Like many consumer products, the mattress industry is going through a digital revolution. An ecommerce equivalent to the tech startup scene, smaller mattress companies are proliferating the web and disrupting traditional name brand mattress companies. Not only have mattresses themselves evolved but the norm of buying and taking delivery of a mattress has changed as well.
It's indicative of the evolving consumer behaviors we see online every day. Behaviors that break the status-quo. In this case, the belief that buying a mattress involves a trip to a physical store. It's the same changing consumer behaviors convincing more manufacturers to sell online direct-to-consumer.
It's interesting to analyze the content strategy of these mattress startups. For the most part, it's very specific to a particular demographic and persona, namely millennials. And the messaging is basically the same across the board: explain a simplified selection process (too many bed models make it too confusing), justify this with research and a Goldilocks analogy, explain a prolonged trial period, explain the full refund policy, and explain how the bed will be packaged and delivered. Par for the course. But at some point these brands will need to do a better job of differentiating themselves online to rise above.
Brand differentiation is important for all first time online direct-to-consumer brands. First of all, none of these mattress startups are the same. So why do so many have the same message? Eventually some will prove more dominant, some may disappear and some may be acquired as their long term quality and value is realized by the larger name brand manufacturers. The companies that will survive must deliver a superior product and have a better, differentiated content strategy. One that directly involves the voice of their consumer and how they solve sleep problems.
Remember Do-Know-Go. This is the way Google categorizes three types of search queries:
Many B2C brands (and B2B for that matter) assume that people research products only when they are ready to buy products. They focus attention on their product names, their brand, and their overall messaging in the market. But many are missing the larger opportunity.
Overall, there are far more Know searches performed online every day. These informational searches may be directly related to a product a business sells, but more likely these searches are seeking solutions to problems consumers are facing every day prior to even understanding and seeking a brand name. Ecommerce businesses should recognize the value in building content to satisfy all types of searches online. Saavy businesses will map keywords to different stages of the buying cycle and deliver optimized content in preferred formats and through the proper channels their target audience frequents. This is a sustainable and scalable ecommerce content strategy.
Let's elaborate on what I mean by saying, scalable content strategy. It's about using content for the primary purpose of differentiating the brand by solving problems which will lead to the secondary purpose of contributing to business revenue. Honestly, most businesses do this in the reverse order. They push product-focused content and ignore consumer behavior. This is difficult to scale because it doesn't address the why behind the reason to buy and it's part of the reason why many brands struggle to differentiate their ecommerce brand.
This is where market research and target audience research pays off. Through research I may discover internet-only mattress buyers are also more likely to purchase a tiny house. Interestingly enough, internet-only mattresses tend to be slimmer in height and weigh less than traditional mattresses. They also tend to be more flexible, fold more easily to fit into tight spaces and also don't require a box spring for support. Sounds perfect for smaller, more compact living quarters.
Therefore my digital marketing and content marketing strategy is going to be to identify and target tiny house buyers. I'll need to create a complete content bill of materials for this including content for social campaigns, blog posts and I'll even explore partner opportunities with tiny house manufacturers. Executed correctly, this type of differentiated content strategy can drive sustained ecommerce sales.
Perception is critical when preforming online research. Brands and web properties consistently ranking higher in Google search results for a larger variety of related queries will not only see higher traffic, but their positioning will be bolstered as consumers talk more about them, link to them from social properties, include them in emails, etc. Psychologically, these brands will stay top-of-mind. This is what's meant by winning share of voice:
"The percentage of all online content and conversations about your company, compared to your competitors." - Jay Baer
Social strategy plays a critical role in improving share of voice and arguably, this should be the main metric to measure social media effectiveness for organic marketing campaigns. The best way to one-up competitors currently winning share of voice is to connect with current satisfied customers and have them market on your behalf.
Consider a promotion - a mattress giveaway. Yes I will promote this giveaway on my website, but I'm also going to strategically leverage certain satisfied customers and social influencers for further promotion. I may also want to partner with a luxury bedding company to contribute and further promote this giveaway. I want to make sure this partner also has a strong organic and social presence. I want to better understand their marketing and promotion strategy as well. Again, executed correctly, this type of differentiated promotion strategy will contribute to ecommerce sales as well as have the nice side effect of boosting SEO efforts.
Three effective non-paid strategies to differentiate the brand and grow share of voice include:
Searching for the term, mattresses, through this tool returns a variety of results. One result leads me to Alyson Shontell who is the Executive Editor at TechInsider. Considering the fact she's written on the topic of internet-only mattresses before, it's probably worth trying to connect with her on another mutually beneficial article.
Seeking out and connecting with at least one influencer weekly should yield dozens of new opportunities over the course of the year.
Derek Hales, Founder of Sleepopolis.com is a good study for branded manufacturers going direct-to-consumer. Not only is Sleepopolis.com a thriving website, but Derek actually engages users on other social and community channels such as Reddit and even comments on other retail websites. It's very clear this user (think persona) is passionate about online-only mattress brands and is actively looking to be a brand advocate. In this case, he represents the voice of the consumer and has built trust and authority with like users. Connecting with Derek and collaborating on additional campaigns is a worthwhile endeavor.
Brand differentiation is a term thrown around loosely. Brands seeking to differentiate themselves not only need to revisit or invent new growth strategies, but they also need to consider the technology needed to drive customer-preferred promotions, optimize content, orchestrate cross-channel marketing campaigns and more. Those who get this combination right may be more likely to rise above the competition and succeed long-term.