J.C. Penney should have listened to James Cash Penney

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J.C. Penney Founder

1. James Cash Penney, Founder & CEO J.C. Penney

How can I say that J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) didn’t listen to James Cash Penney, the store’s founder? It comes down to three quotes and the Golden Rule. (See below for credits.)

Penney’s Golden Rule of retailing

James Cash Penney, one of modern retail’s pioneers, lived by the Golden Rule. You know, treat others as you would be treated. Here’s his retail interpretation:

We get real results only in proportion to the real values we give.
James Cash Penney

Give customers a fair deal, matched by good service, and you’ll get repeat business. Which leads to the other maxim: It’s only with a second purchase that a buyer becomes a customer. So if your buyers become and remain active customers, then your store is doing well by the Golden Rule.

J.C. Penney Square deal

2. J.C. Penney 2012 Square Deal logo

J.C. Penney 2012 — not so golden?

As shoppers, it’s in our DNA to hunt, gather, and achieve victory — even if now it happens in a shopping mall or virtually via e-commerce. Armed with a smart phone and a credit card, consumers are price matching in record numbers via Amazon’s Price Check and other apps. More than half of consumers — 60% actually — seek digital advice while shopping reports Pew Research Center (Aaron Smith, Jan 31, 2013). For the full report, visit In-store Mobile Commerce During the Holiday Shopping Season.

More than ever since 2008, customers are all for value, but not at the cost of new behavior that is, well, square (i.e., boring). Shopping experience (i.e., thrill), is a critical part of the total retail brand picture. Following the 2008 economic downfall, we sought value in the merchandise, but not the shopping experience. That’s a big difference.

Ronald Johnson, CEO J.C. Penney

3. Ronald Johnson, CEO J.C. Penney

The no-coupons deal is no more

No one seems surprised. Major business pubs place responsibility squarely on the shoulders of J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson. Rather than pointing fingers, here’s my thesis to the failure: 2012’s Square Deal couldn’t live up to the light of the Golden Rule.

J.C. Penney Company Inc. (the enterprise) theorized that consumers were tired of hunting and wanted a “square deal” that did not vary. Customers — true to their shopping DNA — disproved the theory in rapid order.

Observe the Golden Rule times two

Every man must decide for himself whether he shall master his world or be mastered by it.
James Cash Penney

Underneath the Golden Rule, it seems there’s an even deeper rule: Watch what your customers do and plan accordingly. Customers had already decided how they would shop — coupons and all. J.C. Penney set out to change behavior that didn’t seek changing.

How Consumers Use Mobile in The Marketplace (Russ Henneberry, visual.ly.com) offers a great view of just how far consumers will go to grab the best deal.

According to the Huffington Post, CEO Ron Johnson describes J.C. Penney’s next phase an “evolution” vs. a retrenchment. After 12 months, the store is moving away from flat pricing and emphasizing price comparison. “Sales” is back in the lexicon. Perhaps, they’ve taken note of their founder’s other popular maxim:

Exchange ideas frequently.
James Cash Penney

In this case, customers listened to their shopping DNA; exchanging the “new” style of shopping for the same old thrill, now danced to a digital beat.

Read more J.C. Penney at brainyquote.com 


1. James Cash Penney, Founder. Source: shs.umsystem.edu via Debbie on Pinterest

2. J.C. Penney Square Deal. Source: forbes.com via Lynda on Pinterest

3. Ron Johnson, CEO J.C. Penney. Source: forbes.com via Marj on Pinterest

When your CEO is the BRAND

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Elizabeth Ardent in French Hotel, via Matchbook


Before the age of CRM, positioning, and personal branding, there were brand leaders like Elizabeth Arden. ( RDEN )In this classic photo from Matchbook, you see Arden in her key color glory. Before the age of positioning changed branding forever, Arden was a beacon. Whether it was ladies who lunched, or NOW crowders, women boldly oriented themselves to the aspirations of Elizabeth Arden, the brand, set by the CEO’s personal lifestyle and legacy.

Elizabeth Arden Red Door Fragrance, via pinterest

Source: google.com via Elizabeth on Pinterest


What’s your experience of CEO’s who live their brand?

Do you think that living a brand’s values and/or culture are a brand and/or fiscal responsibility of a C-level executive? If so, which CEOs come to mind as top-performers and lag-behinds when it comes to living the brand.

Does this type of photographic dialogue appeal to you?

Then join the dialogue via Pinterest. Simply follow my boards with a feed, or join the dialogue directly. Contact me directly if you would like an Pinterest invitation.

How many ways did Superbowl XLVI ads engage you?

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Ferris Bueller Meets William Shakespeare (kinda) describes the dragonfly effect — with a twist.  It uses found objects to create movement for the Honda brand. Found objects take anything your viewers will already know and to force a leap to a new message.  The engagement can happens in any of six ways. The tighter the connection, the better the viewing experience.

While the poll was designed for Honda’s  Superbowl ad, you can certainly respond based on any ad you watched.

What’s the outcome in terms of ad sales and viewership. That remains to be seen. After you take the poll, sign and and share your comments below.

How Neiman Marcus creates shopping bliss

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Yes, January 2012.

Neiman Marcus  (NM) flagship retailer of  Neiman Marcus Group is synonymous with shopping bliss. Serving the 2%, the luxury retailer is also a retail innovator, creating the first customer loyalty program reports Barbara Farfan. They will go to every length and media to cultivate their best customer relationships, even Twitter.

But it’s already November 16th (as of this writing), and if you’re a retailer who dominates the shopping market and holiday season, you’ve got to do more — out of loyalty, customer experience, and branding. So no surprise to see in my Twitter stream.

Neiman Marcus tweet of resort shopping

Move over, Christmas!

The brand association and experience of this beyond-luxury retailer are synonymous with Holiday shopping excess. But then again, NM knows their market, the 2%.

100th Anniversary Edition Christmas catalog 2007

Christmas in September

So what’s the blissful ignorance? Neiman Marcus doesn’t need to advertise holiday shopping. Not in the traditional sense, of course. Their classic catalog is their biggest holiday brand ambassador. That and dedication to customer service.

NM’s yachters outdistance Santa’s reindeers.

Other retailers launched the 2011 Holiday shopping season within seconds of midnight Halloween 2011. Neiman Marcus has launched its resort collection shopping season with seemingly blissful ignorance of Holiday shopping noise and clutter — at least on Twitter.  Look again, there’s more to the bliss than you might expect.

If you’re a Neiman Marcus customer, you expect events or announcements like resort season in mid-November. The real news is in the payment method. Neiman Marcus has democratized its payment methods to accept Visa® and MasterCard®.

Creative customer ecology: Neiman Marcus sponsored Tweet.

Creative Customer Ecology_Engagement
Engage: +E for reaching out to their intended audience.

Enhance: +E for providing a complete, branded call to action.

Empower: +E by clearly capturing their 2% market within the blue ocean of average tweeters.

So why the #fail #brandchat?

Within its own customer environment, NM clearly knows how to cultivate relationships that cultivate the brand. The backlash may come in the push by marketers to move shopping seasons significantly ahead of the living season. What’s bad for one, i.e., retailer, could prove bad for all. Even when you’re catering to the 2% who now shop and buy with generic credit cards.

When empowerment becomes the new engagement

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A marketing thought leader luncheon this week began its discussion with two points.

1. Everything is direct marketing.

Many direct marketing traditionalists still don’t get it by claiming bragging rights to call to action and response. Then begins a diatribe about scientific method when the “blue ocean” of target audiences is no longer blue, given the influence of peer-to-peer, social media and let’s not forget the circles of Google and Facebook.

2. The Big Idea: Creating Shared Value (2011)

Here’s where the discussion got and held my attention — but not in the way the speaker intended.  In their January 2011 HBR Magazine article,  Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer  talk about the connectivity of all business enterprises. This, in turn, creates both a fiscal and a marketing responsibility (yes, responsibility when it comes to marketing) to develop and maintain value with through all aspects of a business enterprise.

The speaker was “on” to something when describing engagement and its historical value to direct marketing. Yet, he lagged behind in not bringing the message to the Web 3. level that reads clearly in the article.  It’s no longer about engagement at all costs. That’s how direct marketing and sales promotion tarnished their image. Instead, the current Web 2.0 culture — and everything to come — seeks to empower a fully and pre-engaged agora of people ultimately shopping for an exchange of ideas in ways that connect aspirations, empowering each individually and collectively.

Which lead me to tweet my takeaway shown above.

What are your thoughts?

What circumstance, advance, or strategy has lead to the new empowered global consumer nation?

Share them here by logging in with WordPress, Facebook, or Twitter. Also boookmark, or email a colleague.


What’s your experience of Creative Customer Ecology?

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Follow #customerecology for Twitter insights

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Look for #customerecology on Twitter for regular snippets of customer ecology insights. Will be curating these comments from my blog posts, online Twitter chats, and pull quotes from the website.

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