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Awkward! The Most Uncomfortable Detail of Your Product May Also Be Its Most Compelling One

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No matter how much we avoid awkward, uncomfortable conversations, we find ourselves in them from time to time. Whether we’re telling the neighbor that he needs to prevent his German Shepherd from making a deposit in our yard to giving constructive feedback to the hairdresser who mutilated our ‘do, we have to address the sordid details we hoped we’d never have to discuss face to face.

As uncomfortable as we find these conversations when they occur in our personal lives, we rarely expect to encounter them when we’re making a purchasing decision. Consumers have become so savvy at conducting their own research that we assume they’d ask if they couldn’t find the information they needed. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Embarrassed Customers Are Silent Customers

The problem, of course, is that customers don’t always know what they want. For years, the bedding industry invested millions of marketing dollars in comparing bedding materials, costs, and brands. We talked endlessly about what beds were made of without ever really talking about what people spend a lot of time doing in bed: being intimate.

That demonstrated a lack of understanding---of both the selling points of our products and of our customers. Consumers hadn’t established a relationship with us that made that comfortable, so they were embarrassed and didn’t know what to ask. The information wasn’t in the store, and we didn’t provide it online. Our silence had made one of the most important aspects of our customers’ lives a non-issue.

We were also missing out on the most compelling role our products played: that of the bedroom enhancer. My company, Leggett & Platt, talked to 255 people in Las Vegas to determine whether consumers did think about sex when buying a mattress. To our surprise, 85% admitted that they never considered sex when purchasing a new mattress---but the majority said it would be a determining factor the next time they did.

By simply introducing the topic, we’d made it possible for our customers to have that conversation with us. We’d also planted the idea in their minds, allowing it to grow until it became a compelling argument of its own. While uncomfortable topics like sex may feel taboo and inappropriate for marketing, they’re desperately needed in the conversation.

Bedding tends to be a conservative industry that shies away from taking risks regarding what could offend people in the industry, especially end consumers. If you were able to say that your products had a direct impact on the quality of your customers’ sexual experiences, wouldn’t you address it? Any company that’s willing to actively engage its customers in uncomfortable conversations receives two benefits: 1) it will control the message that’s out there, and 2) it will help consumers understand without requiring them to bear the burden of awkwardness.

If consumers aren’t well-informed on a topic, they tend to poll their social networks or make assumptions of their own. Because subjects like sex are intensely personal, customers are unlikely to engage their Facebook friends in a discussion of the finer points of pillow-top mattresses. That ultimately means that consumers will make decisions off misinformation they’ve provided themselves.

As an industry, it’s important to control the message. You can’t leave that discussion to a retail sales associate---it’s far better to elaborate upon uncomfortable subjects in brochures or online. Privacy allows customers to feel protected, and in bringing up the subject, you’ve made your product more approachable.

Companies That Discuss Awkward Moments Well

Acknowledging that sex is an important part of our clients’ lives---and an important role for our products---could help our industry immensely. People weren’t shy about sharing their thoughts; they said they’d simply never been asked before. Sex directly impacts our customers’ quality of life, and it was our responsibility to take that seriously and educate them.

Other companies have done a stellar job of addressing the uncomfortable in their industries. Luvs’ new campaign spotlights second-time moms, who are more likely to buy the brand’s diapers. One of the campaign’s commercials features a first-time mom who’s grappling with eating a meal while breastfeeding her child under a cover. With her second child, she eats restaurant meals while openly breastfeeding---no cover needed. Although a diaper isn’t needed to breastfeed, Luvs pinpointed an awkward moment a mother encounters and bonded with her over it.

Listermint directly attacked its foe, bad breath, in an award-winning ad featuring a priest whose deadly breath has forced his brethren to the back pews. This ad addressed two awkward subjects simultaneously: the embarrassment of living with bad breath and the intense discomfort of telling someone he has it.

Two women-oriented brands, Kotex and Activia, have used their customers’ personal discomforts to underscore their products’ features. Kotex released a line of tampons in little black boxes to save the embarrassment of having others see feminine products on display. Activia’s commercials tout the yogurt’s ability to keep customers “regular,” packaging a solution to constipation in a simple dairy product.

Missing the Most Compelling Detail

There are, on the other hand, brands that haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the awkward conversations that could sell their products more easily. One great example can be found in Apple’s iPad. Yes, the iPad is a sales monster, but Apple could assuage consumers’ fear and attract new customers by highlighting the tablet’s ability to serve as a babysitter. Parents don’t want to admit that the iPad is quite possibly the best children’s distraction created---confessing that makes them feel like bad parents. If Apple cushioned this feeling in a commercial, it would see fresh engagement from consumers.

Brands that are unwilling to address the awkward and uncomfortable with their customers are missing out on opportunities to build trust with consumers and opening the door for competitors to control the information these consumers have. By failing to acknowledge some of the more awkward elements of life, you’re doing your clients a disservice and underselling your own products. Those uncomfortable conversations may make you nervous, but they may also make you millions.

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Mark Quinn is a Segment VP of Marketing with Leggett & Platt and has more than two decades of experience. Quinn writes a bedding industry and marketing blog called Q's Views.

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  • by Christopher Thu Aug 8, 2013 via blog

    Excellent article, thanks. It takes a smart agency and brave client to make this kind of advertising happen.

  • by Teresa Paredes Fri Aug 9, 2013 via blog

    A reminder to look beyond the obvious, great post

  • by Mark Quinn Sat Aug 10, 2013 via blog

    Thanks Christopher and Teresa for the comments and for reading. Christopher, it does take someone that is willing to push out of the box, but if we don't do that we already know what we are going to get so how much of an option do we really have right!

  • by Colleen Franken Sun Aug 18, 2013 via blog

    In my opinion, the bedding and mattress industry is a long way off from such frank discussions. Although the dialogue has evolved in many areas and progressed to a certain degree, blatantly using the benefits of a particular mattress as it relates to intimacy is way off in the distance.

  • by Michael Russell Thu Aug 22, 2013 via blog

    You sure could have a lot of fun with it==the way Viagra does with its ads.
    Latex--just too easy!
    Memories Foam? or were those nightmares?
    Bet it wont be long before one manufacturer will try to claim you will last longer on their mattress then the competitions :)

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