Waking Sleeping Giants with a Game-Changer

March 10, 2010 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

wake upRegular BARK readers know well our affinity for the underdog, the challenger brands of the world that make their mark by out-thinking rather than out-spending the competition. Few business experiences pack the thrill of watching an out-matched competitor make a move that upsets the natural order of things and tips the scales to their favor. Such is the case with our friends at Sleep Experts, a smart challenger brand dogging it out in a fiercely competitive retail category dominated by heavy spenders like Mattress Firm and Mattress Giant.

For as long as I’ve been watching TV, the category norm for mattress sellers has been to “stack ’em deep and sell ’em cheap.” The gimmicks and sales promotions featured in TV spots from virtually every competitor are aimed squarely at generating store traffic so the salespeople can work “ups” and convert sales. It’s a simple conquest model with little or no regard for long-term customer satisfaction. Indeed, according to a Consumer Reports study, something like 40 percent of people “hate” the mattress they sleep on every night.

When we began working through the strategic process with Sleep Experts, it was immediately clear that the company’s ethos ran counter to the category norm. There is authentic corporate alignment and execution around making sure customers are matched to the best product for their needs. The founder’s vision for the Sleep Experts brand is very much in line with the vision legendary auto retailer Carl Sewellhad when he took over his father’s Cadillac and Oldsmobile stores. Sewell challenged category conventions, remade the customer experience in dramatic fashion, and transformed the retail automotive business. And while Sleep Experts is attempting to do much the same in its own category, the company hasn’t been getting credit for the effort. The category “overlay,” or stigma associated with the general customer experience of all brands in the category, has been difficult to escape.

But, the strategic planning process surfaced an insight that Sleep Experts is uniquely positioned to capitalize upon due entirely to the company’s expression of its core principles. Category customers live in fear of making a mistake when buying a mattress—a significant financial commitment they’ll have to sleep with for years. People are naturally risk averse, of course, so most competitors offer a 60-day return policy. But the loopholes are significant, and the exchange process is laborious. Because Sleep Experts has a carefully crafted and very deliberate process for matching customers with the right products, they are in a position to address the perception of risk in a way that is both very meaningful for customers and insulating from a competitive standpoint. Sleep Experts can offer a full one-year guarantee to customers. The grand nature of the promise shifts the perceived risk away from customers and back to Sleep Experts, and it blunts competitors who simply cannot retrofit adjustments into their customer conquest-oriented models to make such a bold statement without getting hammered by returns. A brand new TV spotintroduces the Sleep Experts “One Year Love Your Mattress Guarantee.”

And the results? Well, Sleep Experts is a privately held company and we want to protect that privacy. Let’s just say their “One Year Love Your Mattress Guarantee” is something the category competitors are going to have to deal with. In fact, you might say Sleep Experts has changed the game. Then again, that’s often the case for true challenger brands.

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.