When I hear “JCPenney,” I think of trips to the mall with my mom, annual Christmas catalogs the size of a brick filled with a toy section that kept me occupied and quiet for at least thirty minutes, and my prom dress. Nothing about these associations really screams “adulthood.” The last time I stepped foot into a JCPenney was probably ten years ago – and it was to find a ladies’ room.

How I remember JCPenney…

Last week, I received a new JCPenney mailing that looks nothing like the above. It was bright, fresh, sleek and modern, with apparel that, as a young professional, I could see myself wearing to work. While paging through the mailing on my couch, a new JCPenney ad happened to air on television, which by now you may have heard about.

“It’s no secret, recently JCPenney changed. Some changes you liked and some you didn’t, but what matters with mistakes is what we learn. We learned a very simple thing: to listen to you, to hear what you need, to make your life more beautiful. Come back to JCPenney. We heard you. Now we’d love to see you.”

I had read articles about JCPenney having a rough year with their customers in terms of the retail experience and pricing, but there has to be a way to more directly engage with these customers than through a public apology ad. Retail stores ask for your email address, zip code and other information at the point-of-purchase for a reason, right? As someone who has not shopped at JCPenney in over a decade, the (perhaps unintentional) juxtaposition of the apology ad and the mailing without any direct connection between the two, just left me feeling confused. What were you, what are you, and what do you want to be?

DuetsBlog has had several posts recently about brand loyalty and building relationships with customers, like Tiffany’s post on creating relationships through branding and advertising. With social media and data analytics, companies have access to far more information about their customers and far more opportunities to directly engage with their customers and cultivate those relationships. They also have far greater opportunities to damage those relationships if they are not thoughtful and purposeful in their execution of a social media strategy.

JCPenney’s overall media strategy seems to have potential for an interesting case study in customer engagement and media planning. The television ad fell flat, where more direct engagement with those jilted customers may have hit a home run.

What do you think about JCPenney’s current strategy?