If you've ever wondered to yourseself, "How can I make this product better?" you were probably asking the wrong audience. Or at least that's what Kieran Hannon, CMO of Belkin International, would tell you if you were one of his employees. At Belkin, the idea of turning over a product in just one person's, or even several people's, hands until market-ready is unthinkable.
This is because Mr. Hannon and his team are involved in a complex product development feedback loop that involves not only marketing, but also customer service and communities of Belkin enthusiasts. It's a process that, in truth, never ends, but helps ensure that Belkin's products reflect the company goal of providing great experiences that people want.
The Belkin story
Before understanding how Belkin refines its products, it's important to know the brand story. Storytelling, of course, is quickly becoming one of the hallmarks of modern marketing. While some might consider a good brand story to be just a foundation for content creation, Belkin's story runs right down to the bedrock of the company.
"Our brand DNA is about people-inspired products," says Mr. Hannon, who joined the company as CMO in 2013. "We're passionate about how consumers interact with our products, and how these products give them the experiences they want." Mr. Hannon oversees marketing for the three Belkin International brands -- Belkin, Linksys and WeMo -- which offer products that connect consumers to a daily lifeline: the internet.
Knowing thy consumer
Sometimes, Belkin's key product features emerge from a learned insight. Take Linksys wi-fi products, for example. "If you look at Maslow's hierarchy of needs, right after food and shelter is wi-fi!" notes Hannon. Understanding the ubiquitous nature of wi-fi, and moreover how people are using it every day, informs Belkin's storytelling but also helps improve Linksys products.
Mr. Hannon says that the company noticed that many consumers who have connectivity issues are actually using an old router, which today is likely connected to more wi-fi-enabled devices than ever before. Armed with this knowledge, Linksys developed a helpful, and differentiating, feature in its routers that keeps that dreaded buffering to a minimum. "You can prioritize your Netflix streaming device and de-prioritize other devices so it ensures you have that great experience," he says.
In addition to uncovering insights, Mr. Hannon's marketing team and other groups are integrated into decision-making during a number of other stages. "So, we are very aligned and it's an exciting, rewarding process," he says. He mentions the creation of ScreenCare+, a mobile screen protector applicator system that Belkin launched in Apple stores. "That's not just a product; it's an experience," says Mr. Hannon. "The product management team, the industrial design teams and the marketing teams work very closely in the development of that program as it relates to the research aspect, from embedded testing to testing different formats for training of store specialists."
Consulting the "prosumers"
To really earn that "people-inspired" tagline and ensure that its products deliver, Belkin also takes the development process to "the people," who are its customer and beta communities. Mr. Hannon calls the more sophisticated among them "prosumers."
"At Linksys," says Mr. Hannon, "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." He and his team ship alphas and betas of products like the WRT open source platform to these groups. Customer care then listens for their input and reports back to the development and management teams, who tweak the product accordingly.
"The feedback loop and the community loop are hugely important," says Mr. Hannon. "With WeMo, our Smart Home brand, a roadmap was informed by feedback from the current products in the market." With this product, the team revised its priorities to accelerate the development of a light switch after discovering that consumers loved the Insight Switch. "That was one of the very first products we brought to market based on feedback from the community," Mr. Hannon says.
The investment required to develop and create relationships with these communities might be substantial, but Mr. Hannon says it's well worth the cost for Belkin, given the widespread demand for its products. Furthermore, this complex development cycle is a "must-do" for a brand whose story revolves around providing what people want. "It is part of our DNA that there's no other way to create these compelling experiences without others being able to provide feedback," he says. "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."