Casper CXO on Brand Building That Counts (Part 2)
In the world of brand building, you may have heard of a phenomenon “blanding.” In other words, this is what leads to most tech companies all looking the same. None of them have a defined sense of self. Even some of the most illustrious companies are starting to look blandly similar online.
How do you build a brand that counts, isn’t dilute and stands for something? You have to balance two key aspects:
- User-centered, data-driven design
- Creative inspiration
These days, number two has quickly become the differentiator. We have more ways to frame problems than ever. Data, analytics and user research methods all let us generate efficient problem-solving solutions. Still, pure problem led thinking can create functional blanding that doesn’t achieve cultural resonance, high order emotion or memorability.
The most iconic example is Apple. They created desire out of nothing and transformed culture around personal technology. Ride-sharing is another example. There are dozens of functional, usable apps, but only Lyft has the pink mustache. While the mustache counts, it’s the distinct set of values – expressed in every service touchpoint – that separates Lyft from their competitors. Culturally transformative solutions require more than just problem-solving.
Experiment Creatively, Not Just Rationally
At Casper, brick and mortar mattered to us, since customers wanted to try our mattresses in person. We knew that a trail bed experience required quiet, privacy and products to try. The first solution we came up with was private fitting rooms with beds, that is, pure blanding. It was nice, pleasing, palatable… but not memorable.
Meanwhile, we had a temporary popup experience running in San Francisco. We called it the Casper Wake Up. It created the sights, sounds and feel of a perfect San Francisco morning. It was intensely creative with oversized birdhouses, astroturf, simulated morning sunlight, OJ, coffee and bird chirping soundtracks. The store that featured this experience generated the highest traffic and sales.
Joy and Discovery
Problem orientation does not lead to birds chirping, canary yellow houses and astroturf. Data could not create that solution for us. Data could only validate it. So we experimented on these themes before building our stores, and we continue to iterate over time. Instead of blanding, we bring joy and a sense of discovery. Nobody ever dreamed that people would share a mattress shopping experience on social media, but here we are.
Creativity has transformed our retail stores into destinations. Even those who aren’t looking for a mattress want to engage with our brand and explore sleep. Instead of coming from a culture of ‘why’ this came from an attitude of ‘why not’. This is in direct tension with a lot of thinking in tech culture these days.
To avoid blanding:
- Don’t force rationalization of every idea.
- Run some ‘why not’ experiments. Expect many to fail. Take risks.
- Aim for the provocative, not just likable.