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

How to say McDonald’s in the land down under

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Look closely. It’s not a mistake

Some thoughts on: McDonald’s changes name to ‘Macca’s
in Australia (AdAge, Jan. 23, 2013
McDonald’s has as loyal a following down under (Australia, mate) as anywhere in the world. So, it’s only natural, that superfans call it their own, literally. It’s “Macca’s” to over 50% of the population according to research noted in AdAge. So, rather than rein in the branding, McDonald’s has done the ultimate unbranding thing imaginable to purists. They’ve recently changed signage to meet customers experience and expectations. It’s only a few stores for now — just a few more than 10 in select cities.

But it makes sense, when you think about it. After all, in every nation, McDonald’s has made adjustments to appeal to the tastes and mores of the culture they serve. By inculturating and localizing, the brand has achieved a global harmony that few can match.

What’s your opinion – is McDonald’s setting a new trend in crowdsourced loyalty and branding. Are they putting their brand empire (and intellectual property) at risk. Look forward to your comments.

Make common sense of Target’s new price matching policy

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On January 9, Target Corporation (NYSE: TGT) rewarded shoppers with a new permanent price matching policy. This continues the 2012 Holiday price match campaign that clearly delivered to the retailer’s great expectations of keeping customers in the store vs. exiting to shop online.

As pricing/value drives Target’s brand message, there’s no reason not to expect otherwise than permanence in their new policy. The question at the back of my mind was Why? What happens if Target promises and then retracts? Will its core brand be damaged? It’s a risk question of quality and numbers.

In the new normal of everyday crisis brand management, dys-satisfied customers shout, shrug and resume shopping. Changing big, entrenched behaviors (like loyalty) aren’t worth the trouble. Remember threats to leave Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest when policies changed abruptly? Hot-flash irritability gives way to inertia when it comes to promises not kept or unsweetened and untested policy changes. (More about behavior below.)

However the price-match wars play out, Target customers will continue to shop there. The dinosaur minority (i.e., those who read a circular then come in to shop and buy) may change through word of mouth. The growing tech-smart base will no longer stray because the price will always be right, guaranteed says Target. Target shoppers are loyal to price and to themselves first, even though they have strong brand awareness of Target as a value driver. Not a Target customer myself, this is what I hear through the consumer grapevine.

It all makes sense. Most know the expression “Does Macy’s [34th St] tell Gimbels [32rd St]”.  (Some understand it from childhood experience!) Back in the days, Gimbels took on Macy’s in every way, up to opening New York’s first bargain basement in a department store according to David K. Randall. In “Only the Store Is Gone,” (The New York Times, 2/19/2006) Randall describes the intense retail rivalry. Gimbels closed in 1987 and by 2006, ground broke on luxury apartments on the venerable retail ground.

Is retail deja vu unfolding?

Flat out, Target tells Amazon.com, (NYSE:AMZN) Best Buy(NYSE:BBY) (and all the other discounters) that they plan to own their price-minded, tech savvy customers whatever it takes. And there’s the great Amen. For Target and its customers, it’s win-win. Target has taken actions that are brand-savvy. The price matching policy  responds to existing customer behaviors: shopping for best prices. Now, Target-happy customers will head for the checkout, not the exit.

When in doubt, tweak

Tweaking technology to match prices is easy and cost-efficient. Compared to re-pricing and relabeling merchandise, it’s hardly a cost at all. It’s a defensive move that shifts that operational task to your competitors. But now, poised to react to any price, Target is really responding to customer needs and existing behaviors. Now, they’ve taken online price shopping and made it part of the Target customer experience.

In fact, this new price matching is more efficient than rebranding along some price point and suffering the consequences. Think JC Penney and their lingering fiasco. Their new brand angel promising no coupons didn’t succeed because it sought to change a behavior that customers actually like – the thrill of getting a good deal.

Image credit: abduzeedo.com via Elizabeth on Pinterest

Why customers want to be owned

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The author nails it: empower employees to “own the relationship.” Customer ecology places special weight on customer-facing employees. They are literally brand ambassadors. As the author observes, hospitality enterprises have long served up this secret sauce of engagement and enrichment that leads to loyalty.

Customers, it seems, may not always want to think about loyalty. They want it handed to them on a golden platter of rewards, courtesy, and met aspirations.

That takes courage for any enterprise. Is your organization ready to take the leap? If it has, what’s been the outcome?

Please stop by Branded Relationships on Pinterest for a photo essay of the Ritz Carlton in fully branded elegance.

Find a place in the hearts of customers

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Does your brand inspire your customers?

One brand loyalist created this paper art pin from what looks to be a shopping bag. There’s a logo and brand identity in there. It’s  Whole Foods Market ® (NASDAQ: WFM)

What more can you say when a customer is inspired to create art from your products? Your brand is growing in a growing market on Wall Street, and deep in the experience of your target audience.

It says your brand has identity, experience, and a culture. Loyalty is the ultimate expression.

This type of loyalty germinates from a great brand culture filled with zest, identity, aspiration and sweetspots that align with touchpoints.

It creates evangelistas at every step. Founded in Austin Texas in the 1980s, Whole Foods Market continues to expand nationally with over 300 stores as of Q1 2012.

Image Source: Uploaded by user via Elizabeth on Pinterest

What’s your experience?

Does Whole Foods Market set a new level in experiential branding and retailing? What lessons can you share for building branded relationships. Read on for my thoughts, Branded relationships in five easy lessons: Whole Foods Market (03/16/2012).

Note: this image has been posted via Pinterest with the intent of “fair use,” to promote education and discussion.

M&A: Changing Identity is the Easy Part

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FYI and comments on

The Role of Identity in Successful Post-merger Integration

Published: February 29, 2012 in Knowledge@Wharton

Culture and identity are two different things, notes Wharton management professor John Kimberly in a new paper Making 1+1=1: The Central Role of Identity in Merger Math.   This overview from Knowledge@Wharton provides a comprehensive depiction of what happens when opposites merge. Anyone who recalls the investment firm Dean Witter will remember the fallout of its merger with Morgan Stanley. This is one of the featured organizations in Kimberly’s paper.

What do identity and culture mean for customer ecology and branded marketing relationships? The challenge of engaging employees where they are can be just as or even more difficult when the branding and community-building take place within the organization. More than a task, it’s an ongoing capital investment that begins with hiring and continues directly to buying.

As an example, your organizational culture has a quirk that some new employee just might not understand. Like a secret code, everyone shares it intuitively. If you don’t conform … this author is just saying. Share your “quirk” experience here.

Your thoughts and experience are welcome.  Log on and comment, follow this discussion, and share with a friend.

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.

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