JCPenney’s Authenticity

You’ve been bleeding cash for more than a year, press on your brand has been critical (at best), your CEO is out the door, customers have departed in droves and your fleet of stores are in various stages of redevelopment. Now, following the publication of a stylized photograph of a teakettle new to the product portfolio, you’re all over social media due to your insensitivity. The woes continue for JCPenney as critics took to Reddit and Twitter to lambaste the brand and its leadership for a Hitler-esque photo of a now epic (and highly sought after) teakettle. JCP quickly apologized for this mishap just as it apologized in a well-publicized ad for a year plus of upsetting and turning off its target customers. But, with all these apologies, do we start to further question the authenticity of this brand?


Photo Credit: Imgur

The brands that we connect so closely with as people have an authenticity to them. This transparency helps us as end users to believe in what the brands do and say. Consider a brand like the Mayo Clinic.

The authenticity of its mission to deliver to the needs of the patient first is experienced at every brand touchpoint. Mayo has instilled this belief into its hiring and people development processes so that every staff member is delivering the mission. Mayo has built storytelling mechanisms and paths for patients and their families to share their stories so that the mission is expressed through those that it serves. Even Mayo’s visual expression is oriented not toward the traditionally clinical feel of many healthcare providers but is instead focused on the humanity of its patients. Every brand element supports the mission; authenticity is never in question at the Mayo Clinic.

Authenticity appears to be a significant challenge for JCP. All these apologies without a clear definition of who they are and what they stand for is going to continue to damage the brand in the minds of the audiences that it hopes to serve. What does JCP want people to believe about them? How do they hope to engage consumers in the future? How will their customer experience support these points? As long as the litany of apologies continues without clarity about what the brand’s future will hold, the authenticity of JCP will be questioned. Consumers will hesitate before even considering a visit. It’s time for them to rediscover what makes them uniquely JCP and why that should matter.

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Justin Wartell
June 1, 2013 By Justin Wartell