A logo is not a brand

May 14, 2014

I cannot say that I was surprised when I recently read that JC Penney is slated to close 33 stores this year. This seems like the natural next step for a company that held a 2011 logo competition to decide the fate of its brand.

We’ve all heard their story: seeking an improvement in sales, instead of turning to a branding firm for research, strategy and design, JCPenney asked for input from the public (company employees, design firms and art schools). While this is a great way to get attention, it is not a smart way to run a company. There was no meaning behind the change, no consideration of the corporate brand’s core values, brand promise, positioning or personality attributes: the only thing that changed was the logo – but a logo is not the same as a brand – and the brand itself remained the same, which is why the 2011 logo failed.

A year later, JC Penney came to that realization and decided that they should do a brand refresh properly, and hired professionals. The logo released in 2012 was supposed to be representative of the company’s new mission statement: “Every initiative we pursue will be guided by our core value to treat customers as we would like to be treated – fair and square.” (You guessed it, the new logo included a square, left-over from 2011). This go-around had some potential because there was strategy behind the change. “Fair and Square deals” meant that instead of fantastic periodic sales, low prices would be permanent… or at least month-long. But this approach backfired – instead of gaining a slew of brand followers interested in low prices (think IKEA), shoppers equated the new, lower prices with a lower-quality product. Furthermore, the month-long value terminology was confusing and added to the brand abandonment. Turn to find out, people like the excitement of a sale.

Needless to say, in 2013 JCPenney reverted back to the pre-2011 logo in an attempt to gain its old clientele back. Now, year 2014, it seems the turn-around has not happened quickly enough to save the stores from closing. CoreBrand’s CEO, Jim Gregory, estimates that it takes four years for a brand to fully recover. Do you think JCPenney has that kind of time, or are their days numbered?

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