Casper the online mattress company – sorry, eh, I meant to say “the sleep transformation company” – recently announced its IPO. From the S-1:
As the wellness equation increasingly evolves to include sleep, the business of sleep is growing and evolving into what we call the Sleep Economy. We are helping to accelerate this transformation. Our mission is to awaken the potential of a well-rested world, and we want Casper to become the top-of-mind brand for best-in-class products and experiences that improve how we sleep…
We believe great brands win over the long-term and have the ability to change the culture around them. We have endeavored to build a brand that is genuine, trustworthy, and approachable, as well as fun and playful. Through our investment in a sophisticated and integrated marketing strategy, we engage consumers across the entire consumer journey, from our iconic public transit advertising campaigns, to our “Napmobiles” and experiential retail store concepts, to our category-leading social media presence. We see the Casper brand as an immeasurably valuable asset that we are utilizing to help capture a large share of the Sleep Economy.
When you read this, does it make you want to go online and buy one of their mattresses? Me neither.
Does it make you roll your eyes a bit? Yep, me too.
But does it do what the message is targeted to achieve – to speak to the financial community and gather interest and excitement for the upcoming IPO? I don’t think it does.
In fact, I think this message creates more harm than good because the brand is speaking with two voices. One to its consumers through its “brand focus” and one to its investors through its “investor focus.”
Great brands don’t do this. Great brands speak to the core customer’s perspective with one voice and one message to all stakeholders.
So what should Casper say to the investment community instead? I don’t claim to be a communications expert but it’s some variation of what really matters to the core customer: “Casper helps people have a great night sleep.” Period.
Why is this the core message? Because the core customer defines the polestar for all other company stakeholders, activities, and initiatives. If the head of the company muddles this message and focus, then they muddle everything else too.
“But wait a minute,” you might be asking, “what about meeting investor needs? Prospective IPO investors will certainly want more color on the company’s customer acquisition costs or gross margin or strategy, so shouldn’t they also have a message tailored to the investment community?” Nope. From the top of the company down, it should actually have the same message when speaking to the investment community as they do to all stakeholders, internal and external: “Our focus is on helping people to have a great night’s sleep. Everything we do is about understanding our customers’ needs. We strive to provide our customers with the best sleep possible at great price. That’s what we do.”
Notice that in my example I actually didn’t answer the questions from the financial community. That’s exactly right! The most important thing for brand engagement as well as organizational culture, alignment, and execution is that the leadership of the organization consistently reinforces the organization’s purpose from the core customer’s perspective.
All communications, internal and external, must speak to the purpose of the brand and as if everyone was a potential consumer of Casper mattresses. Financial investors can review the company’s financial statements. Those who really care can tell if the company has healthy acquisition costs and operating margins. But the core message shouldn’t deviate. In this case, probably on the advice of the investor relations committee, Casper made a mistake by attempting to appeal to the investment community by focusing on the company’s data acquisition strategy as a competitive differentiator:
“We believe we have more data on consumer sleep behavior than any other competitor, and we use it to enhance all areas of our business. We gather data from a variety of sources including webpage visits, retail store analytics technology, retail points of sale, delivery partners, retail partners, media partners, social media, consumer reviews, inbound consumer interactions, returns, and a variety of third-party data sources. Our in-house teams of data scientists and analysts leverage this data for insights to enhance various areas of our business including new product development, current product improvements, casper.com user experience optimizations, pricing, and delivery improvements.”
Information is free-flowing. Investors read it but also consumers and employees. Multiple messages go to all audiences. Now if you’re a potential consumer of mattresses or even “sleep transformation services,” does giving up a bunch of your data to a CPG brand fill you with warm fuzzies? Didn’t think so. Or, if you were an employee reading this does this focus fill you with pride and tap your latent creativity for the company? Just the opposite. If Casper was smarter, they would drop the split personality and speak with one voice to all stakeholders through the lens of the consumer.
Do you know who does this really well? Jeff Bezos and Amazon. Bezos is always on message about being customer-centric, about finding new opportunities to listen to customers and to delight them. Go read any Amazon quarterly report or press release. It’s almost ALWAYS written towards the end consumer. There is nothing in the messaging that orients away from the purpose of delighting the customer or sending mixed messages.
Does Amazon’s lack of sharing internal strategies or metrics piss off some investors? You bet. Does Amazon have a lot of detractors? Yes, it does. Does it matter? It does not. What matters is that from the top down, Amazon is always speaking to all stakeholders through the lens of only one message and customer: the consumer.
For example, here are some random quotes from Bezos speaking to Prime (Amazon’s amazing economic flywheel), Innovation, and Strategy. Notice how everything is focused on the end consumer:
On Prime: “We want Prime to be such a good value, you’d be irresponsible not to be a member.”
On Innovation: “Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples.”
On Strategy: “There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.
“Why? There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great.”
The point I’m trying to make is that as a leader, first and foremost, the message starts with you and you need to know for whom it is that your organization exists and that answer should drive all of your messaging. Knowing for whom you exist is even more important than articulating why you exist. A high-performing organization cannot serve multiple masters. If it attempts to have multiple messages to different stakeholders then it will lose credibility to all of them. Be consistent. Be on purpose. Speak with one message to your most important core customer and all other stakeholders will get in line.
Let me give you another example of the negative repercussions that occur when a brand has multiple voices to multiple audiences. This one is so egregious that I actually remember the quote from several years ago. It comes from the CEO of once hot consumer brand SodaStream:
“We created a razor and a razor-blade business model. The razor is obviously the soda maker (lower margin) and we have three blades (higher-margin): the CO2 refills, the flavor syrups, and the bottles. So it’s not a one-time sale — the blades are our future revenue stream. We acquire users, build our installed base, and we cultivate those users for life… The kitchen countertop is the most expensive real estate in the world.”
To be fair, SodaStream sold to Pepsi Co for $3.2B at the height of its popularity so you might view that as a success no matter what. But SodaStream has dropped considerably from its sales apex and I think one reason is that many consumers like me found the time between refills to be short and frequent instead of long and of value. In fact, every time I personally went to buy a refill as a consumer I would remember this CEO’s quote about the world’s most expensive real estate on my countertop and the value of selling razor blades. It wasn’t long until I felt resentful and cheated by SodaStream and it soon went below the countertop and unused.
In summary, we live in a world of free-flowing information. All stakeholders, consumers, employees, and investors are exposed to all messages. As a leader, one of your most important jobs is to set the tone. Be consistent. Be on purpose. Always speak to the purpose of the brand through the eyes of the core customer who is your most important and valued audience. If you do that, then all other stakeholders will eventually understand what’s most important to your business and can either opt out or opt in for the ride.