Lessons from the management shakeup at JCP

The dismissal of the head marketer/merchant from JCPenney is the latest development in a saga that has JCP competing with Sears for most discussions on RetailWire. (And this is not a badge of honor.) Here’s my point of view:

It’s premature to write off the JCP pricing strategy only five months after its introduction. But it was an obvious tactical error to focus most of JCP’s national advertising on Target-style “image building” instead of pushing the “Fair & Square” pricing concept more clearly. Even the ads intended to explain the policy were too cute by half, with none of the “call to action” needed to drive traffic to the store.

Mr. Francis’s departure raises some deeper questions:

1. Is there a serious dysfunction inside the JCP team that has been masked by Ron Johnson’s upbeat presentations at investor meetings?

2. Can the company CEO successfully turn around JCP’s merchandising and marketing by himself, at the same time that he is focused on reinvention of the store experience?

3. For that matter, doesn’t JCP need a separate head of merchandising and head of marketing given the magnitude of the company’s challenges?

This looks like two classic marketing mistakes: First, focusing on re-branding the company image instead of “selling” the pricing policy. And, second, running thse image ads before completing the task of reinventing the merchandise content and store experience.

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