Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How do you sell a $90 000 bed?




 I don't mean a rare and exotic antique or something that Elvis personally slept in, this is a brand. It is a bed pretty much like any other,  in the same way that a Porsche 911 Carrera  is a car and  Jimmy Choo makes shoes.  The bed is a Hästens Vividus and it does not have any special gadgets; it’s just the best bed money can buy.

Hästens is a Swedish company and they sell their beds around the world. In fact they have a retail store in Toronto and many more across the United States.  They have a wonderful marketing challenge justifying a premium price that is 100 times more expensive than competitors that are pretty much functionally equivalent. Their communication is a great example of articulating an array of substantial support points to convey the authenticity of their brand. Here is how they go about it... 

Climbing the Benefit Ladder

Of course Hästens does not try to sell you a bed. They even know better than to just sell you a good night’s sleep. They sell you all the mysterious benefits that flow from a kind of sleep that you have never experienced. They taunt you, “come discover how it feels to sleep for real”.  They offer you the success, well-being and energy that will come from spending a third of your day in a state of ultimate recharge. If you are philanthropically inclined, you can be part of enhancing the world by enhancing its sleep. 

It makes sense to move from functional to emotional benefits at that price point.
The benefit of better sleep getting you a better life is somewhat more believable at $90 000 but competitors can do the same. Simmons Beautyrest promises you “sleep that recharges” and “sleep that luxuriates”.  Kingsdown explains in its video that “your quality of sleep” is “ultimately your quality of life”.

In beds and mattresses  there is no safe haven of differentiation to be found by climbing the benefit ladder. Once upon a time taking the high road of emotional benefits could help differentiate a brand from  its functionally-oriented competitors. Nowadays though, there are too many competitors and too many “values-based brands”. There’s nothing wrong with deeply emotional benefits, provided that you can execute the strategy. The overwhelming challenge is to make prospects believe the claim.

Conveying Authenticity

Hästens does a great job offering a transformational sleep experience but to make you write that cheque for over $100K (sales tax!) they have to convince you that its true and they have to do it without a test drive.  The claims are be supported by genuine differences in the tangible and intangible attributes of the product and the company that makes it.

Here is what they convey to you in their video and website:
  • Hästens is a family company that has been making beds for 5 generations. They demonstrate it in different ways (Ownership, Creation Narrative)
  • They were founded in 1852 and have been making beds for over 150 years (Heritage)
  • Every bit of the bed is handmade by them with care. They show you beds being carefully crafted and the people who do it (Craft)
  • It comes from Sweden and the voice over sounds like a Swede (Place)
  • The bed is made entirely of natural materials: cotton, wool, flax and most notably horsehair that has near-magical properties. There is nothing synthetic.   (Ingredients)
  •  The unique layered design is proprietary and time-tested. It includes a flax layer that enables the discharge of static electricity (Design)
  • It has a 25 year warranty, but many last generations. They torture-test it. They once dragged a bed behind a car for a kilometer - it was fine. (Guarantee)
  • It’s the only bed that  meets the Oeko-Tex 100 standard  where “they often dismantle products to the molecular level” (Third-Party Endorsement)
There is more. Quite a bit more but you get the idea. In the relatively new world of always-on dialogue with consumers and prospects we have ample bandwidth to convey the authenticity of our brands.  We can go way beyond the one Support Point for the TV spot. We can demonstrate “Reasons to Believe” and “Proof Points” in a variety of powerful ways. This is an important pathway to developing authentic, engaging brands.

Opportunities to strengthen support are often overlooked. Which is why over the last few years Lighthouse has been developing and “beta-testing” an approach to improving brand strategies called Build Belief™.  It defines brands in ways  that strengthen  consumer belief in brand claims.  More about that next post.

Here is the link to the Hästens site and video. If you are desperate to try the ultimate bed but are a little short on cash, you can try one for a night  at the Ivy at Verity boutique hotel on Queen Street E.  I’m not sure what you do if you love it.


Friday, May 5, 2017

Consumer insights make marketing work.


I recently agreed to teach two marketing courses for “execs” at the University of Toronto, so in between shopping for a natty tweed with leather elbows and a burled walnut pipe I have been thinking about some brand fundamentals. One of the most challenging yet critically important concepts is the Consumer Insight. To keep our Marketing jobs we occasionally have to demonstrate that we can sell stuff by figuring out things about consumers that others have overlooked. Finding meaningful insight when you need it is a challenging task; a good first step is understanding what it is or is not.

It’s useful to make the distinction between THE Consumer Insight and Consumer Insights. THE insight is part of the Creative Brief (or sometimes a brand strategy document) as the link to the brand benefit to be conveyed. THE Consumer Insight might be: “Younger buyers still believe Cadillac stands for quality but are embarrassed by its lack of performance credentials”.  Consumer Insights, in general,  can happen at any level from merchandising to a great idea for a promotion. The principles are the same, but it is good to be clear on the context.

What’s your problem?

Consumer Insight is strategy work. Strategy is just a solution to a problem. Richard Rumelt one of my favorite strategy gurus says, “Unless you state what the problem is – and how to overcome it, then it’s not a strategy.”
A key component of any Consumer Insight is the definition of the problem (call it an “issue” or an “opportunity” if it fits better). The definition is not the preamble or just context. There is no Yin without a Yang.

In simple terms you can define the problem as a) target group plus b) action. As in, “get 19-24 year olds in Ontario to purchase Labatt Blue more often” Or, “get current Hall’s cough drop users to use the brand more frequently in the spring and summer”.  There may well be additional nuance that is useful in framing the problem. Go for it. In classic strategy work defining the problem, the depth of problem and the gains from solving the problem are essential parts of “insightful” planning.

Consumer observations

Having defined the problem, marketers can then set about looking for solutions by studying the target group in the context of the category. It’s obvious but the relationship between the consumer and our brand is only part of the story. You need to explore the buying process and the performance of competitors or substitutes.

It doesn’t matter HOW you do the research. Well, actually, it matters a great deal but the choice of methodology is idiosyncratic. Invariably, you will learn all sorts of things that, to a greater or lesser degree, shed light on your problem.  Some people call these learnings “insights”; I call them “observations”. You need to find the best solution to the problem at hand; that will be your Consumer Insight.

Choosing a Solution

Strategy is a solution to a problem. It is also matching opportunities to capabilities. Brands have limits to their effectiveness.  The limits, like the brands themselves, are a function of existing consumer perceptions. Having identified a particular problem the best solution will work with the “assets” of the brand in a way that is credible with consumers.

If Coca-Cola brand observes that it is losing consumers to beverages that are perceived to be more healthful, it strains credibility to pitch Coke as a healthful drink. This would likely be the case, even if they added vitamins and ginseng to it. While you may be chuckling at the absurdity of that example, the genuinely smart people at Amazon launched the Fire smartphone at $199 and are now flogging it for 99 cents.  Brand owners generally overestimate the capabilities of their brand. In my case on Labatt Blue in the nineties the problem was “Dad’s beer”, the DNA was as a fun/party brand and we had to figure out how to dip it in the Cocoon pool or market it to older drinkers. The Consumer Insight among the younger segment was that “the best kind of fun was spontaneous fun”. So, we chose to be the brand of spontaneous fun. Was it credible? Not so much.

The Consumer Insight is the observation about the consumer that solves the brand problem in a credible way. The insight is “leveraged” as a deliberate choice is made to follow a particular route. I suspect it is more of an “aha moment” only in the retelling of war stories years later. In practice, choosing a strategic path usually means rejecting a reasonably attractive alternative. They can be tough decisions.

Putting it into Practice


I often hear business leaders complaining that the Research team or Brand Management are failing to bring forward the “consumer insights” required for success. Assuming that the business is willing to do some studying of the consumer, the main cause of “no insights” is “no defined problems” to focus on. Use your planning process to figure out and define the important problems. Then allocate resources to studying the relevant consumer groups to reveal Consumer Insights that make marketing investment actually work.


Lighthouse Clients

Cases, examples and client references are available upon request. Some of my clients over the last few years are:

Toyota Canada
Labatt Breweries/AB-InBev
Canadian Blood Services
Cadbury Adams
Constellation Brands/Vincor
Prime Restaurants - Casey's, East Side Mario's, Fionn MacCool's, Bier Markt
Sigma Alimentos - a large food company in Mexico
Multiple Sclerosis Society - MS WALK
Yellow Pages Group
New Balance Canada
Ideazon -(Gaming Hardware)
Edwards Builder's Hardware

Going further back:
Pfizer - Viagra, Detrol
Volvo Canada
Red Lobster USA
Xerox Canada
Sprint Canada
Absolut (Maxxium)

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