I’ll admit, I’m not a JC Penney customer – at least not today. But as a kid growing up in the midwest in a budget-strapped, lower-middle class family, JC Penney is where my mom did all of our shopping. Every year, school clothes (at least the “nice” ones), were purchased at JC Penney. She shopped at Penney’s because that’s what we could afford. And, as a result, she trusted JC Penney for our family.
Last year, I watching the JC Penney brand makeover unfold – mostly with my jaw open. I saw a new, bold logo, I saw clever ads featuring Ellen Degeneres. I saw their new “no sale” strategy. I wanted to know more, so I read and watched press interviews with their new CEO, Ron Johnson. I was actually surprised to see that his plan for JC Penney was to completely overhaul the brand – and to be more like Apple.
Now, I AM an Apple customer. And, the two brands – from image, product, pricing and retail strategy standpoint couldn’t be more different.
I wondered… did anyone at JC Penney talk to their customers about this new strategy? How did they feel? Would people like my mom welcome this new approach? I thought what was happening to JC Penney was a vanity project – to make the brand over in the image of a handful of marketing, brand and advertising “experts”.
I guess the numbers told the story. After a 25% decline in revenue and racking up a billion dollars in losses, the board fired Ron Johnson this week, and is bringing back former CEO Mike Ullman.
The lesson here – for JC Penney, and for all of us is to be true to who you are, and don’t try to be something you’re not. And before doing anything, intently listen to your customers. It doesn’t mean your brand can’t be current and innovative – it just needs to be relevant to your customers, and appealing to your prospects in a true and authentic way.