JCPenney has been in the news a lot lately. Although still a beloved brand with millions of Americans, it’s a brand that has become a little dusty and tired. In fashion, it seems like all the brand love and energy these days is for specialty retailers like J Crew and H&M, while department stores struggle to define their unique difference and their relevance to consumers.
Last year, JCPenney hired Ron Johnson, who previously had help transform Target into an ‘affordably chic’ retailer, as well as defined Apple’s retail experience (while redefining retail for many). As CEO, he’s recently spoken about the changes that are coming from JCPenney. And although the recently communications have involved the creation and launch of a new visual identity for JCPenney, the change plans for the brand are much broader than that. His plan for change has made it clear he’s brought with him several lessons from Apple as well as learned a few lessons from watching other retailers struggle. Here are three lessons JCPenney seems to have gotten right from Apple…and one learning from Gap’s failure last year.
1. It’s More than Just A Marketing Change
JCPenney is talking about a full-scale transformation of the experience of shopping, changing their strategy for regular sales (eliminating most of them), simplifying their pricing structure (into three tiers), transforming the in-store experience, adding services to their mix of product offers, upgrading or enhancing their merchandise and what seems to be a new more consumer-centric philosophy about making shopping simpler and more enjoyable. Clearly Johnson understands that transformation doesn’t start on the surface with communication. It starts inside with a simple point of view and a change to everything (operations, experience, merchandising, pricing, communications) based on that point of view.
2. The Experience IS The Brand
In his most recent announcements, Johnson has talked about how he wants consumers to feel when they shop. How he wants JCPenney to be a place shoppers like to come and hang out (knowing full well that hanging out will most likely lead to browsing and then buying). Although to some it may be counter intuitive to not push products on consumers as fast and hard as possible, and not stuff the store with as much merchandise as it could hold. But with its clean, inviting low-stress stores, Apple has certainly been successful at creating an in-store experience that is welcoming and exciting to be a part of, whether you’re in the market to buy something or not.
3. You Must Manage The Company You Keep
Brands today are not just defined by what they stand for or what they offer, but by the company they keep. J Crew sells Red Wing Boots. Target has a relationship with Paul Frank. Brands get some of their energy and excitement from ‘hanging out’ with other energetic and exciting brands. JCPenney is following suit. Relationships with Martha Stewart, the Olsen Twins, Charlotte Ronson, Nicole Miller and Nanette Lepore have been announced. And JCPenney’s success with their Sephora ‘store-within-a-store’ concept is being embraced, as they transform into a one-stop series of in-store boutiques.
4. It Isn’t Just A Logo Change
The one lesson JCPenney has clearly learned was one that left Gap in hot water last year. Although JCPenney has announced a new red, white and blue logo, the focus of the communication about the ‘new’ JCPenney hasn’t been about the logo. Instead, it’s been about everything else…all the things that are represented by that logo. In a marketing environment where brands are defined by the actions they take, not just the promises they make, JCPenney and Mr. Johnson have put first things first, defining how JCPenney is going to be different, not just look different. With the markets and some observers skeptical, it will be exciting to see if Mr. Johnson can pull off the transformation of another storied and well-loved brand.