Dear Penney, We Forgive You

I’m breaking out my blog - abandoned too long ago for lack of time - because I’m fascinated with the JCPenney case, and my thoughts about it don’t fit in a Twitter post at this point.
Ever since the latest part of the story broke a few days ago with the launch of the "Apology" spot, I have been following the social conversation like it is my job. I still can’t point a finger at what part of this case is so fascinating to me and why, but maybe writing this post will enlighten me. 

A strategy lost in translation

Ironically enough, when customers started expressing their disappointment for the disappearance of coupons and sales, the retailer's former CEO didn't blame the new policies, but instead blamed the lack of education of his customers regarding the new strategy. He literally stated that customers needed to be "educated" as to how the new strategy works. I couldn't agree more, but the time to educate them was before drastically changing the way they were accustomed to shop. Don't you think?

The humble  and egoless apology

I suspect that my interest in this case is mostly driven by my “consumer” heart, rather than by my marketing head, but let’s see…
According to my very own interpretation of the story, it all started when a great plan was unfairly ruined by a not as great execution. Suddenly, everything changed for the JCPenney’s customer once the big plan was deployed. Consumers were unprepared, surprised and confused by the retailer's sudden bold move. To make things worse, so were the media. I don't think I need to explain how negative publicity can harm the reputation of a brand, or in this case, of a plan.

The great idea so clearly visualized by the retailer's executives, didn't make much sense in the consumers' mind. Why? Because fashion is not a commodity, therefore, the motivations to shop for it go beyond the price. Not even sales and coupons are about the price, but about the satisfaction that comes from "hunting" deals and succeeding. An opportunity given at a specific moment and for a limited time. The serendipity of shopping. Women's shopping psychology 101.

If you are going to take that magic, exciting, and fun element out of your customer's shopping experience, you better give them a very compelling reason on why you are doing so. Also, since it is well known that "we don't see things as they are, but as we are", you better communicate that reason in their own "emotional language" so they can really get it, and engage with it.

I know that many in the marketing industry would disagree with the "apology" approach, and although I agree that it is a very risky one, I love it in this particular case. Judging for what I have "heard" in the social media conversation, I'm not the only one loving it.

What is great is the unexpected element. Social consumers are used to being ignored by most of their favorite brands. Particularly, if those brands are out of the "trendy/tech/startup" group. Most brands have social media channels to push their promotional messages, but they rarely use them to engage their followers.

As much as I liked JCP "Apology" message, I think that it will get old pretty quickly after the initial buzz. I'm sure that JCPenney and its new agency of record Y&R were just building the foundation to launch the real deal. The apology approach does not have enough legs to support a long term strategy, and the message will weaken quickly -it is definitely not the type of strategy that will give the brand the bang it needs to impress its disappointed customers. Knowing that there is a smart agency behind this strategy, I just can't wait to see what the real thing will be!

In an industry in which big egos are the norm, an egoless message feels very refreshing. When that message is backed up by actions that demonstrate genuine concern for making things right, it is even more engaging and powerful. 

JCP is mastering the use of its social media channels by doing what every brand should be doing, but unfortunately very few actually do. Penney is trully listening to its costumers.

The fact that JCPenney says that it is listening, and it shows that it is actually listening, is somehow positively shocking. Try tweeting @JCPenney with the hashtag #JCPListens, and you will get a tweet back faster than the 911 would respond, or even Jimmy John's! 

What makes a simple tweet so disruptive, is not the tweet itself, but the unexpected quick response coming from a traditional company like JCPenney, (as it would be also the case with any of its competitors within its category). 

As an example, here is my tweet to Macy's around the same time I tweeted to Penney. At this point, I don't think that Macy's will reply... ever.  As a writer of this post, I'm glad, because that makes my post more interesting. But as a consumer and Macy's customer, I can't help but feel ignored. 

As far as I'm concerned, I want them to succeed 

As a marketer, I want them to succeed because I'm a big fan of smart minds with small egos, (and that's exactly how I'm perceiving the minds behind this campaign right now).
As as consumer, I want them to succeed because I'm Hispanic. Ok, let me explain that... despite the spot being described by the Anglo media as an "All American" one, it reminded me that out of all the retailers in its category, JCPenney - for some reason that I can't explain - has always "felt" welcoming to my community, therefore, I want them to succeed. I will be rooting for them as a marketer, and as a Hispanic consumer.