June 21, 2012

Last November, J.C. Penney spent $53.3 million to hire Ron Johnson, the brilliant mind behind Apple Stores, to turn around the aging retailer. So, as Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?”

Last month Penney’s posted a $163 million loss, announced a 20% drop in sales and a 10% drop in store traffic. Johnson blames all this on bad marketing and he ousted President Michael Francis earlier this week. As reported by the Wall St. Journal, Mr. Johnson thinks that the “strategy is working well,” and that customers simply don’t understand the new approach to product and pricing.

What customers don’t understand, Mr. Johnson, is why you don’t understand them. I guess I should send Ron a copy of my book, which explains psychographics (Chapter 9), the art of understanding the mind of your consumer and creating products that relate to their expectations.

The typical Apple customer is so different from the typical Penney’s customer; you would think anyone could figure that out. But this is a classic example of seeing the world through your own eyes. Johnson and Francis are two young, very hip, contemporary thinking retailers that are arrogant enough to believe they can re-make the Penney customer into their image. Wrong.

Penney’s customers don’t necessarily relate to gay spokespersons, super contemporary graphic design, or the elimination of coupons and deals they love. Sure, they might like the stores to be cleaner, nicer, with better merchandise (let’s deal with the product, Ron), but they don’t appreciate being told in every piece of marketing that they “just don’t get it.” Sorry, Ron, you don’t get it. You can’t change the fundamental nature of your customer through marketing. You have to embrace the mind-set of your customer. I hope everyone reading this is doing that in their business, every day.

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