Industry: Commercial and Consumer Lighting
Name of Contact: Charles M. Swoboda, CEO
From SiC to LED: About Cree
Almost 30 years ago, Cree Lighting (NASDAQ:CREE) was founded in Wisconsin. Cree’s primary business focused on developing silicon carbide (SiC) materials that provided that provided high-efficiency performance for numerous semiconductor applications. At the time, the company was a traditional industrial business with a goal of being innovative in their market space.
Over the years, Cree continued to innovate, being the first to bring the blue LED to market in 1989. Realizing the potential of LED lighting, Cree introduced new product lines for LED lighting applications. Today the company has a range of consumer products including LED light bulbs (40W and 60W equivalent). Cree has evolved from a pure B2B industrial company to a multinational B2B and B2C company, with a broad customer engagement program that spans multiple social media platforms.
As a pioneer in LED lighting technology, Cree was virtually unknown. Competitors such as Philips and Osram had brand recognition in both the B2B and B2C environments. To help expand its market share, the company needed to build brand awareness while educating the market that LED lighting was a tested, safe and viable solution for both commercial and home use.
Cree recognized that before it could increase sales, it needed to build a community of people interested in LED technology. The company began with an outreach program to bloggers in the lighting industry, then realized that it needed a more comprehensive approach to reaching its audience.
The company hired social media guru Ginny (Skalski) Hamilton to lead the company in its online customer engagement initiatives. Hamilton worked with digital agency BtB Marketing to identify a theme that would resonate with customers. They created the campaign “The Revolution Starts Now”, which focused on educating and informing customers about LED lighting. The campaign was rolled out across both print and digital media. Emphasis was placed on using social media as its primary tool for building awareness, promoting the benefits of LED, and creating an online community, rather than directly selling products.
Cree adopts two styles of customer engagement
According to Mathew Latkiewicz in his Mashable article “Customer Engagement Style Types”, there are five types of engagement approaches: game show host, friendly neighborhood service rep, the beehive community builder and the friend. Of the five identified by Latkiewicz, Cree fully embraced two styles: game show host, and community builder.
Cree’s LED Revolution campaign adopted many of the characteristics common to the game show host approach of offering prizes, contests and special offers. Their LED revolution campaign centered around an interactive social website where visitors were encouraged to submit their bad lighting photos to win Cree lighting products. Cree employees posted regularly to the LED revolution blog, used Facebook and Twitter to support their campaign, and also posted videos that encouraged visitors to “Break your Fluorescent Shackles.”
The same campaign utilized the community builder style of customer engagement to build awareness of the impact of incandescent bulbs in your home, on food, and on merchandise in a retail environment.
Cree has taken the community builder approach even further, with additional campaigns focused on the benefits of LED lighting over incandescent bulbs in a workplace, the environmental impact of lighting, and why light is so important to the planet. The company’s live community building activities, such as support for Habitat for Humanity, Durham Rescue Mission, and Ronald McDonald House are all captured on video and used as content on their social media sites to promote and build a large community of customers.
Success Performance Indicators:
Has Cree been successful in their efforts to engage customers via social media? A simple survey of their social media properties indicates that they are building a large online community:
- 218,224 Likes on Facebook
- 24,810 followers on LinkedIn
- 83,391 views of their Chocolate Bunny video on YouTube
In addition to the growth of its following on social media, the financial performance of the company is also on the rise: from $15.66 USD in2010to the current price of $25.60.
Six Lessons for Others:
- Engage, even when your industry doesn’t. While the lighting industry was not heavily invested in social media, Cree saw the opportunity to use social media to engage with their B2B customer base and to expand their engagement to the much larger end-customer audience.
- Hire a social media expert. Cree recognized the need to dedicate resources to social media and chose a well-known social media expert Ginny (Skalski) Hamilton to help them create a presence and a unique voice on a variety of social media platforms.
- Social media is “for life”. Not a short term strategy, engaging in social media is a long-term commitment. It requires the discipline to communicate regularly, respond regularly and provide fresh information regularly. Cree began it’s foray into the world of social media back in 2009 with it’s first “LED Revolution” campaign. Since that time, the company has continued to develop engagement programs such as its’ Creebulbs.com web platform, and participated in the Noun Project initiative to develop an icon that represents LED lighting.
- Remember who you are selling to. While Cree sells directly to distributors, large retailers and partners, they realized that they are also selling to real people, with real emotions. Cree created attention-grabbing content including their video “Chocolate Bunny melts under incandescent bulb” and their article “What happens if a baby holds a Cree light bulb?”. Designed to generate an emotional response, these content marketing pieces help customers to connect to Cree on a personal level.
- Find a cause. As an LED lighting manufacturer, Cree adopted the “environmental” cause by tapping into people’s passion for environmentally friendly products. This approach has enabled Cree to extend their reach beyond their B2B customer base to ultimately connect with the final users of their products: customers who purchase bulbs for daily use in offices and homes around the world.
- Let the audience choose their media platform. Choices of social media platforms abound, and for a reason. Each platform offers up unique opportunities to engage, in a variety of formats. Cree took the approach of engaging via numerous platforms such a Tumblr, Facebook, Twittter, LinkedIn, YouTube and their own company blog. The company recognized that customers have preferred channels for consuming content: some prefer passive consumption via video while others prefer to engage more actively through blogs and sites such as Twitter and Facebook. A broad approach to social media engagement helps to ensure that all customers are reached, via the platform of their choice.
This 1 minute podcast by Kenneth Manesse Sr summarizes the value of choosing the right social media platform to reach your audience.
Cree’s roots are grounded in its tradition of developing an array of new technologies that far surpass traditional ones. The company has adopted this approach not only with the technologies that they design and sell, but also with their approach to customer engagement. Whether it was the introduction of blue LED light in 1989 or the introduction of their “LED Revolution” social media campaign in 2009/2010, Cree continues its commitment to innovate for the benefit of its customers.
In March 2015, Fast Company cited Cree as one of The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies of 2015 in Energy. Recognition from this leading technology and business publication is a sure indication that the future remains bright for Cree.
Submitted by: kcress, University of Waterloo
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