Why Simple is Hard


For over four years, I worked for The Simplicity Company, helping clients simplify their strategies, businesses, brands and experiences. Achieving any degree of simplicity was real work. Throughout those four years I was struck that Simplicity seemed difficult to achieve, while Complexity seemed to happen naturally. However the ideal of “Simplicity” seemed ever more relevant, as brands increasingly look for ways to differentiate and stand out in the market and on the shelf. Whether it’s Simply Fruit Juices® or SAP’s “Run Simple” campaign, brands in every category are claiming Simplicity as a new and relevant differentiator. But if Complexity and Simplicity are ends of a spectrum, why is it easier to navigate one way on that spectrum and not the other way? In wondering why, I’ve come across some realities, hardwired into our brains and our universe that makes striving for simplicity harder.

The first reality is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. For those of you who don’t remember your high school physics lessons, the Second Law of Thermodynamics defines the total amount of entropy in a system. Entropy is the tendency for systems to go from order to disorder. As anyone who’s ever had a sock drawer or a front hall closet knows, things that are organized become disorganized as if by magic. Originally applied to the dispersal of energy, entropy explains why ice melts into water and time runs in one direction. Countering the effect of entropy requires energy. To get the water back into an ice cube state, energy in the form of refrigeration must be used. In order for anything (be it an experience or a sock drawer) to move from complex to simple, energy must be applied. By natural law, it requires effort. Simplicity will not just naturally appear out of complexity. It takes real work.

Another reality that impacts why humans often prefer complexity to simplicity is the cognitive bias of Loss Aversion. Loss aversion refers to the tendency that humans have to regret loss to a greater degree than we like gains. For instance, we regret losing $100 much more than finding $100 dollars excites us. Some studies even suggest that losses are twice as powerful on humans as gains. Many believe that loss aversion has an evolutionary basis; very likely meaning our brains are hardwired to avoid and regret losses twice as strongly as gains. So while we as humans love to get things (be they cookies or product features) we hate having things taken away from us even more so (be they cookies or product features.) In a brain that features loss aversion, more is better and less is worse. Simplicity may, in fact, trigger feelings of loss greater than the gains associated with that simplicity.

Aside from natural laws and built in biases, there are a host of factors that are biased towards increasing complexity in products and experiences – within manufacturers and marketers and with consumers themselves. Manufacturers believe the incremental cost of adding additional features is often close to zero, and more features makes the product appealing to a broader market of potential customers. Often the belief is that maximizing features means a greater likelihood of purchase. While, even if that were true, what isn’t taken into account (because it’s virtually impossible to quantify) is adding more features inevitably makes the product more complex to use. “Featuritis” is a legendary characteristic of manufacturers as they take what were relatively simple products and through the addition of features that in and of themselves are each valuable, wind up making a monstrosity of a product that is many times more complex for customers who almost never utilize the complete feature set. For most customers, increased complexity through increased features actually leads to lower value in use.

Add to that the reality that in most organizations, product development and feature sets usually involve multiple individuals and organizational divisions, each of whom, perhaps with the best interest at heart, want to maximize the value of the product. So they include as many features as possible without acknowledging that more features and more options leads to decision fatigue, not to higher and higher states of satisfaction by purchasers. Even customers and users, when pressed, will likely express the belief that products with the highest number of features provides the highest amount of utility, not taking into account that the benefit of utility inevitably comes with the cost of lower usability.

With all of the factors working on behalf of complexity, it’s not surprising that Simplicity is hard to achieve. It does require energy and commitment. It demands a ruthless focus on usability perhaps even at the expense of greater utility. It requires someone willing and able to say “no” across and organization to everyone’s desire to just add ‘one more thing.’ The leader most associated with a relentless focus on simplicity, Steve Jobs, demonstrates the characteristics required to achieve Simplicity in an organization. While Simplicity may be a desired state for many brands, it requires true energy and dedication to counter all the factors nudging products, and our world, towards greater complexity.

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3 Things Dollar Shave Club Got Right


Image: Flickr user Adam Franco

Dollar Shave Club’s recent acquisition by Unilever has many business folks talking, and for good reason. DSC was purchased for well above the valuation set by VC firms that had invested in the company. (While it sold for $1 billion, its most recent funding round valued the firm at $630M.) DSC’s value, and phenomenal success, is a case study of what great brands must do to be successful today:

  1. Be informed by an insight of their target
  2. Delivered through a simple, more useful experience
  3. With engaging, compelling, emotional marketing and content

Informed by an insight
The men’s cartridge razor category had, for years, been on the same innovation trajectory. Two blades followed by three blades followed by four blades, ad nauseam. Special tweaks like lubrication strips were added as enhancements, but nearly the entire focus of innovation in the category was on the functional task: a closer shave. (Or on the “job to be done” to quote Clayton Christensen.) What Dollar Shave Club did was simply ask a different question. Rather than ask “How can we make the shave better?” they asked, “How can we make the process of shaving better?” That may seem to be a subtle shift, but by opening the aperture on their view of the customer and his life, looking beyond his 5 minutes at the bathroom sink every day to focus on his life outside the bathroom, DSC was able to find an insight that they could build a brand, a business model and a business around. They discovered that, while the average man’s shave was probably close enough, the process of shopping for and acquiring shaving equipment had room for improvements.

Delivered through a simple, more useful experience
That key insight: focusing on the whole process of shaving, not on the closeness of the shave itself, then informed a business model and a customer experience that is the heart of the DSC brand. Focusing on the process of product acquisition and restocking, DSC was able to find additional ways to be useful to their potential customer, usefulness that would be worth paying for. By moving to a subscription sales model, allowing customers to “set it and forget it” when it came to ordering, and by interacting with and shipping directly to the customers, DSC made the process of acquisition much easier than struggling with the sales cases and sales staff at a local Walgreens or Duane Reade.

The experience is so central to the DSC brand that the founder, Michael Dubin, calls DSC an experience company, not a CPG company or a digital retailer. In doing so, he is telling the company (and its employees) that the experience (delivering on the DSC brand promise) is just as important as the marketing (or the making of the brand promise). Like DSC, brands today must make sure that their experience, and even their core business model, is in-line with how their target customers want to shop, purchase, use and repurchase their products. Today business strategy and brand strategy must be defined and delivered side-by-side. For the most successful brands today, those that are truly disrupting their categories and seeing phenomenal, there is virtually no “daylight” between the business and the brand strategy.

The customer experience is so important to DSC that they have invested in the technology to make sure that they can manage and control the experience to their satisfaction. For example, they have a team of 45 engineers (almost one quarter of their 190 employees) who have built, in-house, almost the whole IT infrastructure and engagement platforms. Originally reliant on third party software platforms, DSC took the entire technology stack in-house so that they could create custom software and systems for e-commerce, CRM, order fulfillment, customer support and data sciences. Because the experience is so important to the brand, they believe they can deliver a better experience if they can create it from the ground up.

Engaging, compelling, relevant marketing
DSC demonstrates that marketing can and must still play a key role in building a big, valuable brand. First and foremost, DSC marketing is designed to be engaging, to deliver a relatable, authentic brand personality while also transmitting relevant and useful product information. From its very first viral commercial (which broke the company’s website originally), DSC’s marketing has been recognized not just for selling a product but for connecting with their customers, often through cheeky humor and bad puns. Their marketing tells a story, rather than just sell a product and is optimized for contemporary customers: through cost-effective on-line channels (where the commercials can be enjoyed many times). More than simply building awareness, DSC’s marketing and content strategy is designed to engage with customers through their “Bathroom Minutes”, a monthly magazine full of short-form content perfect for the bathroom, and a vehicle to expose their customers to more products like bathroom wipes and grooming products.

Dollar Shave Club went from a start-up disrupter to a billion dollar consumer product brand in just 4 years. They did it by getting three things right:

  1. Finding an insight into the role the product plays in the customers’ life, beyond mere usage
  2. Designing and delivering an experience that solves new problems for customers
  3. With engaging, authentic marketing and content that both sells a product and builds a relationship

Brands looking to duplicate their success should start with the same road map.

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Why Brands Need A Point of View

Diana Vreeland was a legendary figure in the fashion industry. But the vast majority of people probably have never heard of her. She was the managing director for Vogue magazine in the 60’s and was known for her distinctive taste and blunt way with words. With all the recent talk about curation on the web, Diana Vreeland came to my mind.

Curation, as it’s being used these days in reference to web content, is the act of selecting, editing and organizing content. In a world overwhelmed with stuff, ‘curation’ is the means by which we get some order to all the chaos. It’s one of the latest topics among the Social Media™ elite. But in discussions regarding curation, what’s often missing is what Diana Vreeland represents: A point of view.

Every industry has its own lingo. In the fashion industry, successful folks have ‘a point of view’. What that means is a unique perspective: on who the customer is, what the customer wants, what beauty is, what makes for compelling clothes, what’s hot now, what’s classic, what’s in, what’s out, just about everything. A point of view encompasses so much it’s often short hand for what a designer stands for or represents –Armani is easy elegance. Ralph Lauren is aristocratic heritage, Prada is revolutionary creativity.

Diana Vreeland , undoubtedly in her well-known imperious tone, once said: “Most people haven’t got a point of view; they need to have it given to them-and what’s more, they expect it from you.” She was talking about fashion. Turns out, she could have just as easily been talking about brands. Because brands need to have a point of view as well.

A point of view is more than just a positioning statement or a tagline. It’s how the brand sees the world; what it thinks is important; what it thinks its role is in the world. The best brands have a point of view so clear it becomes synonymous with the brand: think of Apple, Nike, Virgin: you can easily see the world through their eyes. You know what amenities would be included with the Apple Airline, the Nike Hotel, the Virgin Spa.

Curation then becomes a function of that point of view. When brands have a strong point of view, they can begin currating the content in the world, selecting, organizing and displaying it in a way that tells a story, the brand story, rather than just being a jumbled mess. Think about the difference between a collage created by a great artist (Robert Rauschenberg, for instance) and a collage created by a child. Not only are the component parts important, but how they’re assembled, combined, juxtaposed tells a richer story. That’s what can happen when brands get curation right.

What brands decide to display, share, highlight, support, encourage, create for their customers all become part of the brand narrative. And in doing so, they need to hear Diana Vreeland’s voice ringing out: “They (your customers) expect it of you.“

Does your brand have a point of view? Is it clear enough to stand up to great fashion brands like Armani, Prada, Polo? Are you thinking about the collage you’re creating with your brand or simply slapping down pictures?

Posted in curation, Experience, Marketing | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Sustainability That Lasts

I was at a sustainability conference recently, thinking about my boots. “Business casual” is interpreted very loosely in Silicon Valley. CEOs turn up for meetings in t-shirts. Ties are donned ironically. I was wearing my Red Wing boots as they’re durable, comfortable and, thanks to the recent hipster movement, suddenly fashionable, standing out in a sea of khakis and loafers.

The panelists talked about reducing carbon footprints and packaging, reducing product documentation, reducing energy and raw materials. There was talk about conflict minerals and NGO collaboration and consumer’s interest in recycled products. But there was no talk about reuse. One of the conflicts yet to be resolved is the fact that selling more items means a greater footprint, despite all efforts to the contrary. Making something last longer (thus using it longer) is often the best way to reduce your personal carbon footprint. Which is why I was thinking about my boots.

Red Wing boots are awesome. I’ve been in love with them since I was a child. My dad wore them so I wore them, long before they became trendy on the coasts. One of the best things about them is how long they last and how they improve with age. And as I sat in there in my hipster boots and my ironic tie, I wished everyone at the sustainability conference would watch this video about Red Wing boots. It’s called “Not the throw away society” and highlights Red Wing’s shoe repair business. Even the concept of “shoe repair” seems quaint, as we’ve become a society comfortable assuming that whatever we buy will soon be discarded.

The video is fantastic at showing a service (and a way of thinking about products) that every manufacturer should consider. It is also true to the Red Wing brand: honest, straightforward, simple and earnest–all characteristics of the Red Wing brand. Rather than touting their sustainability creds or the greenness of their shoes, Red Wing simply assumes that you’ll be wearing their boots for as long as you can. And as the maker of those shoes, it’s their job to help you do so—not to just sell you another pair when the first ones wear out.

This is a lesson that many brands must learn about sustainability—stop focusing on selling more and focus more on lasting longer.

Posted in Brand action, customer journey, Experience, Sustainability | 1 Comment

The ‘New’ Center of the Sales Cycle

The sales cycle is a classic framework that has been around for a long time. You can find versions that are more complicated than this, but I like this one.

For me, this is the simplest way of breaking down how a person goes about choosing and using a product or service. The cycle may happen fast (when you’re buying a candy bar) or the cycle may happen slow (when you’re buying a car) but it generally happens in this order, over and over again. This framework, however, often ignores a critical characteristic at the heart of the entire cycle. It’s sharing.

Now, if you listen to the Social Media Gurus™, you’d think they had discovered a new law of nature recently – that people share information during each stage of the sales cycle. Some pundits have gone so far as to say that this sharing phenomenon has destroyed the sales cycle. But the fact is, humans sharing information about their needs and their purchases isn’t a new phenomenon. People have always shared information with other people:

– “Do you know a good butcher?”

– “How do you like your Cadillac?”

– “‘Do you want Levis or Wranglers?”

– “How do I get this DVR to record a show?”

I imagine that even during the Mesopotamian era of branding, folks were asking questions and sharing information about the local olive oil producer, neighborhood wine maker or weaver. Those conversations happened on the sidewalk, over kitchen tables and backyard fences. That’s not new. What is new is the fact that now marketers can participate in the conversations as they’re increasingly happening on-line for the world to see and search, real time and permanently. So although the manifestations of a natural human characteristic (the desire to share with others) may be changing, our inherent nature isn’t. For me, that’s one of the key truths about looking at various ‘eras’ of branding…the tactics may change, but many of the central principles remain the same. And all the chatter about the new ways in which brands have to behave are true to a certain extent. But that chatter misses the fact that it isn’t ‘sharing’ that’s new  – it’s how we’re able to do it these days.

What are the ways you’re seeing this ‘new’ center of the sales cycle making itself manifest?

Posted in customer journey, Marketing, sales cycle, Social Media | 2 Comments

What Experience Designers Can Learn From Improv

Image from Flickr user: michael.poley

Brand perceptions are built on reactions to experiences with a brand. As such, changing the experience is a powerful way of changing brand perceptions and behaviors. Although the phrase “experience design” has traditionally been applied to digital experiences, the practice can be applied much more broadly. Somewhat still in its infancy, designing experiences can be a daunting undertaking as it can encompass so much. Many don’t know where to start and lack the framework to even think about how an experience can be better. A few basic “rules” of improv can help as a starting place for beginning experience designers.

Practicing improv is a great way to learn how to think on your feet, be flexible, work collaboratively with others–all practices critical to experience design. Some traditional “rules” of improv are useful in the context of designing compelling consumer experiences:

  1. Don’t Deny  In improv, this means don’t disregard premise, no matter how outrageous. If someone says “The sky is a crazy color of green today,” as a partner your goal is to build on that not shut it down by saying “No it’s not…it’s blue.” In experience design, you can’t start by denying what could be: “We can’t change the check-in process because…,” for instance. For a great new customer experience to come to life, it will have to break some of the conventions of the current experience. Make sure you’re open, especially at the beginning of a process, to accept what may be an outrageous premise or idea.
  2. Listen, Watch and Concentrate   Improv requires everyone to be paying attention to what’s said, what’s unsaid, how someone is standing or moving, what their expression is. Anything can be fodder for where to take the scene. It’s the same in experience design. Sitting back, watching, listening and concentrating on how people are presently experiencing the brand (while leaving yourself open to the outrageous) can identify moments where the experience could be improved. Thoughtful watching (combined with asking “Why?”) is perhaps the most powerful tool in experience design.
  3. Be Specific   In an improv scene, details are the building blocks for the continuing story. Saying “That’s a pretty dog” is less useful than saying “That’s a pretty Pit Bull. But why is he dressed like a pirate?” It’s easy to imagine how to react to the second statement because of its specificity. It’s the same with experience design. Greater specificity as to what exactly needs to be changed (based on your thoughtful watching) is the difference between “Make the check-out experience faster” and “Make the check-out experience faster by SMSing guests’ bills to their mobile phones.”
  4. Change, change, change   A powerful improv scene is all about change. Where the scene starts and where it ends is usually where the humor, tension, and interest come from. In experience design, there is always something to be improved. Saying “New and Improved!” without being new and improved is worse than doing nothing at all.
  5. Get It On Its Feet   Improv is not sitting around thinking up clever ideas…it’s about being on your feet actively discovering clever ideas. Experience design must move from the planning stage to the prototyping stage quickly. Rather than sitting in a conference room imaging how people will react to a redesigned customer experience, get out into the world and prototype it! Cobble it together with shoestrings and masking tape, ask real customers to participate and interact, then watch and learn.

Like improv, experience design is an action sport, best done by a committed and crazy band of folks who are purposefully creating the new. And like improv, experience design can be delightful for the creators and the audience when it’s done well. So get on your feet and get started on improving your brand’s experience.

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All Marketing is Local Marketing

Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the House, once famously said “All politics is local.” It was a lesson he learned in his first political loss: unless you connect to the needs and desires of the folks near you, you won’t be successful. In this emerging era of branding, I think all marketing will be local marketing.

I grew up in a really small town. In the local diner, the owner had posted a sign:
“If you like our food, tell a friend. If you don’t, tell the owner.” That’s local marketing: direct, face-to-face, immediate. No BS and no hiding. It’s where marketing is headed. (Or headed back to: an era of branding and marketing that is more like Mesopotamia than it is like Mad Men.)

The last 70 years of big brand marketing has been the mass media era. TV commercials, print ads, direct mail: all directed at faceless masses of ‘consumers’ by faceless corporations. Recently, everyone is talking about how marketing is changing. “One-on-one marketing”, “permission marketing”, “relationship marketing”, “social marketing”… primarily as a reaction to the worst of the mass media era of marketing. Everyone agrees that mass is out, individual is in. The fact is, ‘individual’ has always been in for a certain segment of the market: what some sneeringly call ‘small business.’

I took this picture where I get my hair cut. (I’m loath to call it a ‘salon’. ) It’s a relatively small place. Not a global mega-haircare brand. In their changing room, they’ve posted what is clearly a desktop printed sign – not a slick 4-color printed communication. Now some marketers may roll their eyes at such a low-tech approach.  But I think the sign embodies the truth about 21st Century marketing: 21st century marketing is going to be local…whether you’re talking to people around the corner or across the globe. Their sign made me smile, made me think and then made me appreciate what great marketers they are. (Jackson Square Salon, if you’re in San Francisco.)

Here’s why I think the sign is smart and indicative of where marketing is heading:

  • “Helping” – marketing is, in fact, asking for help. “Try our service.” “Buy our product.” “Tell a friend.” Ultimately, marketing is ‘an ask’. The salon is very clear on their ‘ask’: It’s personal, action-oriented, engaging, easy. Who wouldn’t want to help? Are you as clear on your ‘ask’?
  • “Almost all our new clients come from Yelp.” How many brands are that smart about where their customers come from? Actionable knowledge is the first step in great marketing. Do you know how your customers find you?
  • “We are building clientele”- marketing is focused on the long term as well as the short term. It isn’t just about the sale, its about building the relationship…a client, not a purchaser. Is your brand building clientele or selling products?
  • It’s appreciative. They ask for something and appreciate you for acting on it. Twice. I think that’s a good ratio – two “thank you’s” for every ‘ask’. Do you genuinely say “thank you” to your clients twice as often as you ask them for something?
Posted in Brand action, customer journey, Experience, Marketing, Personal Life, sales cycle, Social Media | 7 Comments

Brand Experience vs. Branded Experiences

One of the reasons I named this blog “Brand Is Action” is that I believe this is how brands will be built in this next era of branding – not through image but through behavior. The experience of the brand has been a hot topic among brand managers and brand consultants over the last 5 years or so. As organizations have embraced ‘design thinking’ and ‘voice of the customer’, as product features are increasingly at parity and services are bundled with products, the experience of selecting, purchasing and using brands is under as much design consideration as the product itself.

But as important as the brand experience has become, a more interesting trend is brands that are creating exciting experiences in the world, engaging consumers through interaction rather than through a communication’s medium. These branded experiences become proof points of the brand promise, bringing it to life in a way that an advertisement can’t. These experiences are also captured  in this ‘user generated content’ world, providing content creators with another benefit: credit earned and fame gained from capturing and sharing the momento of the experience.

Two branded experiences that captured me lately are from Coca-Cola and Burberry. The Coca-Cola Happiness Truck takes the Coke brand promise”Open Happiness” and makes it real on the streets of Rio de Janiero, delivering Coke products as well as other surprises to delight anyone brave enough to push the big red button. In particular, see the joy on the boy’s face at minute marker 2:00 when instead of a bottle of Coke he gets a much bigger surprise.

The Coca-Cola Happiness Truck

The second branded experience is the Burberry Fashion Show in Beijing on April 13, 2011. Burberry’s Creative Director, Christopher Bailey, has claimed that Burberry is a media company, and this fashion show pushes the boundaries of media, combining live models and holographic video to deliver a runway show unlike any you’ve ever seen. Utilizing the techniques and technologies more typically seen in theater and film, this runway show moves beyond a simple clothing display to an experience to be talked about and shared.

Instead of the professionally edited video uploaded by Burberry, I’ve posted a video recording from someone attending the event. For me it gives a better sense of the full experience. It also highlights one of the primary benefits of these branded experiences – the opportunity to share and comment on the experience with others.

Burberry Beijing Digital Fashion Show – April 13, 2011

Increasingly, I think we’ll see brands engaging people in experiences that, although not part of the traditional customer journey, are ones that drive home the core brand idea. Which brands do you think are best at delivering branded experiences today?

Posted in Brand action, Experience, Marketing, Social Media | 9 Comments

What Twitter Is For

Instagram by @andjelicaaa

There’s probably a million blog posts about how useful Twitter is: for sharing, communicating; for businesses, for brands, for people. I started using Twitter about 3 years ago because I felt I needed to understand it. But for the first six months I didn’t know what it was for. But I kept with it. And I learned how to use it, for me.

Last night I learned again the true power of Twitter. At least for me.

In the last 5 months, I’ve moved to New York City. Big change: new job, new responsibilities, new city. An exciting opportunity. But now, most of my friends and family are on the other side of the country. Like millions of other people, I was riding out Hurricane Sandy in my new home in Brooklyn last night. Our internet and cable went out about 8 pm. Without a radio, it was hard to know what was happening with the ever evolving storm. Twitter became my real-time media.

I probably spent from 9 pm until after midnight on Twitter. Sharing safety tips from @NYCMayorsOffice and @FDNY. Passing on rumors and then the truth of those rumors. (Here’s a nice piece on how Twitter operates as a truth catcher.) Retweeting calls for a generator to help someone in lower Manhattan with a ventilator with no power. Thanking the emergency responders. Communicating real-time with my family in the Midwest and in the Bay Area. Sharing the facts about my neighborhood with folks who though I don’t personally know, were asking if anyone had any information about conditions in Cobble Hill. And staying abreast of what was happening in my new city…through tweets, videos, pictures all coming in live and real-time. Some of it scary. Some of it sadly beautiful. All through my mobile phone, not my plasma screen TV.

Trite, perhaps. In the grand scheme of things, my experience last night was uniquely personal and maybe not as profound as I make it out to be. But it is the reality today. I turn to Twitter now instead of the TV to find out what’s going on. And connect. And share. And now I have a better example when I have to explain to people who don’t use it “What Twitter is for.”

EDIT: 10/31 NYT had a nice post regarding Twitter and Hurricane Sandy. Find it here.

Posted in Experience, Personal Life, photos | Leave a comment

What JCPenney Learned from Apple…and The Gap

Image: Flickr user Michael Goodin

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.

Posted in customer journey | 2 Comments