Ellen DeGeneres sitting on the set of "Ellen"

What JCPenney Can Teach You About Brand, Audience and Community

You may have noticed from the recent blitz of advertising that JCPenney has begun a far-reaching transformation of its business, from its logo to the way it prices its products.

Why change now? Why change at all? As its new CEO, Ron Johnson — the mastermind behind the successful launch of the Apple stores, pointed out at the Jan. 25 launch event, there was no choice if the company wanted to evolve and exist in the 21st century.

Profit was good but sales were stagnant and competition was increasing from online and niche retailers. And the brand had come to represent your mother’s department store — or worse, your grandmother’s.

JCPenney had to change what the company and its brand meant to its audience of current and potential customers. Changing a logo wasn’t enough. The company had to change the way it does business.

For JCPenney, that means its Fair and Square policy: three basic levels of pricing and returns accepted for any reason (a la Nordstrom).

Johnson said in the press release accompanying the launch event, “Every initiative we pursue will be guided by our core value to treat customers as we would like to be treated – fair and square.”

Little did JCPenney know that it would be called on to put this into very public practice within days when its newly-announced partnership  with Ellen DeGeneres was attacked as being against “traditional values” by a group calling itself One Million Moms.

JCPenney consciously aligned itself with DeGeneres knowing it would help them reach her millions of viewers and followers on social media.

And Ellen isn’t just popular; lots of celebrities are popular. She and her show have gained such a large following by representing a new mainstream, one that appeals equally to grandmas and teens, red states and blue. JCPenney’s audience is — or they want it to be — Ellen’s audience.

When JCPenney immediately reaffirmed the choice  of DeGeneres as a brand partner after the One Million Moms story broke, the company gained not just her potential audience but a now-outraged community of supporters who began leaving comments on Facebook, Ellen’s site and elsewhere proclaiming that they were going out of their way to shop at JCPenney in response to the criticism.

By treating Ellen “fair and square,” JCPenney was given the opportunity to live up to its new brand promise and thereby connect to its audience not just as consumers, but as part of a community.

What this means for you

A brand is more than a logo

It represents who your company and organization is and what it stands for. Go beyond the identity markings and think about your core values. Are you living them? Does your audience think you are?

Audiences are people

Don’t just treat your members or customers as one-time transactors. If they feel connected to who you are and what you stand for, they’ll come back.

You are part of your community

Your organization or business doesn’t stand alone. How are you connected to your community? How can you do so in a way that is in harmony with your brand’s values?

What you should do next

Revisit your mission statement

Is it accurate? Do all stakeholders agree? Is it aligned with the way you’re doing business?

Examine your brand

Does it make sense for who you are? What do your customers say? Have you asked them?

Prepare in advance

If you make significant changes, be prepared for the potential reactions from customers and the public; plan your response messages in advance. Be willing to own the changes you’ve made, especially if they’re sufficiently different, new or uncomfortable.

Live up to your brand’s new promise

Make sure your company’s choices and actions align with what you say your brand means now, from customer policies to the face you present to the world, whether it’s a logo, a spokesperson or both.

Get help

At Innate, we work with companies large and small, for profit and non-profit, to define their brands, create new identities, and develop a strategy for successfully implementing their brand and business. Contact us to get started with your brand.

[Photo credit: ronpaulrevolt2008, Flickr Creative Commons]

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