Cree LED lightbulbs. An Example of surrendering initiative.
For Stealing Share, Cree LED lightbulbs is in our backyard. I follow the company because it is great to see a local company innovate and win.
I remember a few short years ago, Cree was the darling of Wall Street. Charles Swoboda, Cree CEO and President, seemed to be interviewed and featured everywhere.
2012 was a heady time for Cree. In 2013, Cree LED lightbulbs were King of the Hill.
Innovating its way to the top of the class and the news promoting LED bulbs as an eco-friendly and promising technology turned the incandescent bulb market on its head.
Cost and quality of light were the only downsides to LED bulbs. Often as not, they had a white-blue brightness that lacked the warmth of the incandescent bulbs that take history all the way back to Edison.
LED lightbulbs have become mainstream
They caught on despite the cost because of a longer lifetime and the ability to connect so many strings together that Clark Griswold would have lit the entire city without an electrical drain.
The transition to LED Christmas lights is almost complete. It is hard to find the old style mini lights today. The price is still steep, but it is more manageable.
You would think this is all good news for Cree LED lightbulbs. First movers have an advantage and the market now embraces LED lighting.
Just look at the displays at the big box do-it-yourself stores. The LED bulbs are featured more than the rest.
Cree LED lightbulbs have a retailer problem
One huge problem stands in the way of Cree however. Its bulbs are NOT featured at retailers. They are lost among the crowded competitive LED offerings.
I quote Mr. Wonderful from Shark Tank as if he was speaking to the engineers who pushed the envelope for Cree LED lightbulbs. “What’s to stop one of the big guys from waking up and crushing you like the cockroach you are?”
It is a fair question to ask in 2013. Today, with the current marketing, you can ask if it is too late?
The Cree advertising is top shelf. Well-produced spots featuring Lance Redick (you might remember Lance as the very deliberate Lieutenant Cedric Daniels from the HBO series The Wire). The problem is that the advertising campaign is fixing the wrong problem.
Watch the above advertisement and ask yourself what the advertising is intending to accomplish? The commercial obviously intends to laud the category transition Cree led. It informs the customer that the Cree LED lightbulbs were on the forefront of this movement.
They want us to know— borrowing from the copy, that the humble LED turns the lighting category on its head and that they (Cree) – told us so a while ago.
Nice clean TV spot. It might even work if being first in the category mattered a jot to the shopper today.
Cree LED lightbulbs need a new rebrand strategy
Stealing Share would not have created this strategy. It is an inside-out view of the market. Looking outside-in is the foundation of most of our business. Companies look at their own stories, decide what they feel is important about their own brands and then force fit that idea into the marketing and advertising.
It is too late for Cree LED lightbulbs to regain preference? Is it too late for Cree to be doing this? The market is mature. Innovation in LED brightness, longevity or eco-friendly claims do not drive the market. PRICE drives it. Cree needs to rebrand (read a an example of a rebranding strategy for another troubled category here).
The current campaign only helps build the category. It sells the viability of LED lightbulbs. Anyone who has studied advertising communications knows that, in communications that builds the category, the advantage ALWAYS goes to the market leader. Sadly, for Cree, it is not the market leader. Not anymore.
The retail space is full of competitors to Cree LED lightbulbs
Look below at the offerings in LED bulbs from Home Depot and Lowes. Cree LED lightbulbs is an afterthought. Giants in the industry like GE, Sylvania, and Phillips dominate the shelves. These behemoths not only control the shelf space, they also control the price point.
As a consumer decides to choose an LED bulb as a viable replacement item, does Cree believe the customer will have second thoughts about trusting any of the BIG BOY brands? Is there any chance that these name brands are seen as an inferior product? Do consumers care who brought the first viable LED bulb to the market?
The campaign asks you to reward the brand that first brought you the LED idea.
Even if the retailer has a smaller selection of Cree products and they might be a few pennies more expensive. Even though the original idea was expensive and the light was blueish.
Any brand named Edison would be an instant winner if that train of thought was correct. There is heritage for you. I’m not claiming to be the smartest guy in the room (research corrects that failing). I don’t know yet what the highest emotional intensity in the category is. I am not sure what incites a shopper to change and prefer the Cree LED lightbulbs.
But I know that the answer is knowable. The entire Stealing Share process aims to discover that trigger and position the brand to own that value. It is HOW you steal market share.
Real lessons here for us all
The lesson here is to not let your engineers dictate marketing and brand strategy. Don’t drink your own Kool-Aid. Don’t take an inside-out view of the market (navel gazing) and never leave the strategic brand point of view to the advertising agency (no matter how talented).
Even if they are good at what they do (and I believe Baldwin& is very good) agencies create advertisements and they don’t create robust brand strategy.
The sheer power of the competitive set and the gravitational pull of lower pricing outweighs first mover advantage.
An upstart and innovative company is not a place for this strategy. The Cree brand is now outmanned and outgunned.
Today, Cree LED lightbulbs need a message that overcomes those barriers.
Cree. Light a better way (is NOT the answer).
As a symbol of all that is wrong, the theme is clever in its double entendre and FEELS like an advertising theme-line. As such, it lacks powerful meaning and authority.
Cleverness always seems contrived and cliché.
Powerful brand themes are often a bit awkward because they strike the prospect as important and direct. They are about the customer, not the product. They seem authentic, not clever.
Maybe one of the most powerful brand themes of all time is great advice for Cree. Think different.