Sometimes relying on our history can hinder our best efforts to evolve an established brand. When things aren’t going as well as we’d hoped, when we feel unsure about what to do next, we long for the days when we had momentum working in our favor. It may be tempting to emulate past successes, even though the market has changed. Even though we’ve changed. Evolution takes courage.
Watching JCPenney revert to its pre-2011 logo is like watching an old friend get sucked back into a relationship with the high school quarterback, the guy who still pulls up VHS tapes of past touchdowns when you drop in to say hello. This is obviously a company struggling to find a safe landing, and one that is unsure about its future.
Sure, mistakes were made. JCP's customer base didn’t understand the hip new logo and sharply different attitude introduced in 2011. The sales strategy behind the shift aside (see John Mathes’ article titled Culture isn’t invented. It’s born.), the perception in the marketplace isn’t positive right now. It was a pretty big leap to go from a brand that appealed to my grandmother to a store I, as a mom looking for a balance of quality and affordability, might be willing to visit. While I’d never accuse this company of being careless, there are arguments to be made about what this brand did wrong, why it doesn’t feel authentic anymore, and how key transitions were missed along the way.
But the more important question may be this: was the logic behind the shift in JCP’s look and feel valid? I think it was. This was an identity that was severely dated by any measurement, one that needed to evolve.
To go back to a logo design developed in the early 70’s seems unnecessary and feels like a decision based more on fear than sound strategy. No doubt the person watching all the numbers turn red wanted to find a safe zone in manageable territory. But like the aging quarterback you should probably steer away from, the old logo represents a step back, a reliance on past successes, and a legacy that may not have enough relevance in today’s market. What's the takeaway? This is a company in retreat. And this management team isn’t willing to take any more risks with the identity.
Rather than issuing an unflattering mea culpa and demonstrating a weakness that isn’t attractive in a brand, this company needs to instill confidence. Instead of backsliding into an old look and feel, JCP should work to change perceptions about its transformation, projecting the strength and courage required for successful reinvention. I hope this brand doesn’t give up on its quest to become more relevant and hip. Recent executions on a misguided strategy may have been wrong, but that doesn’t mean the new look and feel should be thrown out too.