With its single product offer, surprising bed-in-a-box delivery and
impressive 100-night money back guarantee, Casper revolutionised
the tired mattress industry when it launched direct-to-consumer in
2014. Five years on, its once disruptive tactics have been mimicked
by almost every other mattress company – and little wonder, with
Casper’s total revenues exceeding US$600m globally. Chief
Marketing Officer Jeff Brooks shares how the narrative around its
disruption continues to evolve, and why its shift towards becoming
‘the sleep company’ has always been the plan.

What did the founders see as the opportunity for Casper?
The mattress category had not seen innovation in over 100 years.
It’s your classic example of a few big players controlling both product
and distribution, and when you have that type of situation you don’t
really have to innovate. The existing experience of purchasing was
fundamentally flawed. It wasn’t accessible, friendly or transparent.
You had commissioned salespeople with their clipboards hovering
over you, trying to get you in and out of that bed as fast as possible.
The trial experience itself was terrible. Literally, there’d be no privacy.
You’d be doing a snow angel in a field of mattresses. How can you try
to make yourself comfortable? For something that you’re going to
spend a third of your life with and maybe only buy every 10 years,
there had to be a better way to do that.

What did Casper offer that provided that ‘better’ way?
The founders had the foresight to say, ‘We want to build a brand
in a world that is inviting, approachable, playful and transparent,’
all the things that the category wasn’t. The proposition from the getgo
was dramatic. It was one universally comfortable mattress that
made light of the jargon around soft, medium, and firm mattresses
you see at traditional retailers. Ergonomically, 95% of humans
should be sleeping on the same type of mattress.

We had compression technology which no one had seen
before, and many people were really sceptical about. How could
you possibly compress and roll a premium quality product into
a box? That was alarming for people. Casper can probably claim
credit for being one of the first companies to spawn the ‘unboxing’
phenomenon on YouTube that has now taken over many other
categories. Then there was delivery to your door within two days,
or sometimes the same day.

I call Casper’s first disruption ‘the disruption of buying mattresses’.
We offered one product SKU (stock keeping unit), which was so
different at the time, and a 100-night trial period, which every other
company in the category has now copied. It was dramatic disruption
and it was truly welcomed by consumers.

How did that sense of drama impact Casper’s marketing?
Casper had to be dramatic in terms of disrupting an industry with
a single value proposition product experience. The marketing was
never about mattresses as its sole reason for being.

We made sleep inviting, fun and engaging. We made it approachable.
Creating a world that consumers wanted to engage with, peek into,
hang out in was critical for us. Why has Casper’s marketing from the
beginning been experiential? Why have we chosen to do nap tours
and outfitted RVs with beds and then toured around the country
giving sleep to those who need it? Why have we done experiential
pop-ups and made floaties that go in swimming pools that look like
a Casper mattress? The commercial viability of some of those things
is secondary. Experiential marketing isn’t about selling mattresses,
but making people believe that sleep is fun and interesting, and that
people should be thinking more about their sleep. I always say, as
someone who’s been doing branding and marketing for a quarter
of a century, that the best brands have one foot in their category
and one foot in culture.

Experiential marketing aside, how else is Casper disrupting
the traditional category experience?
Our approach to customer experience is fundamentally different. Most
furniture and mattress retail fleets and sales staff are commissioned.
Ours are salaried, so they go through the exact same orientation into
the company with brand value training and sleep certification as our
HQ staff. We want to make sure that people who are talking about
our products are credible talking about sleep and understand different
sleep patterns and sleep cycles. The first question that an associate
asks a prospective customer should be, ‘How did you sleep last night?’
Associates should be able to have at least a two- or three-minute
conversation about that.

You mentioned earlier that Casper’s first disruption was
buying mattresses. What do you see as the next chapter in
Casper’s disruption?
Casper’s next disruption is becoming an end-to-end sleep company.
We don’t want to be a mattress company. We want to be the world’s
first sleep company. This has always been Casper’s DNA.

If you look at early drafts of mission statements and quotes and
interviews from founders Neil Parikh and Philip Krim on the founding
story of Casper, it was not solely about saying ‘mattress shopping
sucks, let’s figure out how to fix it.’ There was always a belief that sleep
wasn’t getting its fair shake in terms of the wellness conversation.
People obsessed over diet and exercise, yet there was this ‘I’ll-sleepwhen-
I-die’ kind of culture. Whether in pop culture or business,
it was cool to brag about how little you slept.

One of Casper’s earliest internal statements read: ‘We create
products and services that help people dream their way to a better
life.’ We talked about a life well slept. We talked about cementing
sleep’s place in the wellness conversation. That stuff is in
Casper’s DNA.

One of the ways that we get there is through a product portfolio
that spans what I would call the 9pm to 9am timeframe, because
great sleep is not just about the hours you are asleep. Anyone who
knows sleep knows that the two hours you spend before you go to
bed have a huge impact on how you sleep. What products and services
can Casper potentially offer to people in that timeframe? Glow, our
latest smart light, helps people wind down and wake up naturally,
and we’ll be launching other interesting products that improve the
experience of sleep. These things from a product standpoint help
give us the credibility that we are thinking more broadly about the
sleep ecosystem.

Starting as an online-only DTC, you’ve been gaining more of a
foothold in retail. What role does that play for a Dramatic Disruptor?
No matter how amazing your product is, stores and a physical, prepurchase
experience really matter – especially for a highly considered
product like a mattress. There is a large percentage of consumers that
will not drop $1,000, $2,000 or $3,000 on a mattress that they don’t
plan on changing for another decade without the ability to lie on it
first. That makes sense.

I think about stores as the Goldilocks paradigm. We’ve seen
legacy mattress retailers so overextended that they’re now filing
for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and closing up to 700 stores over the
next year because the commercial viability of operating that many
unprofitable and empty stores is obviously not good. But something
between that number and having one or two showrooms that are
good for new product launches and press events is where Casper
will be.

We think the magic number is around 200 over the next three years.
I think that that will give us the optimal footprint to both make sure
that all our stores are highly productive, but enough coverage that if
someone is shopping online and they want to try the product before
they click the buy button, they have the opportunity.

How is the business doing today?
Our business continues to grow at a rapid clip. Casper actually
turns five years old this year. It’s amazing to think what’s been
achieved in that relatively short time frame. We started with literally
one product: a universally comfortable mattress, one distribution
channel (e-commerce) and one geography (the US). Fast forward
to today and we have over 10 product categories, hundreds of
SKUs. E-commerce is still a very significant part of our world,
but we are truly becoming an omni-channel retailer where we
have almost 25 owned stores across the US and Canada. We have
wholesale distribution and partner with Target, Nordstrom and
Hudson Bay and a number of others. We operate in North
America and in Europe. Just from a pure business model
standpoint, that’s a tremendous evolution.

What three bits of advice would you give to other challenger Chief
Marketing Officers?
One, really focus on an unmet consumer need and be able to, with
confidence, feel that your products are uniquely qualified to address
that. Number two would be take that product to market in a way that
from the get-go is defensively differentiated.

Number three would be, don’t go too far, too fast. If we had tried
to do stores in years two or three, or if we had tried to launch smart,
connected products in our second year, we probably would have
failed. We had to build equity and credibility in our core product
and brand. We had to create cultural demand and awareness of
our product across the entire country and then globally. We then
had to think about how we extend our mission so that we become
more than just mattresses.