August 9, 2018

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 So, as I settled into my seat in the Google auditorium, I carried my perception of JCPenney as being an outdated brand with me.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.



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:



This blog post was written by:

Alyssa McBryar, Marketing Manager

Liz Lauzon, Assoc. Business Development Manager


June 21, 2013

4 Fun Ways to Learn about Consumers

Without consumers, brands fail.  Nothing is more valuable to a brand than someone who financially supports them then spreads the word for free. To develop effective messaging, it is imperative to understand who the brand's customers are, and what they want. Here are 4 fun methods that anyone can use to learn about and better understand consumers:

  1. Find them on social media.  This is the quickest and easiest way to learn about your consumer.  What are they posting pictures of?  Who are they talking to? What are they talking about?  Take note of the language and tone they use, and how they describe and represent themselves.
  2. Read a magazine.  No really.  Go to the store, and pick up a magazine that the brand's target demographic reads.  Before you open the cover, take a second to clear your mind.  Pretend that you're an 18-year-old college freshman, or a golf enthusiast, or whomever your consumer is.  Then, read what they read.  Check out the pictures. Flip through the articles. Look over the ads.  This will help you better understand what they care about and how different brands capture their attention.
  3. Watch TV or a movie.  Though choosing an entertaining TV show or film is good choice, a documentary about the consumer is an even better one.  If you go the entertainment route, as with the magazine exercise, you'll want to clear your head and pretend you're the consumer before you begin.
  4. Attend an event.  Whether it's a Taylor Swift concert or hanging around their favorite store, going to an event or environment that your consumer enjoys is one of the best ways to submerge yourself in their world.  When you're there, immerse yourself in their experience. Eat what they eat and drink what they drink. Strike up a conversation with the consumer and learn more about them.  Take note of the event sponsors and their involvement.

Any of these four activities will give you a glimpse into your consumer's world, and help you think of them as more than just consumers but as people.   While these activities may not tell you more about purchase cycle, it will tell you about what entertains and excites them.  Understanding these passion points will enable your brand to open up a deeper relationship with these individuals.

March 8, 2012

Measuring Brand Esteem through Social Media, Insights Lab Episode 2

Hear the AMP Insights Lab perspective on social media metrics and measuring what matters. AMP Agency presents Videos by the Insights Lab- a think tank dedicated to uncovering, understanding and leveraging the best way to connect brands with consumers via the latest technology.

To learn more about these metrics, download the Psychology of Social whitepaper at

July 9, 2010

Does This Make Sense?

Many brands strive to achieve customer loyalty, but few achieve it. So you would think companies would do anything they could to attract and retain as many customers as possible. Well, at times, brands do things that defy logic. This is one of those tales.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm a big fan of Microsoft and open-source platforms. As a result, I have been an avid fan of Microsoft's Zune music player platform for as long as it has existed. I have never owned an iPod, and have lived my entire digital music existence on Windows Mobile OS and as of 2006, Zune OS.

My latest MP3 player is the 3rd generation Zune 120GB. I've owned three Zunes and this one has been my favorite so far. It's jam packed with features and has been a very solid device up until this past week. To make a long story short, my Zune died and there is no fixing it. To make matters worse, I could find a myriad of instances on forum sites where other consumers have experienced the same issue with their Zune ' yet there were no posted solutions for fixing it.

I didn't believe what I was reading. I thought to myself, 'How could a company as big and profitable as Microsoft possibly turn its back on consumers? The fatal disease my Zune acquired is not a user error, it's a hardware error. Surely they will make things right'?. Well, I am sad to report that Microsoft has seemingly done the impossible ' turned its back on owners of these failed products by offering no apologies, no recognition of their being an issue and no ability to fix the problem at a free or discounted rate. In talking with customer service, I was offered the same two options that all the others had posted about ' pay $160 for a refurbished device or pay $130 for a refurbished and lesser 80GB model. I felt insulted that they actually expected me to pay $160 for a new device and then felt doubly shunned when they actually asked that I consider downgrading my product. What kind of support is that? This is how they are going to reward customers for their loyalty? This is how they are going to make up for known product issues? This doesn't sit well with me.

As Director in the Consumer Insights and Planning group, it is my job to make sense of things ' sort out all the details and figure out what brands or consumers are thinking. But this dilemma proves difficult to rationalize. This entry is by no means a jab at Microsoft ' I still love them as much as ever, but what I struggle with is when I see brands create difficulty for themselves when they don't have to. As a result, I encourage all that read this to question their brand's or agency's protocols ' do they make sense for what you are trying to accomplish? Are your practices helping you make inroads with customers and maintain relationships? Does your strategy make sense? If not, it might be time to make some changes before you start heading down the wrong path.

January 24, 2010

Is Your Social Media Effective?

It is rare that I meet with a brand that doesn't have some form of social media presence deployed. Whether it is a Facebook group, YouTube videos or a Twitter page, most brands seem to have taken the advice of the experts and jumped into the dialogue. (Kudos to you all!) However, it is equally rare that I meet with a brand who isn't in some way dissatisfied with their social media efforts. Some aren't seeing the consumer followings they'd anticipated, others are having difficulty keeping up and staffing up for the daily needs of maintaining their effort, and others are simply unsure of what they are and should be doing. (If any of this sounds familiar don't worry you are not alone!)

If you are looking to optimize your social media efforts here is what we recommend. Take a macro view and get strategic before moving forward. Start by asking and answering the following questions:

  1. What do my consumers think of my activities in social media? What do they need and what do they want from my organization?
  2. How are my consumers using social media at large?
  3. What are my competitors doing in social media?
  4. What do the best in class social media programs look like outside of my industry?
  5. What benchmark of success are we looking for with our social media efforts?

We guide our clients through this process with a Social Media Assessment & Strategy Development program that is designed to take what clients are currently doing and optimize it so they can move forward and see more results from their social media efforts. It's a fast and cost efficient way of taking the start of something in social and turning it into something amazing (that delivers!) in social.