By now we have all heard about the leadership failings of ousted J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson. There has been plenty of traditional marketing-driven Monday Morning Quarterbacking going on to explain what went wrong. In a nutshell, investors lost faith in Johnson’s plan to reinvent the brand’s sales approach, namely scraping discounts and introducing everyday low prices. It seems Johnson wanted to modernize J.C. Penney; make it appeal to a younger demographic; make it cool. What’s wrong with that you may ask? Nothing - unless the majority of your customers are the so-called old and uncool. And for the purposes of this blog, that’s the big social media takeaway. You don’t have to host tragically hip social campaigns to produce truly profitable results.
Recent polling suggests that teens and twenty-somethings are experiencing social fatigue. Facebook doesn't seem to hold the same sway with these age groups. On the flip-side, individuals in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and above are a growing social audience. Being that I am only 4 years from being a member of the 40 club, I am not prepared to label any of these demographics as dull. Still, more mature users have different reasons for establishing a social media presence. This may come as a shock but finances and marketing often aren't at the top of the list.
For instance, let’s use my mom as a case study. She decided to join “The Facebook” to see pictures of her animal grandkids. If I asked for her opinion on social sales or daily deals, I’m sure she’d look at me cross-eyed; however, that doesn’t mean she’s not an engaged user. She likes to “Like” but for different reasons. Her rationale for liking something is much more emotionally-centric. There is a wistfulness tied to not only liking but sharing as well. And that’s what CEOs like the recently axed Johnson must begin to understand.
For folks loyal to retail chains like J.C. Penney, the discount philosophy was an emotional touchstone. It provided comfort and assurance that the store had their best interest front and center. As lives become increasingly complex and fragmented, it’s nice to know that something as mundane as a shopping experience can remain just that – simple, familiar, and unaffected. Social media can easily reflect this customer culture. Campaigns showcasing weekly discounts shouldn't be considered uncharted territory, especially in the Groupon and Living Social age of commerce. In fact, strategic social initiatives through Instagram and Pinterest could serve to visually reflect what shoppers value most; thus, giving retailers like Penney a strong branding opportunity.
Social media and the quest to be incredibly new and cool needn't always mean having to reinvent the marketing wheel. Only time will tell if J.C. Penney investors learned this lesson too late in the game.