From great to world-class: How the CMO of Belkin International transformed his organization
Moving from a channel-led approach to one that embraces every brand touch point doesn't happen overnight. Contributors Erica Seidel and Nadine Dietz interviewed Belkin CMO Kieran Hannon about the shifts he's made since joining the electronics company.
[blockquote cite=”Kieran Hannon, CMO of Belkin International”]If a consumer can’t speak highly of your brand and recommend you, all bets are off. So we work backwards from there and spend our energy on delivering value direct to consumer and with our retail partners. [/blockquote]
The first thing he did was find out what consumers thought of Belkin. What he discovered was that, although they had high awareness of Belkin and a positive impression of the company, they didn’t fully comprehend the Belkin brand.
With that information in hand, Hannon kicked off a three-year effort to redesign his marketing organization in three distinct phases, moving from channel-led to product-led to brand-led. This journey to best serve the Belkin consumer not only changed the organization of the marketing team but also affected the type of marketers Hannon wanted to take on those new roles.
Today, Belkin International, with its sophisticated agile marketing capabilities, is considered a world-class partner to global retailers that continuously delight their consumers.
Here is how he did it.
Organization action plan
Year 1: Understand the organization and its opportunities; assess the talent and reporting structures; prioritize low-hanging fruit.
Year 1 was all about learning and going after a visible challenge — understanding the opportunities while also integrating the newly-acquired Linksys brand into Belkin International’s brand portfolio.
At the time, Belkin International was channel-led, with the marketing functions separated by region, retail and communications channels, so the immediate opportunity was to reorganize by product. That would allow the company to take advantage of new synergy coming from integrated marketing teams.
In addition, Hannon took over the Customer Advocacy (CA) team — the front line of customer experience – and began to dive deep into every aspect of consumer engagement.
Year 2: Create a global structure; develop an organizational muscle around understanding and serving customers.
While Hannon transitioned from regional channel teams to global marketing teams, he focused on developing staffers’ skills in anticipation of rolling out global brand teams in Year 3.
He needed to evolve from an organization of experts in a particular channel to an organization focused on 360-degree consumer connections, identifying the marketing stars who would soon lead each brand. Understanding the customer journey and impact of each touch point was the key need for the marketing team, so Hannon provided cross-functional training and mentorship.
Toward the end of Year 2, the company invested in a key enabling resource, Adobe Experience Manager, a Marketing Resource Management (MRM) platform which included Digital Asset Management (DAM) capabilities.
Year 3: Roll out vertical global brand teams, with a shared services team built around supporting expertise.
Next, as part of a larger organizational development, Hannon created three global brand teams, one for each brand: Belkin, Linksys and WeMo. Each brand’s marketing leader now owns every touch point for that brand, including social media, packaging, retail channel marketing and every single marketing asset.
This end goal made perfect sense to Hannon. In his view:
Marketers need to know everything that’s happening with our customers, whether through voice of the customer activities such as online reviews, focus groups, in-store experiences, online interactions or customer support. That way, they can quickly move from strategy to execution.
Meanwhile, a smaller shared services team — including experiential/events, localization/language and e-commerce, for instance — spans the brands. The brand groups also share the company’s qualitative consumer center. This in-house factory for customer insight enables overnight iteration on branding concepts, packaging and marketing materials — elevating capabilities in agile branding.
Belkin’s customer-fueled approach has achieved double-digit growth in e-tail, along with a continuous string of achievements with partners. For instance, in response to customer needs, Hannon’s team recently partnered with Apple and launched the ScreenCare+ Application System, a solution for protecting iPhone screens that takes less than two minutes to apply and lets customers easily safeguard their beloved smartphones.
Consumers loved it, and, as the first solution video rolled out, it garnered nearly a million views in the first week. Belkin also developed the Valet Charge Dock for Apple Watch + iPhone in partnership with the consumer electronics giant.
Belkin’s success is also evident in the strong relationships it has with both Target and Best Buy, who leverage Belkin’s consumer center to iterate on new consumer concepts in real time. Even deeper is Belkin’s partnership with Hudson News; the brand recently launched a new Belkin-branded store in LAX, which is managed by Hudson News. This launch comes on the heels of Belkin winning Hudson News’ Vendor of the Year, not just in electronics but for the whole store.
- Identify KPIs from the start. Belkin uses Net Promoter Score as its #1 KPI. Customer satisfaction scores are another important measure. To zero in on the objectives for the Customer Advocacy team, in addition to their Customer Satisfaction scores, ongoing research, including online consumer sentiment, keeps the team current with how customers perceive products. This dialogue surfaces opportunities to resolve issues, but also to go beyond that and delight consumers with great service and authentic follow-up on social media.
- Visualize the end game and implement it in stages, incorporating customer insights along the way. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes, in order to get to your destination, you need to try different routes and continuously incorporate consumer insights. Much like the Waze app, where consumers weigh in on the most efficient route, they will guide you if you are willing to listen.
- Don’t be afraid to make bold moves. A fresh organizational redesign with new boxes on paper is not enough; the next step is to develop or hire talent to fit into those new boxes. Similarly, if you own the customer experience, you may need to understand everything that influences that experience, from the product to the out-of-box experience and all the way to customer service.
- Shape career arcs to progressively build customer knowledge. Hannon encourages his team to think beyond the traditional “career ladder” model of advancement: “There isn’t a ladder. It’s more of a tree with different limbs, and each limb gives you a different experience and skill set to better understand customers.” When marketers grow to know everything about what’s happening with customers — whether through focus groups, in-store experiences, online interactions or customer support — they can quickly move from strategy to execution.
- When an org redesign broadens people’s jobs beyond previous silos, expect to invest heavily in coaching. A head of marketing is responsible for all aspects of the brand, including the team’s development. Hannon expected his calendar to reflect that imperative. He invested approximately 20 percent of his time in mentoring his brand leaders so they could own all aspects of the customer experience. This mentoring has led to new career paths for many in the organization. For instance, someone who once focused on the in-store experience is now leading all consumer marketing for a brand. A former digital designer who’s now designing across all touch points created one of the best brand experiences at this year’s CES. Another team member who used to be focused on channel operations is now in charge of go-to-market planning for another of their brands.
- Hire and promote people who stay curious and stay out of “that’s not my job” thinking. When hiring people who will thrive while immersed in the crosshairs of cross-channel customer insight, Hannon focuses on attitude and aptitude. In interviews, Hannon looks for candidates to show their passion and curiosity for the brand. If a candidate hasn’t explored the online and in-store environment for a brand, the conversation is short. He also looks for people who drive programs to success and can operate in gray areas, without defined direction: “The most successful people don’t point fingers when something goes wrong. They take ownership.”
Final word from Kieran Hannon:
There is no such thing as online or offline marketing anymore. Forget e-anything; it is all just marketing. And if you aren’t equipped to deliver the right consumer experience at EVERY touch point, you can’t expect your brands to succeed.