Aishwarya Ramesh

Meet the ex-P&G marketer who’s now selling sleep

Memory foam was invented in 1960 and the mattress industry has seen very little innovation since then. Priyanka Goyal, co-founder of Sleep Company, wants to change all that. She undertook the whole process of developing a consumer product from scratch – even working with DRDO scientists to develop the technology. The result is a mattress that comes with a smart grid aimed to relieve body pain. We had a chance to catch up with Goyal over phone. What caught our eye, is her career at P&G as a country category leader, which spanned almost eight years.

We asked her how she approaches brand building and how marketing is different in a start-up as against in an MNC like P&G. “While working at a start-up, you don’t have the deep pockets like an MNC, you have to be conscious of the RoI on everything you’re doing. When I was at P&G, the budget that I had to spend on brands was 20x my budget today,” she recalls.

Priyanka Goyal
Priyanka Goyal

Goyal admits that even though her profile was closely tied to marketing, playing the same role in a start-up ecosystem was completely different and it came with a whole new set of learnings.

She acknowledges that the marketing insights she picked up while at P&G were invaluable. “The first is that the customer is the boss,” she tells us. “At P&G, we made sure that everything we do is for the consumer, in the language of the consumer. We also have to be single minded and focused. We marketers get bored of the message we’re communicating, even though most consumers don’t, probably because they may not necessarily have seen it,” she points out.

“While looking at brands like Tide or Ariel, you’re always looking at targeting the mass consumer. So the way you look at consumer touch points is very different. You suddenly realise that there is so much power in digital and it changes your marketing approach completely.”She also mentions that a marketing challenge in her present company has to do with the fact that there has been very little innovation in this space. “Memory foam was invented in the 1960s and it was first used by astronauts in NASA to cushion impact,” she says.

The objective, in a market full of multiple materials and technologies which are decades old - like memory foam or coil – is how can one still drive awareness around smart technology? And how can that change the quality of sleep for customers?

“Sleep is one of the most important elements in our life. You spend one quarter of your lifetime sleeping. The two key issues that plague this industry are a lack of innovation and the fact that 70 per cent of Indians suffer from some form of body pain or the other," she told us. Without any product innovation in the space, Goyal saw the potential that the market held.

“Consumers are changing too,” she tells us. “They have more access to information and they want better products. They’re willing to pay for it too.” She also points out that the quality of mattresses available in India lag far behind similar products in other countries.

Goyal shares another trigger that pushed her to start her company. “Around 3 years ago, I became a mom. And one of the things I suddenly started noticing is that sleep becomes something you crave. I mean, it becomes the most precious thing in your life. Around that time, I was struggling so much to get proper sleep. My husband was trying to figure out if we could get proper sleep by changing the mattress.” She admits that when she started looking more closely into it, she realised there was a gap in the market that could be bridged.

She talks about the role healthcare has played in her career and admits that it has been a major influence. “With Pampers, the whole proposition is happy and healthy sleep. This has been a very key element of my career, professionally. Even personally, I'm a person conscious about health and fitness. I would always be very careful of what I eat. I personally take fitness very seriously and try not to miss workouts even on busy days. “Pregnant women are the most sleep deprived consumers,” she tells us.

She mentions that her biggest marketing challenge in P&G was not creating brand awareness, but converting brand awareness into customer consideration – “What is it that can raise consideration for people who are already aware of the brand? What are the touch points I can leverage to drive that and what is the messaging I can drive with that?”

She also admits that during her stint at P&G, she spent most of her time as a category leader on Ariel and her biggest challenge was the brand’s rate of growth – “We weren’t growing very fast and consumers were asking if the product was worth paying for. Pricing became a big barrier for us.”

She points out that consumers use a mattress for almost a decade and it’s critical to raise awareness about it.

The company has a strong digital presence and Goyal thinks it’s a very interesting space to be in – “You have to be proactive and learn every minute. If I advertise on TV, I have to wait for at least four to five weeks to see the impact of the ad, right? Today, if I’m driving a campaign on Instagram or Google Ads, I can see it driving sales and reaching the target audience much faster and more efficiently. You have to be on your toes all the time on digital,” she notes.

We asked her how she plans to compete for attention in a cluttered digital space, “I think that's where the learning curve carried forward from P&G helped. One is how you create the right assets. You need to drive the right creative across digital touch points. That's really critical. And I think that's what I've done for all my career.”

How does she make sure she has a targeted reach? “For example, if a consumer is searching for back pain, how do I actually target the right consumers? It comes down to contextual targeting health on digital space. I always used to tell my team at P&G that we need to make sure that we're very relevant as a brand to the consumer,” she says.Customer loyalty depends on the consumer experience, she tells us. “Even after the consumer has bought the product, how do I make sure that the consumer’s delivery is taken care of? How can I be sure that about the consumer experience with the product?”

“That's what is so important in today's digital space - how can you really make consumers your brand advocates? That comes from really taking care of your consumers and listening to your consumer throughout the journey. Today, when social media has become so critical, I think every side is used as a tool for listening,” she adds.

She tells us that she uses Amazon and social media extensively for marketing efforts and points out that both are critical ways of reaching the target audience. “TV was the most used medium at P&G – nearly 70-75 per cent. Today, that number is zero.” She attributes that to the evolution of media consumption itself . “Around two to three years ago, 70 per cent of my data consumption was TV and right now my TV production is zero. I think that's how the brand is evolving as well.”

She points out that previously, social media was used as an organic tool to drive conversations. “Today, most social platforms have become a kind of communication channel for brands to reach their targeted audience. You can also leverage platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Google etc. So it really depends on what the objective is, where the brand consumer is, what kind of assets the brand has,” she signs off.