It’s No Secret: JCPenney Says ‘We’re Sorry’ and ‘Come Back’ with Social Media Blitz

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JCPenney’s brand-resuscitation efforts continued today with a digital-era form of a classic corporate move: the mea culpa.

The company launched a virtual apology tour on Facebook, YouTube (watch below) and Twitter to get the message out to customers—those same customers that now-ousted CEO Ron Johnson in large part ignored for more than a year—that the brand is sorry and wants them to come back.

According to Bloomberg, the campaign was developed on Johnson’s watch and implemented by Sergio Zyman, the former Coca-Cola marketing executive who will go down in history as the architect of the New Coke fiasco.[more]

“It’s no secret. We’ve made some changes,” reads JCPenney’s message on Facebook. “Some you’ve liked and others you didn’t. We’ve heard you—and we’re listening. Let us know what you think.”

In the “It’s No Secret” video posted on YouTube—featuring generic images of mostly female consumers, presumably garbed in clothing from JCPenney, but no store scenes—the brand is even a bit more forthcoming, and plaintive.

“What matters with mistakes is what we learn. We learned a very simple thing,” a female voiceover in the video says. “To listen to you. To hear what you need to make your life more beautiful. Come back to JCPenney. We heard you. Now we’d love to see you. Come back to see us. We’re listening on Facebook.”

The brand even launched a dedicated hashtag on Twitter: #jcpListens. Interestingly enough, JCP wasn’t the only brand issuing apologies today.

Another retailer, in the person of CEO of Australia’s Myer department store chain, was busy extracting his foot from his mouth, whil Boeing ran full-page ads in Japanese newspapers to apologize for the problems caused by its grounded Dreamliners, which were finally approved to fly again by the FDA last week. 

None of the communications exactly say what JCPenney is sorry for, although it’s pretty easy to guess. Johnson infamously swore off traditional “sales” and other price-based promotions that are foundational to mainstream apparel retailing in the US, believing that he could wean customers off of them by simply offering the lowest everyday prices and then repositioning the JCPenney brand as the best provider of those prices. He was wrong.

Johnson was probably right about his strategy for transforming the standard JCPenney store into a bazaar of standalone boutiques, each associated with its own brand, such as the Joe Fresh, Levi’s and other stores-within-a-store that the retailer has been rolling out lately. JCP also wants badly to sell Martha Stewart-designed homewares, of course, but has been held back by its litigation with Macy’s over its MarthaHome collection, which it can keep on selling until the legal battle is resolved.

Newly returned CEO Mike Ullman seems likely to stick with the store-within-a-store strategy even as he has moved quickly to roll back Johnson’s disdain of price promotions and sales. The chief exec—whom Johnson displaced early last year—also has been lining up more capital for his efforts to save JCPenney again, as well as more marketing help in the form of Y&R and Zyman.

With customer feedback to today’s social-apology campaign, Ullman may begin to quickly get an idea of whether JCPenney shoppers are in a forgiving mood.

Updated: How @jcpenney responded to our tweet asking “Will @jcpenney’s #jcpListens push bring customers back? Shouldn’t social engagement be an everyday practice?”:

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