Marketing the future of the internet of things

Wild Geese: Kieran Hannon, Belkin, Los Angeles

From running his own highly successful advertising firm in San Francisco to looking after global marketing for a billion-dollar tech firm based in LA, Kieran Hannon knows a lot about how best to promote big brands.

The Sutton-born man, who has been named as one of the top 100 chief marketing officers in the world, and one of the most influential ones on Twitter, says that while he initially studied engineering at college, his heart was always in reaching out to customers.

Hannon, who has been living and working on the west coast of the United States for the past 30 years, is currently employed as chief marketing officer for Belkin International, looking after its three core brands: Belkin, Linksys and WeMo.

Belkin, recently named by Fast Company as one of the most innovative companies in the Internet of Things (IoT) space, is best known as a manufacturer of consumer electronics. In recent years, however, it has diversified greatly, first though its acquisition of the data networking hardware products firm Linksys in early 2013, and then through WeMo, a branded suite of home automation gadgets that enable users to control electronics remotely.

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Hannon says that, from a young age, he wanted to go into marketing, but was initially persuaded against it.

“In my heart of hearts, I really wanted to be in marketing from the start, but my dad wanted me to take over the family business. He and his brother had a very successful company and wanted me to join it so I ended up doing engineering at college with a view to doing exactly that. But it was never really my thing,” he says doing promotional work for Rothmans and related brands served him well as he moved to the US shortly after graduating and decided to go into advertising.

“I started working in ad agencies in San Francisco, including the likes of Young and Rubicam, J Walter Thompson and Saatchi & Saatchi, and over the years slowly worked my way up to the point where I was running my own agency, heading up the Grey Group operations in the Bay Area.

“From there I decided to go client side, firstly working as vice-president of marketing for Radioshack and then spending a few years working for a bunch of start-ups such as Helio, Cooking.com, Sidebar and UBM Cannon, before ending up at Belkin in May 2013, just two months after the company had acquired Linksys,” he says.

While transitioning from one side of the fence to the other might put off some, Hannon has enjoyed the change.

“Back when I was in the agency world and was running global accounts successfully, I really enjoyed all the creativity that went with all of that. Of course, that was something of a heyday when agencies really managed brands for their clients. Fast-forward to today and with the many different ways in which consumers can engage with the brand, marketers really need to control the destiny and help nurture brands themselves because everything moves so fast,” he says.

Hannon says he loves the way social media has helped bring marketers closer to customers in recent years.

“I really enjoy that I can have real-time conversations with consumers. I’m very active on Twitter in particular and like engaging with people to try to understand what they are doing. We get great feedback using social media and for a marketer it is a heaven-sent tool,” he says.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Hannon is also very excited about the products he’s charged with promoting. “It’s really exciting to be working with these brands, all of which are having a major impact in homes across the globe. The brands are all distinct but related and they are at the centre of any smart home,” he says.

Given that a lot of the products he is promoting are in the IoT space, he says that a certain amount of his advertising spend is as much about educating consumers as selling to them.

“Helping people understand how these devices can help them manage their lives and earthly assets better is important and people get it immediately when you explain the benefits. Like we have smart water meters that let users know if there’s a leak or the possibility of a pipe bursting. Once people hear that technology like that is easily available, they are keen to invest in it,” he says.

Though having spent most of his working life in the US, Hannon has kept his links with home. In addition to being a technology advisory board member for Enterprise Ireland, he's also a founding member of the Irish Technology Leadership Group.

Hannon says he was impressed with the calibre of the Irish companies coming to Silicon Valley, highlighting the likes of individuals such as Liam Casey of PCH and Pat Phelan of Trustev. "I see a lot of Pat Phelans in Ireland," he says, urging entrepreneurs to act now, rather than later.

“If you’ve ambitions and really want to achieve those, then there’s really nothing wrong in travelling away to do it. We’ve got to get past that notion in Ireland that if you leave to do something elsewhere, then there’s something wrong. People travel all the time now and they go away and then come back and bring that energy and expertise back with them. That can only be seen as a good thing.”