3 Lessons from J.C. Penney's Missteps
J.C. Penney operates over 1,000 stores and for decades carried products that catered to the needs of the traditional American family. But in recent years the company has been embroiled in a battle--one waged by top executives and board members with deep pockets and strong opinions about what's best for this old-line brand.
These executives' actions reveal how truly removed they are from the customers who enter their stores every day. If J.C. Penney's top brass continues down the current path, they risk bringing the entire company to its destruction.
So what should JC Penney do? And what can your company learn from their mistakes?
1. Don't Apologize
Earlier this year, J.C. Penney released an apology talking about their previous changes in brand and approach.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting you never apologize. Your company should apologize when something goes wrong with a specific experience or transaction. Carnival Cruises could learn the lesson that timely apologies are good when your brand doesn't deliver as expected.
But when it comes to a fundamental change to the company's approach, my research shows that the customer just doesn't care. Rather, what they will react to is experiencing the change.
The best rebranding stories--Old Spice, Apple, and Allstate for example--started with unexpected change or a fresh approach. (Remember "think different?")
J.C. Penney's apology only served to make the company leadership feel better. It reinforced the message that the company doesn't have a clear direction.
2. Change Your Perspective
Statements from the executives at the top are focused on what they want, not what their customer wants. In order to save J.C. Penney, the executive team needs to change their perspective.
We live in a consumer-driven economy where consumers expect to be catered to and understood. By spending time getting to know what's important to their customers, J. C. Penney can get the feedback they need to drive their overall brand and put them quickly on a road to recovery.
Target is an outstanding example of a company that does just that, testing products with their customers to make sure they fit the customers needs and feel like Target.
How many times do you sit in a meeting where most of the statements begin "I think we should..." Ask instead, what does our customer want and expect? If you can't answer that question, the solve is pretty simple: Just go and ask.
3. Present a United Front
Media coverage shows that the individuals and groups attempting to lead J.C. Penney are definitely not on the same page.
Choosing a move forward strategy and rallying behind it is important to everyone involved. Customers, employees and shareholders want to associate with a company that has a clear direction and a concrete identity.
I wrote about Facebook's first annual shareholder meeting several months ago. While the company was not performing as well as the shareholders had hoped, the executive team was aligned and supportive as they presented the company's status and answered questions. This united front boosts confidence in the company's direction.
All is not lost for J.C. Penney, but the current consumer-driven economy doesn't provide much room for mistakes. J.C. Penney needs to be more customer-focused and less internally focused to get the company headed in the right direction.
ERIC V. HOLTZCLAW is a serial entrepreneur who has founded multiple startup companies, including one of the first profitable Internet enterprises. His last company appeared on the Inc. 5000 three years in a row. Holtzclaw advises clients on the whys of business--why customers buy, why teams work, and the all-important "entrepreneurial" why. He is the author of Laddering, and his weekly radio show, The "Better You" Project, shines a spotlight on entrepreneurs' individual business journeys and successes. To learn more about Holtzclaw, visit ladderingworks.com or e-mail email@example.com.
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