“Some good news for newspapers” was the headline in an email that went out last Friday from the Newspaper Association of America. It referenced an Ad Age article, “JC Penney Looks to Newspapers in Revamped Marketing Push.”
This is great news for newspapers. And since Fusionfarm is part of the same organization asThe Gazette, the largest newspaper in eastern Iowa, it was good news for our organization as well. (Full disclaimer: I’m also the Publisher of The Gazette -- so Happy Friday, indeed!)
The line from JC Penney that got my attention, though, was from CEO Ron Johnson. “In many ways we were trying to build the brand ahead of its time, when we really needed to build the business.”
This false dichotomy between “building the business” and “building the brand” gets brought up in board rooms all the time. It’s convenient to paint it as an either/or proposition: Invest in long-term equity for your brand or focus on short-term traffic.
It’s a convenient story. But it’s not a true one. The best marketers of brands that have low pricing as a strategic part of their brand identity understand that you build the brand at the same time you build the business. Southwest Airlines has historically done a fantastic job advertising low fares in a way that creates differentiation and equity around their brand while also building short-term traffic. More direct competitors of JC Penney -- like Walmart and Target -- have also done this very effectively at times over the years.
“The brand” and “the business” are so interrelated that trying to build one separately from the other isn’t really possible -- and certainly not sustainable. If low prices are part of your strategy for building traffic that means it is also part of your brand. So embrace it and don’t treat messages communicating value pricing as “that thing we do when we’re not building the brand.”
Everything you do and communicate shapes your brand, not just the ads your marketing team designates as “brand building.” That “Back to School Sale!” ad -- the one with all the pricing markdowns -- shapes your brand, too.
Newspapers aren’t the dominant force they once were, but they are still a good medium for communicating deals. The shift in media mix is probably a smart one for JC Penney. Let’s hope they can use it to communicate in a coherent way – one that tells their core customers about the deals at JC Penney while also building their brand. Let’s hope they figure out the “and” and don’t settle for the “or.”