Ron Johnson, Apple’s former head of retail made the jump to J.C. Penney last year to revitalize the flagging retail giant. On January 26th, he unveiled his strategy for the company’s new direction, and simply put, it’s great.
In his presentation, Ron clearly lays out the future of J.C. Penney, and it’s likely one of the best business presentations I’ve ever watched. For a long time fan of the Apple event Keynotes, that’s saying a lot. To be sure, Ron’s clearly borrowed heavily from Steve and his Apple experience, but he’s very open about it, and very good at it. Compared to Schiller’s presentation at the Guggenheim last week, this hits much closer to home.
Comparisons to Steve and Apple aside (of which there are several direct references in the presentation itself), here are a couple of key thoughts I took away from the strategy and its delivery.
- Curation is key - Great curation is what sets brands apart. Bring things together in a way that harmonizes their values and attributes, that let’s people see and understand them better than if they were shown apart.
- Align with the customer’s life, not with your business or industry cycle - Whether you sell B2B or B2C, your customer has their own agenda, lifestyle and world events that set their frame of mind. It isn’t tied to your promotional cycle, inventory schedule or anything else that drives your business. If you’re big enough or important enough, you can change consumer behaviour, but it’s much easier to align your business to their cycle. Be there when your customer needs you, don’t be desperate to get them in when they don’t.
- Don’t get caught up in the way things work - This could be written a million times, and it wouldn’t be enough. Don’t let people tell you not to change things because, that’s just how we’ve always done it. Sometimes you need to change the format. And often that’s all you need to do. I often point to Twitter’s incredible success as a good example of where a simple change in format and framework enabled incredible new results. Department stores don’t need to be as they’ve been for the last fiifty-years, and your business doesn’t need to be the way it is. If you’re looking to create new opportunities, try changing the way your business does business.
- Stand for something - The problem with so many brands is that they become diluted by offering too much, to too many, too often. This was the case with JC Penny, as it is with many retailers who struggle to find their place when the landscape changes. Changes to technology, consumer preferences, formats and competition can cause businesses to grasp at tactics. Don’t. Be clear about what you do, why you do it and how. If you can align your purpose with customers’ values it will give them a greater reason to buy from you.
If you watch the event (and you should), remember, this isn’t about rebranding or a re-pricing, it’s a complete -strategic- overhaul. JCP’s previous brand refreshes were not strategic changes. Ron and his team have re-imagined, not the company, but the business. We’ll just need to see if he can pull it off.
Ron Johnson’s JCP Launch Event is something that anyone with even a passing interest in business, retail, or strategy should watch.