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Unexpected Takeaways From the Ad Club's CMO Breakfast with JCPenney

“Stylish women love JCPenney. Some of them just don’t know it yet.”

 

Like I had, you might be thinking, “Really now? Coming from a brand with a decades-old value first reputation?” Yes, really. Bear with me on this because I wasn’t buying it at first either, but there’s something fascinating here.

 

My expectations weren’t exactly clear walking into the AdClub CMO breakfast featuring Marci Grebstein, JCPenney’s recently appointed Chief Marketing Officer. In fact, I hadn’t heard much about JCPenney in recent advertising news at all. So, as I settled into my seat in the Google auditorium, I carried my perception of JCPenney as being an outdated brand with me. What followed in the next 60 minutes of Marci’s presentation radically shifted that perception, and propelled me into a state of furious notetaking.

Expectations: 0. Marci: 1.

As Marci spoke, my previous perceptions were countered by a surprising portrait of a progressive brand that has altered its messaging to meet the the modern American mom where she actually is, not where the rest of the world expects her to be.

 

How did JCPenney break from an old brand perception and arrive at their new strategic positioning? With Marci’s lead, the company invested in what many brands have yet to: critical brand perception research and journey mapping. They put in the work to better understand the modern American mom, their bullseye audience. The result? A clear picture of her values that transcend just standard demographics alone—

 

  • Convenience: She’s a working mom who doesn’t have a ton of time.
  • Family: She puts extra emphasis on family - her real family, work family, friend family. She loves spending time with them, especially when shopping.
  • Price: She’s on a tight budget, so finding style for less is important.

These newly pinpointed values exposed a critical insight that ultimately drove JCPenney’s brand repositioning: The modern American mom wants to find value without sacrificing style.

 

When you think of value forward, you might think Walmart or Kohl’s. When you think of style forward, you might think Nordstrom or Macy’s. To meet this mom where she is, JCPenney repositioned itself to exist at the intersection of both. This opportunistic white space was the driving force for a major shift in marketing communications—breaking from the old “Get your Penney’s worth” tagline, and transitioning to “Style and Value for All”, a nod to their diverse and value-driven audience.

 

JCPenney has since rolled out everything from new brand anthem spots touting their new messaging to fresh fashion, beauty, and influencer partnerships—all of which reflect a diverse range of people and lifestyles, centering on shared American values and family.

 

 

 

I applaud JCPenney’s efforts to get smart about their customer. It can be scary for brands, especially ones with long legacies, to step away from the standard. But JCPenney took these consumer insights as an opportunity to break free from the mold and instead represent who their customers really are—people of all different sizes, cultures, family types, and mindsets.

But wait, there’s more.

Extending beyond a commitment to reflecting their diverse consumer in their advertising, Marci confirmed the brand also puts strong emphasis on diversity in hiring. When I asked if JCPenney works to ensure that the multicultural woman they’re targeting is reflected in their work force and marketing decision makers, Marci met my question with enthusiastic appreciation.

 

She shared that she thinks diverse perspectives inevitably lead to stronger communication strategies—and that giving traditionally underrepresented populations in business a seat at the table is important to her. In support of this, she proudly shared that 60% of JCPenney’s decision makers are women, and growing numbers are racial minorities.

 

I’m of the belief that a sea of sameness yields more of the same. Strategies are elevated by the healthy tensions that diverse perspectives bring. And we need more of that.

 

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The sometimes difficult, but always invaluable self-reflection that JCPenney embarked on with their brand perception and consumer research is something all of us as marketers can learn from while navigating the ever changing consumer landscape.

 

Want to check out Marci’s full presentation and decide for yourself? Watch the full presentation here: http://theadclub.org/cmo/jcpenney/

 


 

This blog post was written by:

Alyssa McBryar, Marketing Manager

Liz Lauzon, Assoc. Business Development Manager

 

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