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Belkin International’s CMO: Why Agile Marketing Works

As Belkin International’s Chief Marketing Officer, Kieran Hannon is charged with overseeing the marketing efforts of three global consumer electronics brands. Yet, despite the enormity of the task, his team has retained a nimbleness often associated with startups. The company employs an agile marketing philosophy. This includes incorporating real-time customer feedback through their product design and marketing process, continually iterating product packaging, and tweaking campaigns. As a result, the team retains a deep understanding of what’s important to their customers. They can use that knowledge to create products and communications that are highly relevant to their needs.

Hannon has honed this approach, drawing on his vast experience working with large brands, small startups and venerated advertising agencies.  We caught up with Hannon recently to learn more about what agile marketing looks like in practice, how organizations can employ it for themselves, and why focusing on relevant data is vital.

Many people, especially if they’re involved with tech, may be familiar with agile software development. How do you apply the approach to marketing at Belkin?

We’re unique in that we have a qualitative facility here on site, where we’re bringing in users to talk about products and constantly getting their feedback. Then we’re iterating on product design, packaging, communications and UX. That’s an important part of agile marketing. You’re taking real-time learning, you understand what’s going on from a category and competitive standpoint and you’re creating the ideal presentation incorporating all of those elements.

However, first you have to lay a foundation for your brand. Like any great home, there’s a great blueprint for it. Our overarching brand plans and strategies are in place, so that what we’re doing is making incremental tweaks. We don’t need to reinvent things. Instead, we’re taking the best of what we have and we’re continuing to make sure that it’s still relevant to what we’re doing.

The iterative tweaking keeps you relevant. But it seems like poorly-executed agile marketing could lead to more haphazard changes. How do you avoid this problem?

If you don’t have a strong understanding of the brand vision and what the framework is, agile marketing could implode, rather than explode, the brand. So, especially for startups, I think you need to stay the course with your marketing for a while to establish a competitive foundation. Another important point is to keep the voice of the customer at the center. You’re not reacting to the edge cases— you’re looking at the overall data to get an understanding of what’s important. The beauty of agile marketing is that once you do have that solid brand foundation, you can then fuel the influencer marketplace and how people talk about your brand. You can also use social media to amplify your voice and personality on top of it. That’s another aspect of agile marketing; it’s living in the flow of that conversation.

Can you talk about an instance that illustrates agile marketing at work?

One great example is from a product launch, in which we’d created a box to have the smallest footprint possible. Our competitors were using a box that was 40 percent larger, and it was like a billboard sign. We were trying to minimize our environmental footprint. Instead our product was perceived as smaller and different from the other items on the shelf,  but instead, we were minimizing our ability to be visible and break into the market. As soon as we realized that, we turned on a dime, and within six hours we had changed the packaging, the dimensions and we were reprinting the box. For us, being agile is an organizational philosophy that applies across of all of our teams, from product ideation to execution. The beauty of it is that it makes us pretty nimble and fast.

Collecting, analyzing and acting on data is critical to the agile marketing process at Belkin. How can marketers understand what data is important and what to ignore?

Many people are only focused on big data, but little data can sometimes be even more important. In a lot of cases, seven or eight data points provide all the key information for what you want to do.  Ultimately, it’s important to understand the levers you’re using and what information you need to move them. You have to deliver value and a great customer experience—one of a caliber and quality that is enduring.

A lot of marketing has changed over the course of your career. What challenges do you see marketers facing today?

I think a lot of people become enamored with big, bright shiny lights, and can move too fast without bringing the rest of the market along. For example, you always hear that Millennials aren’t on Facebook, but then you look at the reach and engagement by Millennials on Facebook and it far outweighs any other social media platform. So before you move on to something new and different, make sure you maximize opportunities you have with current platforms. I think you can be experimenting with 10 percent of your marketing at any given time, but the other 90 percent should be solidly building that foundation and making it stronger every day.

The information and opinions in this article are presented as-is and may not be suitable for all readers.  Please obtain appropriate advice for your particular situation.

© 2018 First Republic Bank

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