How to promote a quality mattress message that improves consumers’ lives
BY GARY JAMES
The bedding industry could do a much better job of explaining to consumers the core idea that a quality mattress can improve sleep and quality sleep improves life, bedding executives agree.
“If you were to analyze all the messaging that the industry puts out through advertising, the vast majority focuses on pricing and product features,” says Mark Quinn, segment vice president of marketing at Leggett & Platt in Carthage, Mo. “Those elements are important, of course, because they’re what brings customers into the store. But if we focus only on that, we’re missing an opportunity to make a much deeper connection with consumers.”
Most Americans these days can talk quite intelligently about the benefits of exercise or eating right, Quinn points out. But few have an understanding of the various stages of sleep, or the impact that caffeine or alcohol consumption can have on sleep quality.
“There’s so much evidence out there about why sleep is important, but most people aren’t aware of it,” says Quinn, former chairman of the Better Sleep Council, the consumer education arm of the International Sleep Products Association. “As an industry, we’re making progress in getting the word out, but more work remains to be done at every level. We need to include more of these messages in our advertising and also do a better job of training so that consumers have more access to this information.”
Toward that goal, Leggett & Platt launched Sleep Geek University in 2010. Sleep Geek provides an online forum where retail sales associates and store managers can “engage and grow in their profession,” Quinn says. “Through videos and other resources, Sleep Geek encourages RSAs to become sleep consultants who can better advise people on their sleep and well-being. We’re providing additional tools they can use to be more effective and passionate sleep marketers and salespeople.”
Reaching the consumer
Unlike some home products, such as consumer electronics, when consumers start to shop for a mattress, the decision usually is prompted by a specific event rather than a desire to obtain a new benefit or feature. “Sleep quality isn’t what it should be, or there’s been a life event such as the purchase of a new home or a divorce,” says Phil Johnston, senior vice president of strategic services for Marcus Thomas, a consultant to the BSC. “The consumer needs a mattress, and they need it now.”
At that point, the consumer embarks on a journey that leads to an eventual mattress purchase, he says. “Not every consumer follows the same path. Some go online to a manufacturer or retailer website to look for a brand they recognize. Others head to a store near where they work or follow up on an ad they see in the paper. The challenge is finding a way to effectively communicate with potential shoppers at all these various points so that they seek out your brand or your store.”
The fact that so many consumers start their mattress shopping online gives manufacturers and retailers a huge opportunity to provide them with a variety of helpful information. Through websites, social media and blogs, companies can share product-specific details about construction and features and benefits, as well as more general information about the value of sleep and the role that a quality bedding set can play in improving sleep quality.
“The universe of where the consumer goes to obtain information is expanding every day,” Johnston says. “You can’t apply a full-court press everywhere, so manufacturers and retailers have to do their homework and figure out which places make the most sense for their particular lines and strategies. Decide where you want to intersect with your potential customers and then concentrate your efforts there.”
Since consumers often start their hunt for new bedding with a simple query through Google, developing content that ties to key search terms such as “better sleep,” “sleep deprivation” and “sleep facts” can help attract potential customers to sites, Johnston adds.
“Search engine marketing can be a very important tool, since the majority of shopping today begins with an online search. Google and other search engines are becoming more and more location-specific so that the results you get are tailored for that city or region.”
When it comes to information about better sleep, Johnston believes consumers may be better informed than the industry gives them credit for. “They intuitively get that there’s a connection between what they sleep on and the quality of sleep they get. The challenge is that there’s a host of other factors that also can influence their sleep, such as caffeine or noise, and they’re not sure how to make sense of it all. That’s where a well-informed retail salesperson can really help.”
According to Johnston, the industry also could do more to help consumers understand the impact that specific product features can have on quality sleep. “The auto industry has done a great job of this. If I’m buying a car, the salesperson can quickly explain why a backup mirror is worth the extra money, and how that’s going to benefit me. With mattresses, those benefits aren’t always as clear.”
Salespeople are key
Mattress Firm’s ability to communicate a better sleep message effectively to consumers starts with its salespeople.
“We work hard to hire the right people and then put them through a rigorous program of ongoing training,” says Karrie Forbes, vice president of marketing for the Houston-based retail chain. “We train them to become professional sleep consultants who know all the specs and benefits of our products and how they connect to quality sleep.”
To make it easier for consumers to navigate store floors, Mattress Firm developed its Comfort by Color system, which uses different colors of pillows and foot protectors to highlight five mattress comfort levels. Eye-catching wall posters underscore the message about what each color represents. The system enables consumers to tell at a glance whether a particular model has the comfort level they are seeking.
Once a preferred comfort level is identified, RSAs then work with the customer to help her find the right match for the body type, sleep patterns and budget. The RSAs use a list of “touch points” to help guide the discussion. Educating the customer about the role a quality mattress and pillow play in sleep is a key part of the process.
“Everybody knows the impact that good nutrition and exercise have on health, but few people realize that getting a good night’s sleep is equally important,” she says. “It’s the place where we spend one-third of our lives, but we rarely think of it that way.”
In Forbes’ opinion, the industry places too much focus on price in its advertising and other communications with consumers and not nearly enough attention on benefits. “We have conditioned consumers to shop primarily based on price, and we’re all afraid that if we don’t do that, they’ll go somewhere else. But we need to do a better job of helping the consumer understand the benefit that quality sleep has for every aspect of their lives—and how having the right sleep system is critical to achieving quality sleep.”
If the industry does that successfully, she adds, consumers will be more willing to spend on quality sleep systems, since they’ll regard the expenditure as an investment in good health.
According to Forbes, the industry—and consumers—also would benefit from adopting shorter warranties that better reflect the typical mattress’ true lifespan.
“Many current warranties lead the consumer to believe that their mattress is going to last 20 to 25 years,” she says. “But even though the mattress may hold up that long, the mattress may no longer be meeting the consumer’s needs because of changes in health, weight and other factors that come with aging.”
At Mattress Firm, the “Replace Every 8” campaign encourages consumers to replace their mattress every eight years. “We remind consumers that their body is constantly changing and that their old mattress may not be the best fit for their current situation,” Forbes says.
Another reason to consider replacing mattresses more often is the fact that mattresses and pillows are magnets for human cells, dust mites, bacteria, fungal spores, pollen, dander and secretions of the body. “It can be unhealthy—especially if you have allergies or asthma.”
At McRoskey Mattress Co., a producer of high-end, hand-crafted innerspring bedding with two stores in San Francisco and Palo Alto, Calif., comfort is the watchword when it comes to selling better sleep. “With everything we do, from manufacturing to sales, we’re focused on delivering the highest level of comfort to each individual consumer,” says Robin Azevedo, president. “We promise comfort, rather than sleep, because there are so many variables involved in sleep that we can’t control—from noise and caffeine levels to fitness and health.”
In its stores, McRoskey’s RSAs work hard to establish a level of trust with consumers so that they’re comfortable talking about specific sleep challenges and patterns.
“Our salespeople are friendly and responsive—we try to make the customer laugh if we can. In most cases, customers have come into the store because they have a crisis. They’ve reached the point where they can’t stand their current mattress or they need to replace it right away because of a divorce. It’s not the type of purchase that people necessarily look forward to, so it’s our job to help them relax and find the right solution.”
To ease the shopping process, McRoskey shows “only a handful of beds” in its stores, Azevedo says. Displays include a limited amount of signage, with a few cutaways and other visuals available for customers who have specific questions about construction. Product features and benefits are ex
plained directly by the RSAs, who employ a low-key, conversational approach.
“We pay attention to the customer’s needs,” Azevedo says. “We make it easy for the customer by offering a limited number of easy-to-understand, tried-and-true models.”
And if consumers need more time to make a decision, McRoskey’s RSAs make sure to get their phone number and email address so that they can follow up with additional information and answer any questions.
Having been in business since 1899, McRoskey has a strong base of loyal customers, many of whom have a McRoskey mattress in every room. “We work hard to make the McRoskey mattress an aspirational buy, and we do so with some success,” Azevedo says.
The pace with which manufacturers introduce product can pose a challenge to retail salespeople. It takes time to learn the features and benefits of a new model, and the more brands a store carries, the more complex that learning process can be.
“When the industry brings out a lot of new product at the same time, salespeople can lose some confidence,” says Lisa Stansbury, president of the three-store Fred’s Beds sleep shop chain in Rocky Mount, N.C. “They have to master those specs quickly and gain an understanding of each model’s particular strengths with regards to comfort and support. The process gets easier the more experience you have, so we’re thankful we have a skilled staff that’s been with us quite a few years.”
Fred’s Beds carries five main lines of bedding—Park Place, Kingsdown/Sleep To Live, Serta/iComfort, Pure LatexBLISS and Simmons/Beautyrest. All of these companies do a “wonderful job” of keeping the stores’ RSAs informed about product changes and selling techniques, Stansbury says, “and after they come for a visit, our sales always go up.”
To help consumers identify comfort and support needs, Fred’s Beds deploys Kingsdown’s SleepID body-mapping system in its Wilmington, N.C., store. Other helpful resources include an in-store video featuring Pure LatexBLISS Chief Executive Officer Kurt Ling, in which he shares tips for obtaining a good night’s sleep. “Kurt talks about the importance of pressure points and how the right mattress can lift the body and relax the muscles,” says Stansbury. “It helps educate our consumers about some key factors that contribute to quality sleep and reinforces the discussion with our RSA.”
Because business remains a bit challenging, Fred’s Beds’ ads right now are mostly promotional. But in the past, the company has included messaging that stresses the importance of getting a good night’s sleep. With a limited ad budget, the retailer finds that its website and social media offer cost-effective platforms for spreading the “better sleep” message.
Because Minneapolis-based Select Comfort, producer of the Sleep Number line, is vertically integrated, the company is able to control every touch point with its customers, says Pete Bils, vice president of sleep innovation and clinical research. “We look to establish a connection and conversation with our customers and consumers who care about sleep in our stores, through our call centers, with our Home Delivery team, and by regularly reaching out and actively discussing the sleep-health connection via social media and other channels.”
All of Sleep Number’s RSAs, called Sleep Professionals at the retail and customer service levels, go through rigorous training on the science of sleep. The company’s entire sales process and in-store experience is centered on understanding the consumer’s needs and how to provide them with individualized solutions for better sleep. In addition to educating consumers about Sleep Number beds, the Sleep Professionals are trained “to help customers discover our expansive assortment of bedding collection items that address common sleep issues they might be experiencing, such as temperature and allergies,” Bils says.
“Due to the advantages of our proprietary DualAir technology, we like to quickly dispel the notion that ‘firmer is better.’ Each consumer has individual sleep needs—and these change over time. Because of the ability for both sleepers to adjust their side of the bed for individual comfort and support, as well as the ability to change their Sleep Number setting over time, consumers are empowered to know better sleep.”
To help consumers find their ideal level of comfort, firmness and support, Sleep Number uses IndividualFit 3-D imaging technology, which creates a digital map of a body’s pressure points.
4 tips for selling better sleep
- Ask questions. What are customers currently sleeping on? How well are they sleeping? What comfort level do they like? Do they have any physical ailments or health challenges? What position do they prefer to sleep in? Do they have a partner with different comfort or support preferences?
- Share information. Many consumers don’t realize how having the right mattress and pillow can improve sleep—or how having a worn-out or outdated mattress can complicate aches and pains and contribute to insomnia. Take time to explain why having the right sleep system is so important and how aging bodies can require new levels of comfort and support.
- Remember the pillow. The role that the pillow plays in delivering quality sleep often is overlooked. Because the pillow and the mattress work together to provide proper alignment during sleep, having the wrong type of pillow can cause extra stress on neck muscles, creating neck and shoulder pain.
- Be professional. Consumers are coming into stores with more knowledge and experience. In many cases, they’ve done some research about particular brands and models online and are eager for expert advice of which specific sleep sets might be best for their situation. Be ready to present them with the information they need, both in-store and in follow-up emails or calls.
Fast Sleep Facts
- Half of Americans (48%) say they don’t get enough sleep, but less than half of them take any one specific action to help them get better sleep.
- More women feel that they are not getting enough sleep (53%) than men (44%).
- Adults 35 to 54 years old feel more sleep deprived (52%) than other adults (44% for adults 18 to 34, and 42% for adults 55 and older).
- Women try to get better sleep by focusing on the comfort of their sleep area. Fifty percent of women use a comfortable mattress and bedding to aid sleep, compared with less than 40% of men.
- Almost half (47%) of adults who do get enough sleep use a comfortable mattress. They also tend to have a consistent bedtime and wake-up time schedule (25% vs. 19% of those who feel they do not get enough sleep).
- A majority of American adults (85%) state they have problems sleeping at night. People are bothered primarily by: temperature in the room (43%), spouse/partner tossing and turning (40%) and snoring (32%). Other major factors: mattress quality, age and/or firmness (28%) and mattress size (10%).
Source: Better Sleep Council surveys conducted in April 2013 and September 2012.
It’s that time of year: Gear up for Better Sleep Month
Recognizing that more and more consumers are seeking information and insights about mattresses and other sleep products online, the Better Sleep Council, the consumer education arm of the International Sleep Products Association, is placing a growing emphasis on driving traffic to the bettersleep.org website and engaging consumers through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
According to Mary Helen Uusimaki, vice president of membership and communications for ISPA, this year’s BSC campaigns have four key goals:
- Prove the difference a mattress can make by helping consumers select the best new mattress for their needs and preferences.
- Take the stigma, frustration and pain out of the purchase process, thus improving customer satisfaction with both the process and their choice.
- Keep the message focused on adding value to decision making around the purchase.
- Reinforce the consumer’s decision to buy a mattress and help them know what questions to ask and why they need a mattress.
“At any given moment, 10% of the population is entering the consideration stage for buying a new mattress,” Uusimaki says. “By expanding our presence online, we increase our ability to reach these consumers at the point where they’re gathering information. We can point consumers toward resources that will help them understand why a good night’s sleep is critical to health and happiness, and explain the important role a quality sleep system plays in that process.”
Five events typically trigger a need for a new mattress, Uusimaki says: Consumers see an ad for a product that sparks their interest; they sleep on a different mattress that they like better; a friend raves about her new mattress; issues arise that interfere with sleep, such as joint pain or snoring; and they enter a new life stage, such as pregnancy or buying a new house.
In this year’s campaigns, the BSC is centering more of its communications around when these triggers occur in people’s lives “so that we can reach consumers during the point where they are beginning their hunt for a sleep solution,” Uusimaki says. “Consumers are hungry for information about mattress types and sizes, and how to choose the right mattress for their body type and sleep patterns. Our tools on the BSC site help them ask the right questions when they visit a store.”
Going forward, the Better Sleep Council is “determined to become the preeminent source for consumers to get current, relevant, unbiased information on all bedding technologies so they completely understand what’s available,” says Pete Bils, vice president of sleep innovation and clinical research at Sleep Number and chairman of the BSC. “Then it will be up to the manufacturers and retailers to market and educate the consumer as to why their specific product offerings are beneficial.”
In May, promoted by the BSC as “Better Sleep Month,” the BSC will conduct the third of four marketing campaigns planned for 2014. Read more about Better Sleep Month.
Gary James is a freelance writer based in Chapel Hill, N.C. He spent more than 20 years with Furniture/Today, serving as case goods editor and special projects editor, directing the editorial content of numerous supplements, sections and features. He also has served as managing editor for a variety of other business publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.