You may have never heard of branding company Red Antler, but the firm's handiwork can be hard to miss. 

Founded in 2007 by advertising industry veterans Emily Heyward and JB Osborne and creative director Simon Endres, Red Antler is the brains behind the rebranding of such startups as Birchbox and Foursquare and the launch of e-commerce mattress company Casper. Though Casper is just two years old, its business model based on shipping compressed mattresses in skinny boxes earned the company $20 million in annual revenue in 2014. 

One of Inc.'s 2015 30 Under 30 honorees, Casper turned to Red Antler during its pre-launch phase in 2013 to help with branding and strategy. One of the first major challenges came when the two companies discovered that using the original name for the startup, "Duke," would get the company in legal trouble with Duke University over trademark issues. 

So how did Red Antler help turn the nameless company formerly known as Duke into a $20 million business in less than two years? Here are three keys to the branding agency's plan.

1. Create name recognition. From a list of hundreds of potential new names that Casper's founders compiled, Red Antler's Heyward pushed for the name most people would associate with the "friendly ghost" cartoon character. 

"It's a positive association, it's nostalgic, and it's soft and white," Heyward says.

The curious-looking curl on the letter "C" is an intentionally ambiguous design element meant to attract consumers' eyes. "I see the mattress unfurling from the box, but other people say they see the neck and head of someone sleeping on a pillow," she says.

2. Focus on the benefits. From the beginning, Red Antler devised a strategy centered not on the product, but on the idea that better sleep leads to a more interesting life. Why? The company had a hunch that consumers didn't care about scientific diagrams showing layers of foam within mattresses. 

"People want to get a good night's sleep because it facilitates all the other things that they want to do in the time that they're awake," Heyward says. "That was how we framed Casper as more of a lifestyle brand than a mattress brand." 

3. Outside-the-box marketing. Because Casper had to persuade consumers that one mattress would work for everyone, Red Antler built an advertising campaign based on a variety characters, from humans and animals to snowmen and dinosaurs. 

"We really wanted to inject the brand with a sense of humor and surprise, so for every single decision we made, we asked: 'What would people not expect from a mattress company?'" Heyward says. This strategy also informed the design of Casper's iconic striped boxes.

Today, Casper is on a mission to become "the first end-to-end brand around all things sleep," co-founder Philip Krim told Inc. in a previous interview. While the company is well beyond the launch phase, it continues to work with Red Antler. "There are some exciting new products being developed," Heyward says. 

Published on: Jul 17, 2015