belkin International.

Belkin’s three brands represent different facets of a billion dollar business. They span computer accessories, network tools and IOT with their Belkin, Linksys and WeMo brands.

Kieran’s path to Belkin started in advertising and included a stint in the much loved RadioShack as VP of Marketing. Since arriving in Belkin as their first ever CMO, Kieran has been central in bringing their story to a wider audience.

Heavily active on social media, Forbes recently named him as one of the most influential CMOs on Twitter.

Despite living in LA, Kieran is deeply involved in the Irish tech scene. He’s a Technology Advisory Board member of Enterprise Ireland and a founding member of the Irish Technology Leadership Group.

Kieran’s at the intersection of some key tech trends which makes the advice he shares with Irish startups invaluable. He’s a world expert in hardware, IOT and content marketing. All three areas represent huge opportunities for Ireland.

The importance of retail is where we begin. Almost a generation after Web 1.0, bricks and mortar remain a crucial component in Belkin’s plans, as Kieran explains.

“People are still human at the end of the day and they like to go and see products and touch them and try them out. That’s human nature. Our role at Belkin is not to decide one channel over another. It’s to give the customer the truest ‘Omni Channel’ experience they want. Sometimes they might want to buy online, sometimes they might want to buy in-store.”

Despite the fact that all Belkin’s products are sold through their own websites, Kieran doesn’t see them as competing with retail. “Our .coms are there to present the right brand experience. If people want to buy from us that’s fine, but we’re not pushing our own channels really hard. We’re there to support all partner channels. People come and they showroom on our site, they look at the reviews. They may go and buy at a Best Buy store, they may buy online at Target or Amazon.”

Kieran operates in a mobile-first environment. Product searches are conducted on Amazon even if the purchaser has no intention of buying online. “Content is the new advertising, especially product reviews. 60% of all Consumer Electronic searches are on Amazon, not Google.”

In this Omni Channel universe there is no room for spin or hype. The product is the marketing where the public write reviews, not the media. Kieran as Chief Marketing Officer is involved at all stages of production. His engineering degree from DIT makes perfect sense in the full stack workplace.

Thank China, thank PCH, thank Kickstarter but hardware has never felt so interesting or accessible.

Rather than being threatened by waves of hardware upstarts, Kieran loves what the new models enable. “There’s no better time to be starting a company. It takes about 30% of the software engineering capability to do something today that it would have taken 10-15 years ago. The world is very different and this is a great era for someone to come in and try something. If you’ve got the vision you can get the support from companies like PCH and Flex. They can help you through the whole design and manufacturing process so you don’t have to start sourcing manufacturers in China. I think it’s a wonderful time.”

“Hardware is very complex,” Kieran cautions, “There’s lots of trip-ups for people. Not just relating to design, manufacturing and shipping logistics. There’s also all the regulatory and compliance issues you have regarding power, radio transmissions and so on. It’s a huge undertaking. For a lot of companies that could chew up a lot of their investment funds, precious capital. That’s where companies like PCH and Flex come into play.”

Kieran underlines how Belkin benefits from being in business since 1983. “The power of the brand is still most important. Our brands are trusted for a long time so we take pride in the quality and the experiences that we create. When all things are equal and the customer sees a brand that they trust, then of course they’ll lean our way.”

That in many ways is the timeless economic cycle. The new replacing the old. Some people believe we’re entering a period of consolidation which will favour incumbents. Regarding IOT, there’s a lot of concern about issues of interconnectivity and security. Will one IOT platform emerge to dominate all others?

“It’s not going to be one IOT platform”, Kieran responds, “There’s going to be multiple platforms, each doing different things. It’s never going to be one solution fits all. That’s the beauty of the market, it naturally adapts and creates the right solution that’s required.”

Kieran explains Belkin’s twin track approach encompassing their own WeMo platform and Amazon’s Echo. “We’ve made a major investment building out our own platform, we’ve built products that fit on it. We have a lot of partners that use our platform as the ‘on ramp’ to the internet of things. We also integrate with Amazon Echo. That’s been an incredible partnership. We’ll partner with the right people to enhance user experience. Echo’s a great one, we’ll do more.”

We move away from Belkin as I ask Kieran what advice he has for the Irish tech scene in general. What strengths does he think we should play to?

Kieran thinks we need to ramp up our use of content marketing to connect globally. “I think it’s really important to create a connection with the story that you’re telling. Get crisp, get real sharp, get the emotion into it and I think that’s where you’ll hit the home run. You’ve got to sweat those details to really craft a vision and once you have that it will make a huge difference. Don’t be modest about it, get out and talk about it. That’s really important, considering our storytelling heritage.”

He returns to Ireland next week for The Web Summit. He’ll be taking part in the Brand X strand, joining a discussion on one of the main stages and making himself available for mentor sessions.

He can’t wait, as he explains. “I’m very proud that the biggest web conference in Europe is in Ireland. I would encourage everyone in the space to just go, soak up everything, listen, watch and through osmosis let it permeate into your own DNA. It’s a real-time MBA for people. That shouldn’t be missed.”

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