Like many other retail sectors, the bedding industry is feeling the impact of shoppers going online before or in lieu of going into a store. Already, direct-to-consumer bedding upstarts have taken 12% of the market with their digital-centric communication approaches.
But Michelle Montgomery continues to sleep tight. The VP of marketing communications for Beautyrest at Serta Simmons Bedding, the largest distributor and manufacturer of mattresses in the United States, is responsible for developing and executing the brand’s national marketing strategy and communications efforts. She also leads a team of talented marketers and directly oversees all external marketing, advertising, public relations, and work with digital agencies.
CMO.com spoke with Montgomery about her brand’s ongoing journey. What she shared will help digital transformation leaders in other industries sleep better, too.
CMO.com: Where is the Beautyrest brand on its digital transformation journey?
Montgomery: The bedding industry has had a lot of disruption and revolution over the past several years, ranging from new direct-to-consumer brands, retailer consolidation, and manufacturing consolidation to the growing importance of digital media and influencers and overall consumer behavior changes. It’s been fascinating and exciting.
Over the past six years, the Beautyrest brand has been on a journey to become a more consumer-centric sleep brand versus a seller of mattresses. This journey not only involves consumer-focused product innovation, but also the look and feel of the brand, the way we market, and our digital transformation. As an example, today, 63% of our marketing spend is digital—either paid, earned, or owned. This is a big shift.
CMO.com: Let’s talk more about changes in consumer behavior. What have you seen in the past few years?
Montgomery: Like so many industries, the consumer’s path to purchase in the bedding industry has dramatically changed. It is critically important to acknowledge and embrace these changes and be nimble, test, learn, and adapt. It used to be that the path to purchase focused on the consumer’s “first moment of truth,” which was historically when they went into the store and saw the product in the showroom or on the shelf. But now there is the “zero moment of truth.” Consumers research the category and products they are shopping before entering a store.
While marketers have been living with this behavior change for close to a decade, it is still constantly changing, and there is a good chance that you will have little control over how a consumer first experiences your product. Other people and third parties will potentially speak about your brand before you do. For example, in the bedding industry, product ratings and reviews are a big disruptor. It is our job as marketers to fuel positive and legitimate content about our brand to build a positive reputation. Because ratings and reviews are so important to consumers, we’ve [worked] with our retail partners to ensure that this is done in the right and ethical way.
CMO.com: What kinds of changes have you made in your marketing as a result?
Montgomery: Beyond working with our retail partners, [educating them about] consumer ratings and reviews, and significantly shifting paid media to digital, we’ve learned the importance of working with influencers. We’ve used celebrity endorsements, and ... we utilize our social channels as a place where consumers can find reasons to believe content about not only our products, but about sleep.
One way we’ve done this is through our partnership with Dr. Rebecca Robbins, a sleep researcher at the NYU School of Medicine, who has been a great voice of authority and research on how to get our best sleep and be our best waking self. This has been a very good partnership from both a knowledge and a media coverage standpoint.
CMO.com: Can you talk about how the brand has embraced experiential marketing?
Montgomery: We have done several experiential events with our target audience that tap into their passion points. We wanted to be in places where we knew our target consumer would be and ... to produce content that could be shared on social media. We did an experiential program at the 2018 SXSW Music Festival where we partnered with Max Richter, a world-renowned composer, to present the North American debut of his eight-hour lullaby called “Sleep.” We had Beautyrest mattresses arranged in place of traditional concert seating for festival-goers to relax on as they listened to the overnight concert.
This was successful in terms of creating an event that not only stood out in a brand-relevant way, but also went beyond being a one-and-done event via all of the positive earned media from social sharing on Instagram and Snapchat during the experience.
CMO.com: Are there any other tech-enabled marketing approaches you’ve used to differentiate your brand?
Montgomery: We’ve executed several digital tools to help retail sales associates (RSAs). For example, we have experimented with augmented reality to give consumers shopping in stores a virtual look inside our mattresses versus looking at all of the white rectangles that look similar. ... Beautyrest has a mobile app that the RSA could use to show the internal construction of each mattress to help consumers better visualize the layers when explaining the product features and benefits. Having a tool like this helps to turn the RSA into a brand advocate. This app pairs nicely with our video series, called “Simple Facts,” which breaks down complicated or potentially confusing topics into simple language for consumers and RSAs alike.
CMO.com: With so many shifts, how else have you helped your retail partners, specifically, remain relevant and competitive?
Montgomery: Training, education tools, and knowledge for the RSAs are very important in our business. We created a B2B site just for our retail partners and their RSAs to educate them with information to be sleep experts and become Beautyrest brand advocates in the process. It is our responsibility to go above and beyond just price, promotion, and features to share information on how to get good sleep, how to better sell sleep products, and how to deliver the best CX for sleep shoppers.
CMO.com: How about changes within your marketing department as well as your own leadership approach? How have they evolved?
Montgomery: The marketing department has changed a ton. It used to solely be about having a B2B, trade-oriented creative services department that would create assets that our retail partners could utilize. We still do this, but now it is about so much more. As we’ve become more consumer-centric and digital ... we are now more focused on creating and delivering relevant, meaningful, and shareable content for our consumers and prospects.
We also develop with our agency partners impactful consumer advertising. We spend a lot of time strategizing about creative ways to make connections with our digitally native consumers. All of this has changed how we are structured and the talent we bring onto the team. My leadership approach has become more 360-degree collaborative discussion where I continuously view things from all perspectives.
I also came from the agency side. I’ve never used the phrase “vendor.” I view our agencies as partners, an extension of our team. To get the best work, people need to feel and be part of the process, not just order-takers. We are very collaborative across our team to create the best work, ownership, and accountability.
CMO.com: What trends and technologies are you thinking about as you move forward?
Montgomery: We are thinking a lot about retail in a digital age. What do retailers need, and what is retail evolving into? Also, as IoT emerges, we are thinking about the “connected bedroom.” We don’t want to just be the leading seller of mattresses. For example, we have a product that tracks sleep, as well as state-of-the-art technologies in our new pillows and mattress covers. Our goal is to be the No. 1 brand in the sleep industry, and therefore we continuously think about innovation and what’s next, both in our business and the products we manufacture. It’s an exciting time in the world of sleep.