My first job in the mattress industry was with Sealy/Stearns and Foster. Back then they taught us how to leverage the Sealy brand to gain floor space and improve market share. To do this, they armed us with a notebook full of aided and unaided brand awareness reports so that we could show the retailers why it was important for them to carry and advertise our products.
Today, brand awareness can still be important but Tempur-Pedic has taught us that awareness is significantly less important than brand PREFERENCE. It is great that people know who you are, but if they don’t like you, or if there is no emotional connection to your company, awareness has much less impact. The game these days is to get people to fall in love with your company and its products, which will ultimately lead to a sale and if you do it right, a referral.
I bring this up to make a comment about brand blur. I will never forget my first few years in this business where everybody I met slept on a Sealy. At first I thought it was odd that EVERYBODY had a Sealy, then I realized that they were probably just telling me what I wanted to hear. But more than that, I discovered that they really didn’t know anything about their bed other than the product name began with an “S”. We are in a very unique position in this industry because three of the top four brands start with the letter “S” so that doesn’t help anything. On top of that, the research that I have seen says, there is very little difference in the brand that consumers PREFER over another. (Excluding Tempur-Pedic per my comment above.) Isn’t that a problem? Retailers, you are in the same boat. Have you ever had a consumer hit your counter to pay and ask you where they were so that they could make out their check? Do they know your store or do they PREFER your store?
Many of you don’t have brand awareness in a significant way so what I am going to say next is important. I don’t care what business you are in, if people don’t have a clear idea of who you are and understand at the most basic level what you stand for, then you will not realize your full potential with the rsa or the consumer. If you want to be known for gel memory foam like everybody else then go for it, but understand it will be very difficult to differentiate your company as it is a very crowded space. Look at Corsicana. This is a company that is very basic in its approach. No frills, no fancy advertising, they just know who they are and built a business doing what they do better than anyone else. They don’t try to be everything to everybody, they try to be excellent in the “value product” category and it works for them. If you ask 100 industry veterans who Corsicana is as a company, I bet the large majority of them give you a similar answer. Here comes the big gut check for you. If I were to ask your customers or even a group of your own employees that same question, how many would give similar answers?
Brand blur is real and is a problem for all of us even if you don’t have an “S” at the beginning of your name. This doesn’t mean that Serta, Sealy and Simmons aren’t great companies with terrific products; it just means that there is an opportunity for them to further define their place in the market. If you find yourself in no mans land, you could eventually become irrelevant to your audience if you don’t have the big bucks to market your business. Be somebody! Find your niche and unique identity and you will thrive. Awareness is good. Preference gets top line and margin so what is your target?
HOMEWORK: Find 10 people that you work with or that know your company over the next few days and ask them this question. “What do you think my company stands for?” See what they say and let me know if you pass the test!