Last year was a big year for Sleep Number—a new multi-year deal with the NFL and a new line of smart beds. The combination of the two created one of the most expansive campaigns on the NFL’s sponsorship roster.
The marketing strategy taps 10 NFL players to show the positive impact of quality sleep through digital storytelling, content marketing, experiential activations around major NFL events and a national advertising campaign.
All active NFL players received individual certificates to use in stores to take home a Sleep Number 360 smart bed, which monitors heart and breathing rates, rest time and restless time. Almost every player took up the offer.
Evan Vladem, sports marketing consultant and advisor, recently sat down with Sleep Number CMO Kevin Brown to discuss the campaign.
EVAN VLADEM: What drew you to a partnership deal with the league?
KEVIN BROWN: Any great partnership starts with making sure that both organizations are aligned around a collective mission or vision and the impact you want consumers to experience. In our case, we are looking at the world class athletes of the NFL. From a business standpoint, we were rolling out an entire new line of Sleep Number 360 smart beds. We knew that we needed to find a partner that could help us break out of the clutter.
EV: What is the the most powerful aspect of a NFL partnership?
KB: The NFL has one of the largest marketing platforms on the planet and it overlaps very nicely with our target customer. We are in a unique position to impact the game both on and off the field. It’s not one of those things where we are looking to buy the [NFL] shield and slap it on advertising, we actually care about improving the lives of the players. The NFL has been very public about the health and safety of the players and it made a lot of sense from that stand point.
EV: What was the message to get 1,800 players and counting to have a Sleep Number 360 smart bed?
KB: We are obviously very happy that we got nearly all active players on a 360 Smart Bed. They got the message because they are competitive and they know it will make a difference with the performance on the field, as well as a recovery in between weeks. It made a lot of sense to them. They wanted the beds. That was a relatively easy part of the deal to work out.
EV: What data does the smart bed collect?
KB: Each and every night, we are collecting over 8 billion biometric data points. We are running the largest sleep study in America and it’s all individualized to the sleeper on each side of the bed. And with that, we produce a quality sleep IQ score. Everyday consumers are able to make the adjustment they need to get their best sleep. When you take it into the realm of a world class athlete, they are looking at what do I need to do to keep that sleep quality score as high as possible so they are ready to rock and roll on Sunday.
EV: Who is your target audience?
KB: Our target demo are consumers 35-64 years old. Everybody deserves a good night sleep. We are just using the metaphor or the influence of NFL athletes as a way for consumers to ask, ‘gosh, if those guys are using it, what in the world could that mean to me in being more patient with my kids or to nail that presentation tomorrow or to just be a kinder person?’
EV: In addition to an activation on the ground at the NFL Draft in Nashville this year, you launched a four-part content series with Josh Jacobs, a member of the Draft Class, to showcase the impact quality sleep is having on him ahead of the biggest day of his life, [the NFL Draft starts tonight.] Is storytelling a more important part of your marketing mix?
KB: We have been using storytelling and content marketing the last three or four years and that’s a major capability for us. What that does is contribute to the consideration of the brand. We know in retail that people buy on emotions 80 percent of the time. So we needed to provide them another way to emotionally connect with the brand besides the awesome features, functions, and benefits.
The video gives an inside look at Josh Jacobs’ road to the NFL Draft and why smarter sleep has played an important part in his physical and mental preparations for the biggest job interview of his life.
EV: What about the onsite activation?
KB: We’re an experiential brand. You have to lay on the bed to really get it and feel the difference. The main outcome of having an activation site is we just want an entertaining and educational way to expose folks to the benefits of the bed.
EV: You added VR to the mix?
KB: With a virtual reality game, you can see how well you can throw a pass with a great nights sleep. It’s essentially a two-minute virtual ride which takes you through an entertaining and educational experience. You feel the bed and the video is explaining as you go through.
EV: How are you measuring the sponsorship?
KB: We are a very analytic brand. We measure our brand three times a year and we are at record levels of consideration, added awareness, value perception, and with the NFL audience we significantly moved our buzz metric and our word-of-mouth metric. That’s been consistent from the start of the season. We had our measurement in September and we validated that in January.
EV: What’s next for Sleep Number in sports?
KB: I don’t think we can be in the space we are in and just ignore the Olympics. I think we need to figure that out for 2020.