How One Bluetooth Handset Maker Looks to Broaden Its Customer Base

Five Questions for Plantronics VP-Marketing Elizabeth Bastiaanse Hamren

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NEW YORK ( -- The explosion of smartphone adoption, along with many states' hands-free cellphone legislation, has exploded sales of wireless headsets. Bluetooth headsets, in particular, are now must-have gadgets, and the market is dominated by specialty makers such as Plantronics, Jabra and Aliph. Motorola is one of the few big-brand players remaining, as others -- such as Apple, which discontinued its iPhone Bluetooth headset earlier this year -- have ceded the market to the experts.

Elizabeth Bastiaanse Hamren
Elizabeth Bastiaanse Hamren Credit: Bart Nagel
Elizabeth Bastiaanse Hamren has now worked at two of those leading experts, Plantronics and Aliph. After helming marketing and overseeing the ascendancy of the Jawbone at Aliph, Ms. Hamren left last year. However, by early 2009, she was back in the industry, leading marketing efforts as a consultant for two of Plantronics' high-end headset launches. In September, she joined Plantronics full time as VP-marketing of its wide range of headset product lines.

In 2008, Aliph spent $1.8 million marketing its Jawbone product, while Plantronics spent $330,000 across its entire product line, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

And, while headsets may seem as exciting as microwaves when it comes to marketing, Ms. Hamren has seen that potential humdrum-ness as a marketing challenge and opportunity -- twice. In a recent interview with Ad Age, she explained why.

Ad Age: How did you come to join Plantronics?

Ms. Hamren: At the end of 2008, I left Jawbone. I felt I had done everything I had needed to do there, and so I parted ways with the company. Then I started a consulting project in March, working on Plantronics' consumer business. Plantronics has a broad portfolio of products, both on the business-to-business side and the consumer side. B-to-B is larger, but they've had consumer products for a long time. They had this new set of consumer products coming out, in particular the Voyager Pro and Discovery 975 ... and they had really invested a lot in product development and wanted to do that in marketing, too.

The depth of the engineering is really the unique thing about Plantronics -- it's a 47-year-old company -- and they have incredibly deep expertise in headset development, everything from the ergonomics to inbound audio quality and outbound audio quality. One of the things that attracted me to them was that great underlying technology and the broad product portfolio. They operate not just at the high-end of the market, where Jawbone is, but also the entry-level and the mid-tier. They have a product line, not just one product.

Ad Age: Had Plantronics focused much on consumer marketing before? And was that the challenge?

Ms. Hamren: The marketing challenge is to communicate effectively how good the products work. In some sense, the marketing wasn't as good as the products. People who had used the products made up an incredibly loyal and fantastic following. But what we wanted to do was communicate to a broader audience how good those products are. This is why I brought in Creative Feed as an agency because I felt like they strategically got what we were doing, and they could also execute in a really fast way. That's what we needed -- that bridge between Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue.

Ad Age: So you hired the agency and then created a marketing campaign?

Ms. Hamren: We developed the messaging for both of the two new products, and to give you some context, Plantronics launched two products into the high-end [of the headset market] at the same time. The first, the Voyager Pro, launched in April as a performance product. We developed a video used for both consumers and retailers and created channel-marketing collateral from end caps to shippers that communicated the message that this product was engineered for sound quality. The marketing is all about bringing out the science behind the product.

Then we launched the Discovery 975 in August, and that was at the other end of the spectrum in the premium space -- a product meant to be the essence of technology and design. We created a campaign called "Ingeniously Simple." It has amazing audio quality, but in a much smaller and more discreet form factor that's easier to take on and off.

They're both high-end products at $99 and above. We divided the whole market by people who only care about performance, and so here is this form factor, battery life and speaker designed to be worn all day. And then for other people who still want a high-end headset, but want it to be more discreet, easier to take on and off, for them, we have this other product. [Then] the two don't cannibalize each other. It's been an interesting strategy to take the high-end part of the market and segment it this way.

Ad Age: How do you figure out the media mix for a niche tech brand like Plantronics? It's obviously not a "Desperate Housewives" TV buy, but what is it?

Ms. Hamren: The two things to really focus on are public relations and channel marketing. These decisions are made at retail, so it's about working closely with channel products where the product is sold to create great campaigns with them at retail. Everything from promotions and shippers and great creative in all the channels, whether that's Best Buy, Radio Shack, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile stores, and then also online, where Amazon is a big channel for us.

Ad Age: What is your strategy going forward?

Ms. Hamren: Plantronics will continue to have a range of products from the entry level to the premium. When I first got here, I focused on the premium, but I'd like to bring a lot of what we learned on the premium products to other segments as well as, and PC products and gaming products, and strengthen their consumer brand-market positions.

Plantronics has always been a significant market-share player in the Bluetooth headset space. The challenge going forward is growing the Bluetooth headset market. Every person who uses a smartphone should use a headset. And so it's communicating the benefits of using a headset in general, [and] addressing the social stigma [of] not everyone [feeling] comfortable wearing a headset. As the world moves to more smart communication devices, a headset is really an essential piece of that puzzle. Plantronics, as the market leader in headsets, really needs to take the lead in growing the market and making headsets a de facto standard.

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