We MUST Start to Directly Educate Consumers

Posted: December 3, 2008 in General SSL Commentary
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Nothing will kill a promising new technology faster than the resonance of early customer disappointment. Angry and disillusioned customers are very difficult to win back, while happy customers often act as advocates and active promoters.

While the efforts of the DOE, EPA, IALD, IESNA, NGLIA, etc… are certainly productive and useful, they are too inwardly focused when it comes to dissemination of information. Consumers, who make the purchase decisions in the retail market remain blissfully ignorant in the absence of information targeted at them. Solid-state lighting will suffer if we do not make a direct effort to educate and grow awareness of this technology and how to identify good products over bad, and what is reasonable to expect from it.

There is a lot of noise in the market trumpeting the general idea that LEDs are the ultimate solution. To amplify this, technically challenged press reporters have offered that LEDs last forever, have no heat, and use no energy. This sets customers up to be exploited by manufacturers of poor performing products ,making big claims, wrapped around cheap products to profit from the hype. Without realistic information in hand, customers are being set up to be taken advantage of in this cloud of ignorance. This ultimately leads to disappointment. In the end, we all suffer from the negative impact this has on customer perception.

All people are consumers first, including engineers, architects, building owners, facilities managers, interior designers, lighting specifiers, sales agencies, etc.. If we make an effort to educate the general public as a whole, we reach all layers of the market from the smallest decision makers to the largest, and elevate knowledge, which will reduce the potential for predatory providers to enter and pollute the market before it is even built.

I suggest that some of the money the DOE and EPA has in hand needs to be focused on nationwide effort to build the basic knowledge of the market as a whole, not just within the hallowed halls of the lighting and specification community, and a few municipalities. This should be as visible as the PR already circulating, and cover all levels of the market from decision making executives to home owners. This means a presence in widely read magazines, news publications, and others. Maybe a feature in Consumer Reports? Web sites are also good… however, take a cold look at the DOE site, and tell me how the average end-user is going to dig through all of that and come away with a clear idea of what the technology is, how it works, and how to select products including it. There is a real need for a consumer web site that puts everything in clear view and understandable, realistic terms.

This effort must come from a neutral party, a non-manufacturer, to attain any level of solid credibility. However, manufacturers and technology providers cannot use this as an excuse for inaction. We all need to pull together and push this forward regardless. Consumers don’t feel they need us, yet we can’t survive without customers.

This approach was necessary when the market moved from fuel to volts based lighting, was necessary when promoting CFLs (but was not carried out), and is critical to the health and future of solid-state.

Assuming customers will proactively seek the necessary information to make qualified decisions is a fatal error. They won’t. If we want solid-state to succeed, it will be up to the entire solid-state community to make objective knowledge widely available, highly visible, and easy to understand, absorb and apply. So far, this has not been the case.

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