The Interview: Kieran Hannon, CMO, Belkin International

25 Aug 2014

Kieran Hannon, CMO, Belkin International

Irishman Kieran Hannon discusses tech’s next big thing as CMO of an international firm named by Fast Company as one of the world’s most innovative companies in the internet of things.

Though he has been based on the sunny west coast of the US for almost 30 years and has subsequently picked up a distinct American twang, Hannon is a man who remembers where he came from, taking the opportunity during our conversation to reminisce on his days visiting Dublin Airport to indulge his interest in aviation and strolling along Sutton’s secretive ‘Hole in the Wall’ beach.

Hannon keeps his ties to Ireland through more than just fond memories. He is a founding member of the Irish Technology Leadership Group, where he sits on the management team, and is also technology advisory board member of Enterprise Ireland.

One of Twitter’s most influential

Hannon’s chief role these days, though, is chief marketing officer of Belkin International. Sometimes, though, he stands apart from his C-level contemporaries.

While at a recent CMO conference in New York, Hannon, among more than 100 of his peers, noted he was only one of two not wearing a tie.

An even more surprising statistic from this conference was only 9pc of those CMOs in attendance actively used Twitter.

“I just felt that they were a little kind of caught up in who they are,” he recalls. “It was more about them than about really staying connected with the market and their customers. That’s my perspective.”

Being in direct contact with customers through online networks such as Twitter is important to Hannon, not just to spread his company’s message, but to interact with people. “I’m not in broadcast mode that I’m always pushing out stuff. I really do engage and have a chat,” he tells me.

“My whole philosophy is giving back, helping out and just trying to pass along knowledge,” he says, adding that his mantra is to “surprise and delight” as much as possible.

No surprise, then, that Forbes recently honoured Hannon on a list of the most influential CMOs on Twitter.

IoT groundwork

As CMO of Belkin international, Hannon has three brands to consider: Belkin, Linksys and WeMo – though this a fairly new structure for the company.

“It’s a 31-year-old company and for 30 of those 31 years we only had one brand,” he explains.

That’s not to say the company has been stagnant in those three decades. “Our CEO’s been around this industry 30 years and he’s been at the forefront of a lot of trends,” enthuses Hannon when conversation rolls around to founder Chet Pipkin.

Hannon describes Pipkin as “a bit of a tinkerer, a maker”, just the type of character you’d expect to be deeply involved in the internet of things.

IoT has become the tech industry’s favourite buzzword, but that’s not to be dismissive. ‘Cloud’ and ‘big data’ were terms repeated ad nauseum that now form the basis of much of what we do digitally today.

Belkin is not just jumping on a rolling bandwagon, either. As Hannon tells it, Pipkin began investing time and resources into this space five years ago, as well as making a couple of acquisitions to help round out the company’s portfolio.

“Five years later, we have, probably, the leading internet of things brand in the world with WeMo,” says Hannon.

The on-ramp to the internet of things

Belkin WeMo Internet of Things app
The Belkin WeMo Internet of Things app

Through WeMo, which currently has a global reach of 158 countries, Hannon sees Belkin’s role as “the on-ramp to the internet of things”.

By that, he means the company’s role in connecting both consumers and companies to this new tech phenomenon. To date, WeMo has established partnerships with home appliance-makers in the US, such as Jarden and, according to Hannon, was one of the first brands to work with IFTTT, an online tool that allows users to create their own automation rules.

But, before we establish Belkin’s role in the internet of things, we must first address what this nebulous term actually means.

“It’s the nature of making your home become, rather than a dormant environment, a real living, breathing, helpful, reassuring, secure environment that helps you live life to the fullest,” is how Hannon tells it.

Essentially, this is achieved through embedding computer chips in heretofore ‘dumb’ objects, making them smart, connected and ever more useful.

“The things that we have in our lives that, until this point were dormant; they couldn’t talk to one another, and now they can,” Hannon summarises.

In an ecosystem where everything is connected and communicating with everything else, the all-too-common problems that require our bodies to be in two places at once are resolved. Turn on the heat as you leave work and come home to a hot shower. Turn down your slow cooker when you realise you won’t be home for another hour or two. Allay the panic when you realise you left your hair straightener on by switching it off from wherever you are. (That last one really speaks to my own anxieties.)

All of these things can be achieved with IoT products and services, including Belkin’s WeMo range of light switches, plug sockets and other familiar household accoutrements.

Hannon refers to this as the elimination of ‘making dinner when you’re at lunch’ syndrome. “We’re always being taken out of the moment and worrying about other things, being distracted. And so WeMo allows you to stay in the moment and continue to enjoy it,” he says.

Belkin has been pushing products in this space for the past two years and, being an early IoT player, has taken on the task of working out the kinks.

“We’ve been very focused on all the heavy lifting in creating not only the product but the operating system that stitches it all together. We have really sweated the complexity,” says Hannon.

Even users’ privacy considerations have been addressed. “I know some people are scared because they feel it’s a little Big Brother-ish but that couldn’t be any farther from the truth because brands like us are 100pc PII-compliant,” says Hannon, referring to the security of any personally identifiable information that could be collected by these devices.

Just WeMo it

One of the foundation blocks of the internet of things is interoperability, which isn’t so simple in a world of competing brands and proprietary products.

Even Hannon struggles with the concept of a completely open environment, and settles instead for a leg on either side of the fence. “We really believe we’re best of both worlds; we’re open with the right environments that really can further enhance the experience, but those experiences are also created within our environment for a real holistic pervasive customer experience.”

To put this in context, smartphone users can connect to the WeMo platform to control various devices via a single app, rather than install an app for each connected item. They can connect a wide range of devices, but the method of interaction will be WeMo.

In fact, just as Irish people always ‘Hoover’ when they clean the house and they ‘Google’ when they do an online search, Hannon will know the WeMo brand has made it when it becomes not just a brand, but an action.

“With WeMo we are really making it a verb and making it pervasive,” says Hannon.

“‘I just WeMoed’ whatever experience it is that you wanted to WeMo – and WeMo was the enabling platform.”

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.