The JC Penney brand should remain patient

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

18 May 2012

It takes time for a new brand meaning to take hold

Despite a turnaround in its image, messaging and overall brand, the JC Penney brand has not done well so far this year. My message to JC Penney, however: Stay the course, and focus on the long term.

“The initial downturn for JC Penney proves the point that those who coupon are not brand loyal.”

The JC Penney brand of “fair and square” is a good one if only for the fact that it positions JC Penney against the competition. Suggested in the themeline is that the rest are not fair and square, which may tap into consumers’ belief that other retailers bilk them. It touches on an idea that is steeped with a bit more emotion, a first step in establishing a brand. What is refreshing about the move is the operational changes JCPenney has made to reinforce the new language.

JC Penney brandEven though there is slow change, the rebranding positions the JC Penney brand positively for multiple reasons.

First, it creates greater distinction in defining who the brand is for. It is for those who value fairness.

“Fair and square” has been taking a hit so far, with most of that hit being attributed to JC Penney’s elimination of coupons and replacing them with fairer prices.

Sure, this change might cause some coupon’ers to stop shopping at JC Penney but a coupon’er is only loyal to the coupon, not the brand. They are deal shoppers and, most often, the least brand loyal by defintion.

While “fair and square” has lost some of these customers, with constancy of message, it will begin attracting new ones in their place. Think of it this way: Those of us who do not coupon, believe that, if I need to coupon, that means the listed price is not fair. The building of preference for the JC Penney brand will slowly build with those who are not necessarily looking for the lowest price (which those who coupon are), but the fairest.

Secondly, JC Penney is taking steps to make “fair and square” more than just talk. It is easy to say something. It is much more difficult to put it into action. An intensive marketing message can draw customers, but, if it is not backed up with action to reinforce that message, customers soon become the wiser. It is better to be trusted by customers and represent nothing than to try to stand for something and it not be true. JC Penney is taking a bold step with its brand and it shows it understands its importance by the actions it is taking to make its new messaging believed.

Lastly, it is different. The initial downturn for JC Penney proves the point that those who coupon are not brand loyal. And, to coupon, you must believe that all retailers are the same. Fortunately for JC Penney, there is value in putting a stake in the ground. It provides direction and creates a brand identity.

A brand rarely changes the market overnight. Often marketers become nervous and make an about-face at the first sign of trouble. JC Penney must stay committed and remember that the changes it has made make a brand. It doesn’t want to revert back to simply being a store.

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