Dreaming on Data: How Industry Leader Serta is Fending off Mattress Competitors

“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” wondered Philip K. Dick in the title of his famous science-fiction novel. While we don’t have any evidence that sophisticated algorithms ever dream, they are capable of processing massive amounts of data. And that data could help determine the mattress that you sleep on.

New companies in the mattress industry have committed to aggressive digital marketing budgets and they’re targeting consumers based on data. There is a growing trend of direct-to-consumer mattress offerings, which are sometimes referred to as a “bed-in-a-box” or “the hipster mattress.” These foam mattresses are compressed into boxes and then, upon opening, they spring out into their conventional, rectangular dimensions.

The products are being marketed to young, tech-savvy consumers who respond to social media buzz and like to shop online. The front-door delivery and manageable box size mitigates any transportation hassle. Millennials and Gen Z types don’t have to break too much of a sweat while contending with their Brooklyn walk-ups.

There is also a celebrity component driving these sales. One direct-to-consumer mattress company, Casper, received venture funding from Leonardo DiCaprio, Nas, Ashton Kutcher, and other big and perhaps unexpected names. Canadian company Endy launched a Facebook ad with NBA star Serge Ibaka. “Your mattress should be as cool as you,” says the Toronto Raptors player, with stylized Facebook video subtitles. He is then shown sleeping, stroking a fluffy white pillow while muttering, “Ma fuzzy, ma fuzzy…”

Meanwhile, Serta, a company based in Illinois, has been manufacturing mattresses since 1931. They are still in the game, with a wide product portfolio intended to meet every price point and level of desired comfort. In February, the company launched a new multi-channel campaign, which includes TV spots, digital banners, online videos, social, print, and radio ads. Armed with the new slogan “not just sorta comfortable, Serta comfortable,” the brand says that it is shifting its position “from restorative comfort to indulgent comfort.”

But how does Serta intend to defend itself against competition from dozens of new, direct-to-consumer mattress companies? According to Andrew Gross, EVP of Marketing at Serta, comfort is one factor that sets the brand apart.

Gross said, “We’ve been a pioneer in comfort for more than 85 years and know comfort is a key driver for purchase. In comparison to direct-to-consumer mattress companies, we’re meeting the consumer at every touch point of the purchase journey – whether that’s at retail or online – to help make their decision easier based on preference. For example, millennials behave more sight unseen and typically purchase online, but we know there’s still a wide range of consumers who prefer to go in-store to test and sample product offerings before making a purchase. Our end goal is to make every purchase decision as easy as possible.”

The brand’s advertising typically features bug-eyed sheep, animated by Aardman Entertainment, which also created the well-known Plasticine characters “Wallace and Gromit.” Some of Serta’s past ads have employed humor, including a memorable one in which the sheep are arrested for tearing off the “do not remove under penalty of law” label on a Serta mattress. But as in all industries, mattress marketing is increasingly data-driven. Chris Howell, Director of Digital Partnerships at Serta’s media agency Initiative, explained some of the brand’s latest tactics.

“The core of our data strategy revolves around identifying high value audiences and continuous optimizations based on consumer action,” said Howell.

Howell explained that data and targeting strategies vary for each digital channel. “Digital video is viewed primarily as a prospecting channel, extending the reach of our TV plans,” he said.

He continued, “We utilize digital display and social to engage with our prospective consumers and encourage them to learn more about Serta and Serta’s products. In addition to standard targeting tactics (contextual, keyword, etc.), we also worked with the Serta brand team to create custom audience profiles using syndicated research tools. These high-value audiences were then reproduced within our DSP and targeted programmatically. Ultimately, all of these feed into our decision media. Search was given priority to help drive active shoppers and foot traffic to retail via geo-location mobile ads.”

By identifying high value audiences and continuously optimizing, industry leader Serta hopes to fend off new competition. But most consumers will remain oblivious to these behind-the-scenes strategies. They’ll go to bed tonight, on whatever mattress they ultimately purchased, not realizing the extent to which they were technologically targeted. They may never know it, but they’re dreaming on data — the end result of careful analytics and strategizing.

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