Marketers can learn a lot from the online kerfuffle surrounding JCPenney’s hiring Ellen Degeneres as a spokeswoman. JCPenney's successful navigation of politically tricky waters stands in contrast to the Susan G. Komen debacle that occurred a few weeks earlier.
In both cases, political and personal views boiled to the surface in social conversations across Twitter, Facebook, and newer channels such as Pinterest. But JCPenney handled its naysayers differently than Komen did.
JCPenney is standing strong and consistent. It seems keenly aware that this surge of attention can make or break its brand. By contrast, Komen’s approach seemed arrogant and out of touch. I don’t think Komen had any clue how quickly social network-powered protests could galvanize against them. JCPenney apparently understands how to ride this turbulent wave with the right balance of head and heart.
Here are some key factors that any brand should keep in mind to chart a clear course through unpredictable, emotional, and politically charged online storms
Examine your heart. The core values of your company must come from the top and be clear. Brands such as Zappos know that everything hinges on clearly communicating those values throughout the company, to customers, and to the general public. Zappos publishes its values on its Website.
Be truthful and consistent. Don’t lie. On the Internet, lies are revealed, repeated, and retweeted faster than you can retract them. Then they remain online to haunt you. Before you commit to anything publicly, know exactly where you stand, what you want to say, and how you will react to what is being said by your customers and the public online.
Don’t clam up. JCPenney could have hunkered down when One Million Moms came out with their manifesto and spent days or weeks powwowing about how to handle this backlash. Instead, it faced the protests head on and garnered the level of PR exposure that you only dream your marketing dollars will buy. Statements from JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson were prompt and genuine. Ellen also took an uncharacteristic stand on her show in a warm, articulate, heartfelt manner, using her very public spotlight to address the issues head-on.
Take the high road. Don’t bash your haters. JCPenney’s Johnson didn’t disparage One Million Moms but instead acknowledged that “one of the great things about America is people can speak their mind.” It is easy to take a cheap shot at the naysayers or to ignore, underestimate, and dismiss. But being respectful -- especially in a heated situation -- speaks volumes about your company and your brand.
No company can ever predict the reactions online to their business decisions, dealings, and campaigns. But one thing is certain: Consumers have unprecedented access to global publishing tools and inter-linked virtual soapboxes, and their praise and complaints spread rapidly. Starting with a deep and honest examination of where you stand before taking a stand, and understanding the turbocharged word-of-mouth of social networking, can help keep your brand afloat.
@barbara krafte - Everything that happens in the "real world" with our companies, organizations and brands can get amplified in social networks. Make bad decisions offline, the spotlight can get heated online. Not understanding that magnifying effect is a miss on Komen's part.
My guess is that Susan is looking down wondering, how could they get it so wrong? Where was the Board in a decision of such magnitude? And how could they betray the organization's core values so committed to research and science? And finally, how why did they allow themselves to become corrupted by a political agenda that is the antithesis of everything the foundation stood for?
This wasn't a brand mistake; that's another article about licensing and greed (way too many pink ribbons out there!). This was a fundamental values shift, and a terribly disappointing one at that.
Great article and kudos to J.C. Penny for not caving to pressure and understanding who their true marekt is and what they value. Jeers to Susan B. Komen. I an organization who professes to have the best interest of women at heart should make sure they hire people to work for and represent them to have the whole health and well being of women in mind, not just support for the parts they like
It required a bit of iron nerve, but if Penney's marketing intel was any good, they probably already knew that
1) the slightly-above-median middle class women "value shopping demographic" that is their backbone was one in which many, many women have openly gay friends and coworkers (partly due to the industries where Penneys shoppers are concentrated)
2) Ellen Degeneres is very well-liked in that same demographic and her talk show guest list is slanted heavily toward them; she brings the people they like, and would like to see, on the air, and interviews them in a very positive, respectful way.
3) One Million Moms bears several marks of being an astroturf organization: only about 40k Facebook followers, no public bodies-on-the-street events, claims of victory every time a sponsor drops a program, and a set of vague testimonials that indicate an old, churchy, prudish base (again, not the way that a woman who wants to look stylish on a budget and wear something well made that will last a while tends to see herself).
So someone at Penney's very likely looked and said "OMM doesn't win a lot and it's not clear there really is an OMM. Ellen Degeneres works well for us among exactly the people we want to sell to. Next." And then had the good sense to say that firmly in public.
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