I’ll be speaking on a Sacramento Public Relations Association (SPRA) Professional Speakers Series panel about “Defining Your Digital Strategy” on May 23, 2013. Josh Morgan from Edelman will also be on the panel, as will Phil Tretheway of Position Interactive. It should be a great conversation; I hope you’ll join us.

Venue: Cafeteria 15L
Date: May 23, 2013 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Address: 1116 15th Street, Sacramento, CA, 95814
Cost: $25 members / $30 nonmembers

More details and the RSVP Eventbrite form is here.

Retailers should make amends when customers voice a perceived wrongdoing, however, J.C. Penny’s new ad is a miss – a lost opportunity to draw in new customers. The ad does go to rebuild goodwill among the retailer’s current core audience, but to those unfamiliar with JCP’s newest product assortment, the ad strikes a desperate tone.

I’d planned to visit JCP because of Ron Johnson’s once lauded (and now derided) merchandising strategy. News of the new, brighter, more open JCP featuring independent brands that exude curatorial respect – Levi’s, Martha Stewart, Jonathan Adler, and others – got my attention. Now, I’m not so sure. While I applaud J.C. Penney for trying to protect (and win back) their core audience, this misstep might be a case of winning the battle, but losing the war. They’ll save today’s shopper, but lose tomorrow’s; shoppers that embrace experiences and narrative and who will pay a premium (or at least full price) for it.

In my opinion, J.C. Penney’s retail reversal is a loss of the “surprise and delight” that propelled Target (Johnson’s former employer) to retail stardom. They’ve exchanged a “new position” for an undifferentiated return to mediocre pricing tactics. J.C. Penney is once again about price – not value – a position shared by many others in an increasingly crowded space.

Come back, Ron Johnson. You were just getting started.

‘If you’re in a race to the bottom, to the best price, you’re not going to win long term.’ – J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler

jcp

 

Sindhya Valloppillil’s article about consumer retail, titled “Why Consumer-Facing E-Commerce Is BROKEN,” created quite a storm on Twitter this past weekend. Venture capitalists invested in the noted firms were instantly on the defensive and entrepreneurs attempting to develop new retail models felt attacked.

While Valloppillil created a robust conversation about online retail and venture capital funding, the article failed to talk about the challenges online-only retailers face when trying to simultaneously craft a brand and establish a differentiated business model at the same time. To use a popular visual, these entrepreneurs are building the plane while flying it.

As an ecommerce marketer with several upstart scars, I know firsthand the challenges involved in flying, repairing, building, and trying to keep a business aloft while driving sales. The ability to focus employee excitement into a valid business model requires saying “no” to 90 percent of the projects that appear urgent. Moreover, focusing founder and employee passion into a clear, differentiated brand message takes just as much backbone. One’s ability to articulate a brand’s mission, vision, and values in each customer touchpoint – based on the customer’s context and device – and to then inspire them to propagate your message, is a thrilling and exhausting challenge.

While Valloppillil is enjoying what she termed the “shit show,” the larger discussion is around teams and people. Mike at the Dollar Shave Club lives the mission, but he needs a (or more) merchandiser, a strong technical lead, and omnichannel marketers that can help guide product development, merchandize the assortment, and diligently measure and optimize performance. Sometimes you pick the right team and sometimes a strong board of directors steers you well. If you’re fortunate, great people bring equally great people with them to your organization.

We know that DSC was surprised by the volume of interest that their first video created; they didn’t have the supply chain nor the product catalog to capitalize on the surge of customer interest. That said, they have a believable ethos that many of their competitors don’t. They have a story to tell and sell.

Yes, retail upstarts need to understand business, brand, and audience insights – all businesses do – but these elements can’t stand in isolation; they need to result in a roadmap that is executed on time by a coordinated team. DSC clearly did not execute fast enough. Amazon did and so did Zappos. As is Fab with their announcement today. So, before we start slinging mud about what these startups aren’t doing, let’s be prescriptive about what they should be doing.

I’m here to help. jason /at/ jasonmichaels /dot/ com.

 

An investor I recently spoke with stated, “I look at a company’s website and ask, would anyone care if this company went away? If the answer is no, I go on to the next thing.”

As a strategist I ask, “Has your company uniquely positioned itself in the market, and does that positioning align to your company’s mission, vision, and values?”

If the answer is “yes” to both questions above, then find ways – beyond sales – to validate that your customers feel the same way. If your customers aren’t reflecting your messaging (based on your insights about them), you’d better quickly change the conversation.

conversation

Our most progressive clients understand the role strategy can play in the genesis and evolution of their products, projects, people, and their company overall. They recognize that great strategy can inform a product’s functionality, marketability, lifecycle, and on and on.

As strategists, we connect enough dots to understand the customer, to see ahead of where markets are going, and to uncover new opportunities and positioning that sets a prosperous pathway for our clients. We are responsible for pushing the boundaries of our own company’s thinking, our clients’ thinking, and of the industries and businesses we serve. If we are not breaking down walls (with tact and elegance), then we’re not pushing hard enough.

We’re not always going to transform a business, create a moment of magic, or get our client a promotion, but that should be the goal. It’s what should excite us. It’s what is exasperating, wonderful, and terrifying about what we do. We have a responsibility to make great change happen. We have an obligation to lead.

This is why I’m a strategist.