I Should Have Listened To You

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Jackie Kolek.

Listen-or-Ignore-Button-945x1024You’ve said that phrase a million times.  To your parents, teachers, boss, friends and spouse (well, maybe not that last one).  We all have those moments in our lives where we smack our own heads and say “ugh, I should have listened to you.”  In their new “It’s No Secret” ad campaign, JCPenney is smacking its collective heads and offering a public apology for alienating its core customer base and admitting that they just should have listened. 

The ad campaign came three weeks after CEO Ron Johnson was ousted after making dramatic changes (including shifting the name to JCP) and three days after the company relaunched their social media efforts under the hash tag #jcpListens.  While the advertising pundits debate whether or not this was the right move for the brand, audiences seem to be responding.  Recent comments on the Facebook page are generating thousands of likes and comments, mostly positive.  Time will tell if the campaign goes far enough and if they can really woo back their customers, but people are responding. 

While the apology is nice, the fact that JCPenney is actively listening to its customers is the big news here.  I don’t think that customers are responding positively to the apology, but rather people just like to be heard.  Sadly, JCP is just one in a long line of brands, from Netflix to Dominos that had to learn the hard way that they need to listen to their customers and meet them on their own terms.  In the case of JCPenney, Ron Johnson actually ignored two audiences – those that currently shopped at the store and the young, more modern audience he was trying to attract.  His coupon cuts and new styles alienated his core shoppers and he failed to realize that the group he was trying to attract would simply never consider shopping there.

Peppercomm worked for several years with a leading off-price retailer.  Their goal was not to increase the amount that people spent in their stores, but instead to get people who would never consider shopping there to come in.  In order to understand this mindset, we conducted an Audience Experience audit to experience the brand through the mind of this consumer.  Our big a-ha?  It was all about the hunt – finding that designer shoe or perfect picture.  Our strategy focused on the “Thrill of the Find” and centered around getting fashion bloggers to come in and experience the store.  No amount of messaging or advertising would work, they had to experience it for themselves.  The program was hugely successful and created hundreds of ambassadors who were spreading positive brand messages on our behalf.

While certainly not the first, I am sure JCPenney won’t be the last brand that makes a major misstep because they simply should have listened.  If there is one lesson brands should learn from this case study, it’s to listen first, last and always. 

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