More Small Business Lessons from JC Penney 3.0

I've written scores of articles covering various aspects of sales and marketing – topics such as: branding, social media, selling strategies, and so on. Despite the wide range of subjects tackled over the years, no article I’ve written has received as much attention as the one I penned about JC Penney. This particular article spawned passionate discussion surrounding how a business rebrands itself, the wisdom of an "everyday low price" sales model, and the repercussions of venturing into social matters.

Just when you thought that there's nothing new to discuss about JC Penney, they go and change up their marketing strategy yet again.

Before going any further, I understand that JC Penney is a large company and is vastly different from your small business. However, common-sense marketing is of value to all businesses, regardless of size. With that, let’s reexamine JCP and extract a few things that may be relevant to you.

No. 1: Don't be too creative This may sound a bit counterintuitive (coming from a marketing guy); but, don’t get too fancy with your marketing strategy.  In the case of JC Penney, they did just that.  They, from a weakened position, attempted to upset the applecart with the everyday low price initiative - an “industry-defying” marketing strategy that obviously did not work.

Yes, you should swing for the fences, but don’t climb over them and wander the parking lot, babbling. The essence of marketing is not unrestrained ideas. It’s really about shifting attention to your brand for the purpose of sales. If your efforts hamper that, you’re being too creative.

No. 2: Abandon ShipFrom what I observe, JC Penney has realized that something is amiss and is in the throes of self correction.  In short, they’ve publically eaten humble pie and have done an about-face.  This goes with the territory when you have to explain a 60% decline in stock price to shareholders.

What about you as a small business owner? How quickly can you respond to an ailing marketing plan? Quite often there are no sirens going off when you begin to travel down the wrong road.  That is why it is vital to keep your ear to the ground and embrace feedback from consumers and employees. I’ve seen many businesses cling to a failed marketing plan due to the fact that the owner “likes it”.  The question should always be, does your audience like it?

No 3: Sell Your Product, Not Your PhilosophyOver the years I’ve seen many small businesses use their company as a platform for personal views. While I do believe that there are some possible PR benefits in doing so, I also believe that such activities can backfire in a bad way.  The point is, you just don’t know.

As a marketing professional, I challenge my clients with the following: don’t introduce a variable you can’t fully control. In the case of JC Penney, they’ve done that – making both enemies and friends by the inclusion of social hot-button issues in their marketing. This only serves as a massive distraction, in my estimation. If you are a for-profit operation, stick to selling your products.

This opinion column was written by Walter Dailey, creative director for DSV Media, a Columbus Advertising Agency specializing in marketing help for small and mid-sized businesses.  Follow him here: @wrdailey @dsvcreative