Do Consumers Just Want More Of The Same?

Have you started mixing up all the different direct-to-consumer mattress brands on the market today? Are the colors and slogans starting to feel similar? Can you remember if it’s Purple or Nectar that asks consumers if they are sleeping on its bed or on a pile of garbage in the commercials? If you’re feeling seen amidst this confusion, you’re not alone. Even the level of quirkiness inherent in the TV commercials for these brands is starting to plateau. They are all creating weird, character-driven commercials that strive to be blunt or bizarre in similar ways—ways that are becoming indistinguishable. So what’s happening? Are these brands all the same? What makes them different (if they are at all)? And what is it that brick-and-mortar retailers can do to get past this crowded and confusing marketplace of online mattress brands that seems to be appealing to consumers?

A recent CNBC article really seeks to interrogate this conundrum. The story explains that the majority of online mattress brands—those that ran with the challenge of successfully marketing beds for people to buy sight-unseen—are all selling a variant of the exact same bed.

The CNBC story proves this with insights from the senior vice president of sales and marketing at one of the key manufacturers outsourced to produce the mattresses that are purchased online. “Most of the outsourcing is to just four major manufacturers, according to Dan Schecter, SVP of sales and marketing at Carpenter. He said his company makes mattresses for 40% of the mattress industry at 60 factories throughout the country. That includes including roughly 14 bed-in-a-box brands, along with all the traditional players like Tempur Sealy.”

But it gets bleaker. The article continues to dig into the fact that these companies are not only selling the same or near-same product, but that they are largely selling it in the same way—with similar marketing, logos, logo-colors, fonts, etc. As many of these players are new to the mattress marketplace entirely, they are, above all else, experts in marketing—picking up on what consumers feel inherently drawn to and capitalizing on that (like any good marketer does). But in this environment, it has become difficult to really distinguish the actual value of the product between brands. And for this reason, it seems more important than ever both within and beyond the ecommerce sphere to determine what it is that makes your brand and products unique and to stand out among the pack.

In that CNBC article, the author talks about how brands like Casper, Nectar, Leesa and more (the list goes on and on) all use similarly vague messaging to explain why its products are beneficial. On the packaging and promotional materials, the brands use similar color schemes and imagery to sell the mattresses. So is this successful? It seems to be, according, again, to the CNBC article: “A survey by the International Sleep Products Association reported that 45% of mattresses purchased in last year were online, up from 35% for purchases in 2017.” And online mattress sales account for 12% of the $16.5 billion mattress industry. 

So what can traditional retailers do? Is this recognition of sameness going to negatively impact sales for these ecommerce companies? It’s hard to say, but since many retailers are offering what initially drew customers to online brands—convenient delivery, clear and simple value propositions, creative marketing— in stores and on their own ecommerce sites, the tides could turn.

Here are a few things we think will help retailers capitalize on the growing confusion among ecommerce brands:

Educate Your Customers

Because online mattress shopping is all the rage and sleep is suddenly a booming business, consumers are being bombarded with information online about what products will help them sleep better. But most are completely unaware of how all these businesses work, or how mattress rating websites are profiting from the success of the brands they are “reviewing.” These outlets often do not know the first thing about how a mattress is made or what materials differentiate one from the next. Instead of worrying about making a quick buck, gaining the customer’s trust is paramount. Set yourself apart by offering consumers clear, specific and ideally science-backed information about how one product could suit them more than the other.

Online brands have succeeded because they seek to accomplish this through clear-cut websites and curated product options that they ship direct to the customer’s door. If you can take that part of the online approach and add the human connection you should have a leg up. It’s important to realize that people like ordering mattresses online because going to the store has historically turned them off—but if the online version of mattress shopping is beginning to feel too confusing or overwhelming, it’s important that the in-store experience fully de-mystify the process.   

Create Clarity In Your Branding

Eliminate confusion as much as possible. Ensure that your brand as a retailer is distinct from the mattress brands you’re carrying. If you have a private label product, make that brand and its marketing approach clear and distinctive—don’t let it feel the same as the online offerings. Be able to explain exactly why it’s different or better. Tell the story, but don’t bullshit. Consumers are on to the fact that many online brands are just selling smoke and mirrors. Provide tangible value. It might feel like there’s nothing new to do, but at least choosing a different logo color is a great start.

Clear And Specific Value Propositions

The more obvious or simple the solution, the better. Consumers are sick of vagueness and overly complicated sleep products. Go back to basics. Think critically about the natural materials used in each mattress you carry: what is the value of each layer and each material? Can you explain it in a sentence or two? If not, you need to rethink your sales pitch. Clear and straightforward actually does cut through the noise. Every time you put a new product on your floor, you should be able to communicate why that product is unique in a sentence or less and understand what type of consumer it is most suited for.

Familiarity Without Complete Sameness

Part of the success of similar branding is that people really do like familiarity. According to this Atlantic article, “In the 1960s, the psychologist Robert Zajonc conducted a series of experiments where he showed subjects nonsense words, random shapes, and Chinese-like characters and asked them which they preferred. In study after study, people reliably gravitated toward the words and shapes they’d seen the most. Their preference was for familiarity.” While it is proven that people psychologically enjoy similarity, the comfort of familiarity doesn’t have to equal sameness. In some ways, the strategy of indistinguishable brands makes it easy for consumers to mistake one brand for another—but this isn’t really positive for the brand itself. If consumers are starting to view online mattress shopping as the same, it really just takes them back to square one: the proverbial room of white rectangles. You can offer the comfort of familiarity by referencing different time periods and other nostalgic details or you can work to simply make your brand familiar by building recognition. And, you can differentiate products by mixing up your store experience and creating a feeling of comfortable home space in your showroom.

While we can’t fully tell if consumers do or do not want more of the same, it does seem as though the ecommerce mattress bubble could soon burst as consumers wise up to the average product specs and general similarity among the swathes of bedding and mattress start-ups. But traditional retailers and manufacturers seeking to genuinely innovate can only succeed by studying the triumphs and missteps of the competition and responding accordingly. Nimble pivoting is the name of the game in nearly every industry today as trends seem to shift more swiftly than ever. No matter what it is that you do, it’s essential to always have a clear and specific answer to those ever-challenging questions: what makes you different? And why should we care?

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This article originally appeared in Sleep Retailer eNews on September 5, 2019.

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