Cotton Candy @ The Amusement Park –
Okay, what does the JCPenney brand stand for? Does anyone know? Does anyone have an idea? Does the CEO or Chairman of JCPenney know? Do any of their past, present or, dare I say, future customers know? Hey, how about all those
ex-Chairmen, CEOs, Presidents and CMOs out there who were hired and fired over the past 16 years, do they even know? Did they even have a clue?
Well, if you look at the brand today, the answer is an emphatic “NO!”
This brand is a floating in space like a UFO. The question is, will it just disintegrate, or will a new marketing strategy provide enough creative gravity to pull the brand back to earth so it can reconnect with its core customers?
How does a cultural icon lose its identity? Why would a company or, I should say a brand, that just celebrated its 111th Anniversary and passionately provided for Middle America since the beginning, suddenly break off the relationship and neglect its offspring: millions of loyal customers?
Now that takes some real planning. Poor leadership is key – more specifically, one that’s deaf, blind and just plain dumb. How else do you explain the way they’ve fumbled around in a failed attempt to put their finger on the pulse of Middle America?
They were content to chase passing fads in the hopes that JCPenney would be seen as America’s new fashion trendsetter, not simply a fading rainbow. Now how did they do that? By making a bold social statement and taking on the personality of their new spokesperson, Ellen DeGeneres, a former JCPenney employee.
Leading one to think the JCPenney leadership found the original treatment for the TV Show “Glee” and decided to use it as a guide while they were developing their new marketing strategies.
How lost and out of touch can a brand steward be? One mistake after another, hiring and firing marketing skippers with such regularity, George Steinbrenner, the beloved Yankees owner, would’ve been impressed.
And what about the utility players, the hard-working rank and file, who were forced to learn and execute a new game plan every six months in the hopes that it would lead them on a hot streak. Well, you know as well as I do that changing the team uniforms from time to time isn’t going to change the outcome or lead you to the Promised Land.
Change the brand image, to what? Chase the latest trends, for what? To impress the boys on Wall Street or to anoint themselves as the next Steve Jobs of JCPenney. Obviously, enter the dynamic duo, Bill Ackman and Ron Johnson. With their superpowers, they’ve rendered a super brand helpless. The one-time blue-chip stock has a black eye and is worth billions less and their loyal army of dedicated employees has suffered thousands of casualties. The brand has been diluted to the point where in 12 months time, the powers that be, felt compelled to change the company logo, not once, not twice, but three times. Which garnered them all kinds of free publicity. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the kind of publicity that inspires brand loyalty or gooses the stock price into the stratosphere. No, they became a recurring theme on the late night talk show circuit: And now the latest episode of “Lost in Space” in the marketplace.
You’d have to board the Jupiter II along with the Robinson family and travel back in time to discover the last time anyone had even a remote understanding of the JCPenney brand — back to a simpler time (1997) when William Howell was at the helm. Sure, there was a period there when Allen Questrom took over and righted the ship financially, but charting a clearly defined brand identity was still light-years away. So in 2004, he stepped down to relinquish his crown.
In other words, the brand’s soul was lost. In fact, they really didn’t understand it or maybe they just chose to ignore it or tried to change it. If so, how’d that work out?
Right, it didn’t.
Okay, so now what? How can they get this brand on the right trajectory? Or should everyone just abandon ship? Seriously, when’s the last time you ventured into a JCPenney store for something other than a bathroom break? Is this brand even relevant in this day and age? Or merely a black hole.