The mattress industry has a dirty little secret: it often inaccurately describes products in order to make them sound better than they are. At Bedhead Marketing, we call this "Junk Speak".
Here we'll take a closer look at some of the most common misleading tactics used by mattress companies, how this affects the industry and what can be done to fix them.
What is Junk Speak?
You may be familiar with Mattress Firm's ad campaign combating Junk Sleep, the characterization of how poor sleep impacts one's daily life. We believe "Junk Speak" is the practice of misleading consumers (whether intentionally or unintentionally) on products by artificially inflating the characteristics of the bed or making unsupported claims.
Companies like Good Bed have taken it upon themselves to address this by independently reviewing the most popular mattresses down to the individual components and creating objective measurements to add clarity to the buying process.
What are the effects of "Junk Speak"?
Junk Speak has created a stigma around the mattress industry as a whole for decades. And we can see how this all came to be! If you were responsible for selling mattresses, in a room of very similar-looking rectangular cuboids, how do you justify a $5,000 or $10,000 price difference? The consumer can't see inside the bed, so a little rhetoric to justify higher price points if it makes them feel better about their new purchase won't hurt anyone right?
Junk Speak leads to buyer confusion. With so many companies using misleading terms, it can be hard for consumers to know what they're actually buying. This can make it difficult to compare products and make informed decisions about which one is right for them. What one company calls High Density Viscoelastic Memory Foam is called Ultra High Density for another company. Or what one product describes as cooling another describes as moisture-wicking and so on.
By falsely attributing characteristics to bedding products (or over-exaggerating benefits), customer satisfaction can be severely impacted. When customers feel misled or confused about a product, they are less likely to buy, less likely to spend more, less likely to return as a customer, less likely to refer and more likely to leave bad reviews. This article from Inc. outlines that it takes 40 positive experiences to undo the negative effects of one bad one due to the ratio of how consumers leave reviews (A consumer with a bad experience is 10x more likely to leave a negative review than a customer with a positive experience).
The number of elements being used in today's bedding products has exploded over time as manufacturers look to create product differentiation and innovation. Everything from natural fibers to metals like copper, silver and gels and foams are all materials used to provide various benefits to the end user. There is a lot of both lab-tested evidence as well as anecdotal claims for the health benefits of these various materials, but the properties of a materials are not often tested when applied to a mattress.
For example, CBD, which has been researched extensively in the medical community, is claimed to have a variety of health benefits when used directly, but the question of whether those same health benefits exist when used in a layer of foam or fiber has not been verified. As such, companies can speak to the evidenced-based benefits of CBD, but should not make claims that the "Mattress provides the benefits of CBD". This can cause confusion to the end user.
Also, many of the bedding component's benefits are "muted" when they are physically buried below many other layers, and even should the material provide tangible benefits on its own merit, those features may not impact the system when utilized this way.
What can be done?
When customers feel like they've been lied to, it reflects poorly on the category and increases the disconnect between bedding organizations and consumers. As mattresses are generally purchased once every decade or so, it's important to make sure we follow these steps:
1) Product: Manufacturers should lead the way by taking a stance on what products they use to build mattresses, the claims they can make definitively, and accurately representing the the product build with copy (descriptions) and product images. Retailers should choose to carry products that meet these same standards and not over-exaggerate product characteristics.
2) Education: Manufacturers should continue to educate themselves by testing and having products evaluated by third parties so that as new materials are incorporated into mattresses, these benefits can be communicated with confidence to the retailer and the end user.
Retailers should also seek continued education on these products and install programatic sales processes that are focused on educating the customer properly on both sleep and the corresponding product options. The commitment for continued education should extend all the way to the RSA by providing incentives and tracking learning progress.
3) Marketing: Marketing should be accurate and consistent from product images, claims, reviews (no cherry-picking) and very basic things like specification of the mattress. For many organizations, buyer groups and the marketing professionals are not working harmoniously. We recommend bringing the marketing and merchandising teams in much earlier in the on-boarding process so that when products are activated, all of the communications are clear, accurate and reviewed interdepartmentally (merchandising, buyers, marketing, sales). Consider installing an auditing system to memorialize who has signed off on these product descriptions and when.
Take the Long View
Manufacturers are incentivized to make inflated claims about the benefits of their mattresses, millions are on the line for landing new retail accounts. However, by taking the long view, it becomes evident that this marriage is short-lived if the product doesn't perform and may ultimately prevent the manufacturer from getting new business in the future from that retailer. Even further, brand reputation can be damaged industry-wide making business development for other opportunities increasingly challenging.
Retailers should partner with manufacturers to increase the level of trustworthiness across the industry and therefore elevating the category so that not only can we create confident buyers that spend more, return products less, become repeat buyers and refer more often, but also attract more interest for careers in the bedding space.
Bedhead Marketing's mission is to help elevate the bedding category by combating Junk Speak, but also delivering meaningful and compelling communications from spec sheet to bed sheets that benefits everyone from the manufacturer to the end consumer.