A Shiny New JC Penney

on Thursday, 08 March 2012. Posted in Brands and Marketing

Since the recession began, pundits have foreseen the end of brands. With coupon-mania gripping vast segments of society and even launching reality TV careers – upper crust as well as mainstream, working folks – consumer brands have been following the market, and one another, in a margin-eroding stupor.

Macy’s and Banana Republic send cardholders multiple dollar and percent-off coupons monthly, and Gap blasts its database with offers seemingly every day. Bed Bath & Beyond’s monthly 20% off one item coupons seem quaint, as from another era.
Amidst all the noise, one brand is taking a different path.  In need of brand renewal, amidst associations for being old, tired and ‘not for me’, JC Penney has undergone a brand transformation. Under its new (Apple-retailing savvy leader), last month JC Penney announced a new value proposition, accompanied by a new aesthetic, new pricing strategy and new logo, look and feel. That’s a lot of change – and no small feat to have it all happen in sync. 
But that’s exactly the right way to do it. Customers knew something big was coming when the ad campaign took to the airwaves with a series of ads poking fun at the craziness of hi-low pricing strategies of many Penney’s competitors in advance of the re-launch. 
The new value proposition – an update on Staples’ “easy” – offers consumers an All-American (red, white and blue) ‘fair and square’ deal. There are only three kinds of pricing: Everyday (low) Prices, Month-Long Values on a rotating assortment of items, and Best Prices twice a month. It helps a lot that the merchandise is awesome. The brand is clearly taking aim at Gap, Target and Ikea, with bright colors, fashion forward looks for everyone from babies to adults and there’s even a nod to Tiffany’s (jewelry shown on a robin’s egg blue background). There is one “happy return” policy and free delivery and installation of furniture to customers within 100 miles of a jcp service center. Wow!

The new simplified pricing strategy is echoed in the brand’s new, square logo. In contrast, Gap attempted to launch a new logo last year with no back-story and no community involvement in the process. Needless to say, that effort flamed out, and the old logo came back less than two weeks after launching. 

The fresh, new JC Penney seems more sophisticated in its approach to direct channels than most clicks and mortar brands. The March direct mail piece is more a look book than a catalog – no 800# or style numbers to use in ordering. Instead, buyers are directed to the URL, and QR codes are in abundance. 

And engaging Ellen Degeneres as the brand’s spokesperson is definitely in appealing to Millennials and others who have a more open definition of family. In fact, the controversy raised by One Million Moms’ protest of that decision generated more goodwill and free press than JC Penney could have hoped for.
Sadly, our local JC Penney store closed years ago and became a Container Store. It was the one place we could reliably buy dress-up clothes for our kids. Obviously, that wasn’t enough to sustain the store. I’m hoping the shiny, new JC Penney will translate over time to the store experience (that’s the plan). Maybe a new store will reopen near my house!

Congratulations to a brand that’s daring to be different! 

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