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Why The Sleep Industry Must Back Claims-Based Marketing With Better Data


Colin Lawlor, CEO, SleepScore Labs

I remember coming to the U.S. for the first time as a kid and seeing the now-iconic Wendy’s ad asking, “Where’s the beef?”

At the time, it was nothing more than a slogan. Looking back, however, Wendy’s may have been one of the first companies to ask consumers to think about the validity of the claims made by their favorite brands critically. The classic “Where’s The Beef?” slogan has since become synonymous with questioning the substance of an idea, event or product.

Claims-Based Marketing In The Sleep Industry

Today, claims-based marketing messages are everywhere, and the tactic is prevalent in the health and wellness industry. Some of these claims are not properly substantiated, a problem that is perhaps most widely acknowledged with magic weight loss solutions. The issue is far more widespread, even including some physical and mental health products and services. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “The Problem With Employee Wellness Programs,” highlights how the problem has impacted companies who are looking to improve the wellness of their teams.

For emerging categories like sleep, brands are looking to grab the attention of consumers who are recently learning about this space. Because of this, they may sometimes make unsubstantiated claims. Notably, MyPillow received a $1 million fine by the FTC in 2016 for allegedly making false medical claims, including that the pillow could “prevent sleep loss associated with insomnia, restless leg syndrome, neck pain, fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, migraines and other ailments.”

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The FTC put hundreds of companies on notice last year, warning that severe penalties could arise from the use of fake reviews, misleading endorsements and leveraging treatment claims without proper scientific evidence. The trouble with all the noise these claims create is that consumers who need health and wellbeing interventions are not getting them, which is arguably much more severe than claims about the amount of beef in a fast-food hamburger.

I’ve been in the sleep industry a long time, dating back to 2009, when sleep technology and product-driven solutions were but a twinkle in many sleep-evangelist’s eyes. I’ve seen products, wellness fads and new miracle tech come and go. The companies and solutions that have staying power, based on this experience, are the ones that actually work, the ones who can make claims backed by data and science.

How The Sleep Industry Should Move Forward

I’ve taken to heart the phrase often attributed to Peter Drucker, the influential leader in management, thinking, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Both when taking care of my own personal wellness and in developing my company’s mission to improve sleep, I’ve applied this maxim with the understanding that the accurate measurement of the impact of products and services is at the core of understanding what works and what doesn’t.

When it comes to understanding what impacts sleep positively or negatively, many brands lean into surveys and other self-reported information, which is often unintentionally distorted when it comes to sleep. We’re unconscious when we sleep, so our perceptions of our own sleep quality are based on fairly unreliable data. Objectively measured sleep is what enables us to know what interventions truly have an impact on us.

The sleep industry is primarily filled with those who truly do wish to do good and spread sleep improvement to the masses. But most are lacking the tools to test their consumer offerings to get a better understanding of how their solution truly—objectively—impacts sleep.

The industry must do better. It’s become too common for companies to throw out an unsubstantiated claim and see how consumers respond through their wallets or otherwise. To impact consumers positively, the sleep space should base every claim on data and scientifically proven research. Companies that cannot meet that bar should be pushed to the fray. Consumers deserve proof. Given how sleep directly impacts physical and mental wellbeing, sleep wellness is too precious to not be held to an incredibly high standard.

In an ideal future, none of us will have to sift through pages of products, hoping on a wing and a prayer that this one will be the one that finally works. Consumers will be able to find data on the products which would help them. Serious companies who want to deliver effective programs and solutions will have that data available, too. The years-long hunt to answer the question “Where’s the beef?” in the sleep industry will be a distant memory.

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