Plantronics’ History Is Out Of This World
The company’s headphones are beloved by gamers, runners and professionals.
West coast-based Plantronics, known for making industrial headsets, has a galactic past. While originally designed for air travel, the company’s headphones joined American astronaut Neil Armstrong on his 1969 visit to the moon. Plantronics, short for “plane electronics,” was founded in 1961 by two United Airlines pilots, Courtney Graham and Keith Larkin. Today, the company is making headphones for gamers and runners who are competing, playing, or training and want quality audio. Quiddity spoke with Plantronics’ Tanguy Leborgne, Plantronics Vice President and General Manager of Consumer Business, about eSports, BMW cars, and values core to the brand.
Tell me about your founding story.
Our founders started the company in 1961. They were two United Airlines pilots who had become extremely frustrated with the low quality of the headsets they were using. They decided to take the bull by the horn and solve that problem by creating a headset company. The angle they took, the determination they had, allowed them to create a very successful company in aviation, in aerospace. The very first words spoken on the moon by Neil Armstrong were spoken in a Plantronics headset. All of that heritage that we have from these early days when Plantronics was working on a mission of critical solutions, we've kept all of that heritage in everything we do.
We really take care of those needs that people have outside of work, whether it's working out, relaxing and enjoying music or playing games, how to make those experiences the best ones.
How does your company’s heritage help you build trust with your consumers?
Our consumers know what Plantronics is and where we’re coming from, and they know they can trust the dependability of our products. They know whatever we build is going to be extremely durable. They know they they can rely on us and that we won't let them down.
If you claimed one other brand as an ancestor, which would it be?
I’m tempted to think of some of those automobile brands that have proven their dependability while still providing joy. Maybe BMW is one of these brands. There is that dependability, that durability, that robustness of the products, the engineering and all of the knowledge behind [them]. But also the enjoyment fits very well into what we end up giving to our users. Our gamers want to enjoy their game, and we allow them to do it in the best conditions possible. If you're a runner, picking one of our Backbeat Fit products, you're really going to enjoy your run. You’re going to be well into your elements.
How do consumers generally learn more about your brand’s history?
We try to make a lot of references to the aviation, the aerospace heritage. It might sound cliché, but we keep on referring to the first man on the moon [Neil Armstrong], because this age might be the best demonstration of how critical our products have been and will keep on being. If you buy some of our gaming products, you will see several references to an astronaut design. That astronaut design is also a subtle reference to the heritage again. It’s pretty much everywhere. We are trying to be as active as we can with our communities: gaming, sports, fitness.
What details of your founding story have resonated most with consumers?
They might be different. Going back to the solidity and the quality of our engineering: on the gaming front, you are actually better and more performing gamer if you use our headset. We get you to hear what others cannot hear. We get you to be more intelligible when you chat with your friends, and that makes a difference.
On the sports side, it’s safety. Our headsets have been designed differently from any other headsets. When you wear a Backbeat Fit, you know you can go outdoors. You can hear the truck that’s riding right behind you. We do everything for your safety, for your performance, so you can do best whatever you want to do.
Which social media platform, if any, are you focusing on to share your company’s story?
We wouldn't necessarily talk about specific platforms, though we do elevate them. Maybe what's more important to us is we try first to address the communities that matter. In the gaming space, eSports is a growing phenomenon. Millions of players, inspired by pros, want to understand the electric and lifestyles of the pros. That’s a lot of what we’re doing with those subcommunities. That platform varies, but what matters first is: how do we engage the conversation that we’ve just created?
Can you identify one key person involved in your company’s history, and why this person is so notable for consumers?
Courtney Graham really is a historical figure who resonates the whole spirit of who we are as a company. It's not only about technology. It's not only about scientific expertise. It's also about the values we got from our founders. Everything we do at Plantronics: the way we interact, the way we respect each other, the way we build together: all of this is on the foundation of where it all started. That’s pretty strong for a company which is now 56 years old. Every year, we have a Courtney Graham Award that is given to one of our employees who represents the best those core values we've been able to nurture over the years.
How might your frame your company’s heritage differently for an athlete buying headphones for the gym, versus a music enthusiast?
Whether it's a musician or an audiophile or a marathon runner, what we help them with is experiencing their sound on their own terms. That is the most important thing. They are in control. They can actually choose to be more or less immersed. On the audiophile front, if you really want to shield yourself from your environment you can: the noise-cancelling, all of those great capabilities.If you want t o participate in your environments, you can as well. There are things like open mic that get you to hear and understand the things going on around you.
What other brands, strategies or consumer trends have influenced your own brand?
The notion of immersive experience and evolution of virtual reality & augmented reality is something we're working very hard on. It's not only gaming, it’s also the music. We’re trying to give more opportunities to make the experience as immersive as can be.
Writer & journalist based in NY.