Irish folklore tells of gold at the end of the rainbow. Dublin-born Kieran Hannon found his pot of gold a couple of years ago. While CMO for security startup Openpath, he found that the company’s keyless door access control system was an easy sell. Anyone could open a keyless door lock, the kind you find in hotels, without fumbling for a keycard.

Walk up to the door, touch the keycard reader with your hand, Open Sesame. 

But then the pandemic hit. And no one wanted to touch keycard readers anymore. They didn’t want to touch anything. Hotel room doors, office entrances, and car-door handles suddenly became germ spreaders, virus transmitters, and potential killers. 

Kieran faced his biggest marketing challenge yet: How do you market touch during a pandemic?

Re-Marketing an Entire Brand

Kieran, one of Forbes’ Most Influential CMOs of 2020, knew Openpath had to act. As the pandemic spiraled, he and the company’s engineering team started brainstorming. 

“We’re going ‘Oh, gosh. What do we do?” remembers Kieran. “Touch is not a good thing!”

The engineering team quickly pushed out a security update. 

Now, thanks to the capacitive sensors in the system, users didn’t have to touch a card reader but simply wave their hands in front of it. 

Openpath went from touch to touchless to hands-free in the space of a couple days.

“This is an example of quick evolution in response to a market situation nobody anticipated,” says Bryan Kramer, who interviewed Kieran in a recent episode of Leadtail TV. “That’s what an agile company needs to do.”

But Kieran still had to market the new-and-improved product. Would users trust it? Or revert to pre-pandemic modes of entry? Would the humble key make a comeback?

Kieran added 60 pages of new content to Openpath’s website, which reframed the keyless system as a COVID-19-preventer, not a COVID-19-catcher. He marketed security in a world where people fear germs. 

“Over the next month, we quickly updated all of our collateral to show a touchless experience,” says Kieran. “We helped companies understand how to safeguard the workplace.” 

Kieran re-marketed Openpath as a safety platform rather than a physical security company, and there was an emphasis on peace of mind. 

Listening to Consumers

Kieran successfully re-marketed Openpath by researching the end-user, whether that’s the system administrator, the system integrator, or the person opening a room door at a Hilton Hotel. 

During his research, he asked himself questions like, What does the user want? What does the user fear? and Why should they care about this product?

Kieran is a master researcher. He listens to customers on social media. He talks to users in focus groups. He sends out surveys. He reads what customers write about products on online forums.

“If you’re not doing that, then you have no right to be a marketer,” he says. “The voice of the customer is paramount.”

Kieran has an innate curiosity for how customers think, feel, and behave. As former CMO for mobile accessory brand Belkin International, he researched at an on-site facility. Customers would take part in focus groups for new product ideas at the organization’s headquarters in Playa Vista, a neighborhood in the Westside area of Los Angeles, not at a lavish third-party market research company downtown. 

“We had pressing questions we wanted to be answered. We wanted to get their reactions,” adds Kieran. “Then we would mock up product ideas overnight in a lab using clay models or 3D printing, get more feedback, and then tweak the products overnight again.”

At both Belkin and Openpath, Kieran was interested in the end-to-end experience, not just the product. What did the product look like? What about the messaging on the packaging? So he researched. And then he researched again. 

“That’s what marketers need to be doing,” he says. “Marketers need to talk to customers every day. Address their needs. Discover opportunities to help them better. Learn where there’s a lack of communication.”

Overcoming Marketing Obstacles

Kieran’s career path wasn’t a conventional one. He has a civil engineering degree, not a marketing or advertising one. But perhaps his engineering background has influenced how he overcomes today’s marketing obstacles. 

“In engineering, there are multiple ways to think about and approach problems. And that gives you the ability to use that discipline in problem-solving, right?”

Kieran says the conventional career path is like a tree trunk, where people mark off milestones at each level as they climb upward. And this approach works for some people. But he prefers to branch out. Instead of trying to reach the top of the tree, he wants to expand his perspective and try new things:

“It gives you a much stronger platform for success, in my opinion.”

But regardless of success, it all comes back to the end-user:

“It’s not B2B. It’s not B2C. It’s H2H. It’s human-to-human.”

Watch the entire episode here or listen to the podcast version here.