If you’ve ever walked into a mattress showrom, you know that the only way to buy a mattress is to lie down on it. For the most part, they all look the same—like flattened marshmallows. That’s also a challenge for the salesperson. How do you convince a customer to pay more for a mattress when there aren’t outward physical differences? That was one of the challenges Ideo addressed while rebranding Sealy’s Posturepedic line, which now conveys its core message—that its mattresses are good for your back—with features that both consumers and retailers can see from the outside.
After Ideo’s successful refresh of Sealy’s Stearns and Foster, the company decided to try to do the same with its faltering Posturepedic collection. "Like a lot of solid, long-term brands, they eventually lost their drawing power," says Michael Hendrix, an associate partner at Ideo’s Boston office. "With Posturepedic, it was pretty innovative when it came out in the 1950s, and like a lot of brands at the time, they were using health-care professionals to endorse the products."
Today, most consumers don’t buy beds on the advice of orthopedic surgeons. Although some may have the misfortune of visiting an orthopedic surgeon, many consult an entire ecosystem of experts—from chiropractors and acupuncturists to personal trainers—to strengthen their entire bodies and ensure spinal alignment. So Ideo took a different tack: bolstering Posturepedic’s claim to the most supportive mattresses on the market by adding more support where people need it most, at their hips. "We said, ‘Let’s do two things: Let’s put more supportive foam in that area, and let’s do a tighter quilt pattern in that area," Hendrix says. "You get a better sensation of support there, along with the functional benefit. You see the performance benefits from the structure."
The improved performance can also be seen in extra features like a wraparound handle for easy lifting, even from the corners, and a rubber surface on the bottom of the top mattress to grip sheets and keep them from creeping up over your feet. To further differentiate Posturepedic from the sea of mattresses in Sleepy’s, Ideo used color, a light blue for the foundation and white for the top comfort layer. "If you look at the classic Eames lounge and ottoman, you’ve got the walnut shell with another interior," Hendrix says. "It’s the same contrast—there’s that strong support on the outside and there’s comfort on the inside." The colors were chosen to appeal for their familiarity to a mainstream audience: The light blue was inspired by the classic light-blue men’s shirt, and white was chosen to evoke fluffy, fresh clouds.
In the end, a lot of the design work came down to figuring out ways to make the benefits visible to the consumer. "A mattress is kind of ironic: It’s a black box, even though it’s more like a marshmallow," Hendrix says. "The key is to bring features into a bed that a customer can see to understand the value."