JCP: From Catalogues to Denim Bars!?!

The most experienced and effective marketing professionals will usually agree that keeping the client in the press and on the public’s mind is beneficial to promoting brand identity, especially in an institutional fashion.  Frequent articles and stories can help grow a brands identity across marketing segments and expose the brand to new potential customers who may be inspired by the information and may be motivated to test, what is to them, an unfamiliar brand.  In the case of good news, it can create excitement and motivation, after all we all love being part of a good success story.  But when it comes to polishing the brand, attracting new converts and growing a business; too much bad news can be really, really bad news for a struggling business!

News continues to trickle out of the troubled retailer, J.C. Penney.  It’s bad news for its business partners and investors, bad news for thousands of its associates, and particularly bad news for its loyal customers.

We all look to our business leaders, the CEO’s, the Presidents, the Board Directors and the COO’s for lessons and inspiration, unfortunately as is the case in life’s many best learned lessons,  we often learn the most profound lessons from our failures.  The leadership at J.C. Penny has contributed more than its fair share of lessons over the past two years.

The Board of Directors of J.C. Penney Company, Inc. [NYSE: JCP], recently announced that Myron E. (Mike) Ullman, III has rejoined the Company as  Chief Executive Officer, effective immediately.  He has also been elected to the Board of Directors.  Mr. Ullman is a highly accomplished retail industry executive, who served as CEO of J.C. Penney until late 2011.  He succeeds Ron Johnson, who is stepping down and leaving the Company.

This most recent departure of leadership makes J.C. Penny America’s most cautionary tale and follows a plot line of mass exodus of loyal customers and a 25% reduction in company revenues.  Penney lost almost a billion dollars, half a billion of it in the final quarter alone. The company’s stock price, which jumped twenty-four percent after Johnson announced his plans, has since fallen almost sixty percent and twenty-one thousand jobs have been lost.

Upon his departure, Johnson has become the target of unrelenting criticism. “There is nothing good to say about what he’s done,” Mark Cohen, a former C.E.O. of Sears Canada, who is now a professor at Columbia, “Penney had been run into a ditch when he took it over. But, rather than getting it back on the road, he’s essentially set it on fire.  Johnson, and his previous compatriots in failed leadership, seemed determined on implementing wide sweeping, revolutionary marketing strategies that appeared to be destined from the outset to miss the target when it came to the largest segment of its customer base.  The new revolutionary strategy’s only success was to frustrate and confuse the company’s loyal fans and left everyone to ponder three questions.   Where did their familiar retailer go?  Who were they trying to become?  And where were they going?

Turning a major company away from its past identity and moving it forward with a strategy that brings a sleepy and complacent giant into the new business market reality is difficult, really difficult.  But large brand remodeling and revolutionary, untested marketing strategies most often bring about decline and failure not success.  Michael Roberto, a management professor at Bryant University, put it this way. “Small wins help you build support both internally and externally, and they make it easier for people to buy in.”

Penney’s board no doubt believed that Johnson’s record with former employers, Target and Apple, all but guaranteed that he’d succeed at J.C. Penney.  But this perception probably reflects what psychologists call “the fundamental attribution error”, our tendency to ignore context and attribute an individual’s success or failure solely to inherent qualities.   Ron Johnson has become an example of what Warren Buffet believes, “When a manager with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for poor fundamental economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.” At the onset, Johnson brought an Apple-minded focus on reinventing business innovations whilst losing site of the core fundamentals of the business.  Perhaps the most profound lesson from Ron Johnson’s missteps can be attributed solely to J.C. Penny’s Board for its decision to select Johnson for the leadership role to begin with.

While Penney can’t erase the last 14-months, there is inherent value in the lessons learned.  Vision is not always a recipe for success.  As marketers, we keep our thumb on the pulse of what is trending in all social, local, and mobile.  Our ideas are fueled by advancements in technology.   However, success is a result of systematically assessing the wants, needs, motivations, and expectations of those we serve not those that lead.  Penney needs to get back to the fundamentals of its core business and the customers it serves.

Junction Wins Three Awards in the 11th Annual Horizon Digital Interactive Awards

Atlanta-based Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) was recognized as the recipient of three Horizon Interactive Awards for its work in three different categories: Video, Advertisement, and Brochure.

The Horizon Interactive Awards are an international awards competition acknowledging outstanding achievement among interactive media producers. The 2012 installment drew thousands of entries from top developers, designers, and online advertisers from all over the world, including 20 countries and more than 40 states. This marked the second year Junction had submitted entries representing its work for evaluation in the prestigious annual tradition.   In last year’s competition, Junction was awarded dual honors for integrated online/offline marketing campaigns.

“We are very excited to have won 3 awards in three new categories,” commented Julie Gareleck, CEO & Managing Partner, Junction. “We strive to be a valuable agency partner, providing solutions that encompass all things tra-digi-com (traditional-digital- comprehensive).  It’s an honor to compete against the biggest and brightest agencies in the marketplace and win.  Three for three isn’t bad.”

Judged by a panel composed of industry peers and end users, each entry is measured by its creativity and originality, technical merit, communication effectiveness, and overall design and user experience.

One of the awards was for Guardian Watch™’s Bullying Video which is designed to educate how to prepare and respond to bullying. “Guardian Watch™ is passionate about empowering citizens and offices to take charge of their safety and security to foster a better, safer environment.  We hope that this award increases awareness for the many initiatives Guardian Watch™ is focused on,” commented Gareleck.

For more information about Junction and its award-winning portfolio, visit

Zero-TV: Threat or Passing Fad?

We’re beginning to hear of a new phase in the electronic video universe, “Zero-TV” households.  It may sound familiar, like the new lower calorie sodas or sport drinks which tout less calories, sweeteners and sugar, and while there is a great deal of difference in their meanings, the effect on the television viewing public may hold some similar results;  less traditional television viewing. The term Zero-TV households, refers to those households who no longer watch traditional television offered by cable or satellite providers but who tend to stream video online, via computers, smartphones or tablets.

Nielsen’s Cross-Platform report provides informative data on the changes in the American consumer’s media behaviors. Their latest update to the report features new insights on Zero-TV households and indicate that more than 95% of Americans get their information and entertainment by watching TV in their living rooms through traditional cable or satellite channels.  While just relatively small five percent of viewers fall outside that traditional mold, the group is growing, from two million households in 2007 to five million today.

Some people have had it with TV and the 100-plus channel universe. They have begun to tire of the $100.00 per month bills and have begun to cut the ties with cable and satellite companies and most do not even access free television signals via an antenna, opting to watch shows and movies on the internet or their cellphone connections.  Is the traditional television delivery model facing major changes or is this new trend likely to be just another viewing option, reserved for a fragment of the total consumer audience?

Show creators and networks make money from Zero-TV households through deals with online video providers and from advertising on their own websites and apps, but broadcasters only get paid when they relay such programming in traditional ways.  Unless broadcasters can adapt to modern platforms, their revenue from Zero TV viewers will be zero.  “Getting broadcast programing on all the gizmos and gadgets like tablets, the backseats of a car, and laptops, is hugely important,” says Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).  The Zero TV segment is increasingly important, because the number of people signing up for traditional TV service has slowed to a standstill in the U.S.  Last year, the cable, satellite and telecoms providers added just 46,000 video customers collectively, according to research firm SNL Kagan. That is tiny when compared to the 974,000 new households created the year before.

Zero TVers tend to be younger, single and without children but the industry is monitoring the progress to determine if the targeted demographic will change their viewing ways as they grow older and into the more traditional households with children.  Even the Zero-TV market is fragmenting with a host of new buzz words to describe these non-traditionalist viewers. There are “cordcutters,”  those who stop paying for TV completely, and make do with online video and sometimes an antenna.  There are “cord-shavers,” who reduce the number of channels they subscribe to, or the number of rooms pay TV is in, to save money.  Then there are the “cordnevers,” young people who move out on their own and never set up a landline phone connection or a TV subscription. They usually make do with a broadband Internet connection, a computer, a cellphone and possibly a TV set that is not hooked up the traditional way.

The new market segments may be the equivalent of an infant lion in a room with an elephant, but cable and satellite providers should be aware that an infant carnivore, over-looked and under-estimated, can grow and nibble away at the heels of the larger more dominant mammal and eventually drop the behemoth.  As the wireless, mobile phenomenon continues to blaze across the technology landscape, changing forever the methods the public utilizes to communicate, shop, pay their bills and interact with one another socially, traditional television viewing providers of programming should be careful to modify their marketing strategy and viewing delivery products, lest they fall victim to this new consumer trend.

Could television consumers, long-accustomed to being enslaved by the service policies and arbitrary costs of traditional, deeply entrenched cable and satellite providers, be on the brink of perpetuating payback? We’d love to hear from our readers. Are you a cordcutter, cordshaver, or cordnever?

USA Proud

There is one brand that does not require  an agency – a brand that needs no advertisements.

Junction is proud to be a brand advocate for the USA.  To all of the victims, first responders, public safety officials, government agencies, armed forces, volunteers, families, friends, and others touched by the incidents  that have occurred across this great country, we send our deepest sympathies and support as the healing begins.
USA may be injured but not fallen.
(Photo from USA Today)

Junction Client Saffire Vapor Expands to Second Tennessee Retail Location

Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) client Saffire Vapor, seller and distributor of premium-quality ‘high powered’ electronic cigarettes and accessories, is opening the doors of its second retail location in Franklin, TN, just over a year after launching its business in February of 2012.

Saffire Vapor has grown quickly but sustainably through steady eCommerce sales, successful distribution relationships with third-party vendors, and a brick-and-mortar store in Murfreesboro, TN. The success of the first retail location, spurred by increased consumer demand for Saffire Vapor’s premium product offerings, prompted Founder and CEO Robert Arnold to open a retail location in Franklin, TN.

Arnold’s vision as an entrepreneur and dedication as a business owner have been instrumental in creating a strong brand that has become best-in-breed in this thriving industry. With Saffire Vapor’s expansion, existing customers can continue to expect a superior shopping experience. The company implements management tools and practices which not only make operations more efficient, but also benefit consumers in terms of product availability, pricing, and the superior level of service Saffire Vapor has become known for. New customers, whether looking to reduce smoking habits or seeking alternatives, will welcome Saffire Vapor’s expanded range of high quality products

In addition to supporting the development of his business, Arnold is eager to create new jobs and stimulate the local economy, overcoming the challenges of a still-recovering economic climate. “I am extremely proud to extend the Saffire Vapor brand into the greater community to offer locals the best products and service possible,” says Arnold. “The growth of our company in its first year has been exciting, and our commitment to our customers will continue to serve us we move forward strategically in 2013 and beyond.”

“Saffire Vapor is an emerging brand that has gained affinity with its clients.  Robert (Arnold) has effectively differentiated his brand in a developing and increasingly more competitive industry. The quality of his products coupled with outstanding customer service and knowledgeable staff has positioned Saffire Vapor well. This is not only a brand to contend with but an entrepreneur to watch!” comments Julie Gareleck, CEO, Junction.

Visit Saffire Vapor at  Come in to the retail locations at 425 N. Thompson Lane, Murfreesboro, TN or 9200 Carothers Parkway Suite 102, Franklin, TN.

Is Trimming the Budget Killing Walmart’s Brand?

In an effort to be more competitive in the face of increased competition, mainly from their “dollar store” competitors, Wal-Mart has been minding its costs as U.S. sales growth slows.  U.S. locations declined for nine straight quarters before snapping the streak with a 1.3 percent gain for the quarter ending last October.  It is understandable that keeping a tight focus on costs during poor economic times is a necessary function of doing business today, but how far is too far before one of the most successful brands in history is significantly damaged?

Founder Sam Walton, built a strong foundation for the future success of his company by featuring wide unobstructed aisles, neatly and plentifully stocked shelves and motivated and friendly staff along with the low process.  In 1980 to make his giant low-price stores even more friendly he added greeters to the entrance of the stores.  The world’s largest retailer has recently removed greeters from the overnight shift at its U.S. supercenters, chipping away at a 30-year tradition of making sure all shoppers are welcomed to the store.  Cutting back, even during the early morning hours, shows Wal-Mart is rethinking long held traditions to boost profit margins and guarantee low prices.

The greeter is part of the Wal-Mart experience and, in stores not always known for killer customer service, sometimes the friendliest face a customer might encounter,” wrote Ryan Mathews, founder, CEO of Black Monk Consulting.  ”It never made economic sense to have a greeter, but that wasn’t the point. If Wal-Mart’s economics are so fragile that they are worried about changing such a signature part of their operation, they have much bigger issues.”

The most recent effects of trimming the brand is having wide spread effect and is garnishing customer complaints from all across the country.  More than 1000 complaints were registered recently regarding the lack of adequate stock being on the shelves to meet the consumer demands.  Many were from previously loyal Wal-Mart customers confused by what has happened to service at a company they’d once admired for its low prices and wide assortment.   Many said they were paying more and driving farther to avoid the local Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart’s restocking challenges stem from a thinly spread labor force struggling to keep up with all the work that needs to be done, said Colin McGranahan, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York.  “Stuff gets backed up, and they’re forced to respond as best they can,” said McGranahan, “The result is an increasing amount of customer-encountered out-of-stocks.”

One loyal Wal-Mart customer recently responded to the bare shelves at his local store saying “As much as I need to take advantage of the low prices that Wal-Mart has to offer, the money I would save is spent on gas to drive to other stores to buy the items that the retailer doesn’t have on its shelves, he said. “So it is easier to just shop elsewhere.”

And how is the company responding to the latest criticisms?

Responding to the report in Bloomberg News, Wal-Mart said the customers complaining to Bloomberg aren’t a sufficient sample size and don’t represent shoppers’ impressions of its stores nationwide.  The spokeswoman said, “The premise of this story, which is based on the comments of a handful of people, is inaccurate and not representative of what is happening in our stores across the country.”  Not the kind of response shoppers expect from a major retailer in a highly competitive, economically depressed environment.

Customer service is also driving some customers away.  One frustrated customer tried to get a watch battery changed. “No one could find the batteries and a worker didn’t know how to change it anyway”, he said.  “The lady told me to go to a pawn shop to have it changed.  Michael Young, a 63-year-old accountant in Oklahoma City, goes to Wal-Mart “only when I need things I know I can usually get for less money.” He has to prepare himself for what he knows will be an unpleasant shopping experience.

It is not uncommon for businesses to encounter operational challenges which result in scattered, poor customer relations resulting in some tarnish to the brand, even the world’s largest and most prestigious performers will struggle to consistently maintain quality service and performance levels.  Even if it is an isolated problem or one of localized perception, and the evidence suggests neither is true, perception regardless of whether it has basis in fact, is reality in the eyes of the consumer.

Could Wal-Mart, once the discounter consumers could rely upon for more than just low prices, be so focused on trimming the budget that they damage what many long-standing, loyal customers believe is one of the most endearing brands?

Putting the Yodel Back in Yahoo!

When Marissa Mayer was selected to become the third new CEO at Yahoo in just three years, there was plenty of evidence that she was facing a daunting task to stop the rapid decent of one of America’s most famous companies.  A former engineer with Google, Mayer’s brought well established Silicon Valley credentials with her to Yahoo.  At age 37, she hopes to stem the losses to Google and Facebook Inc., which her high-profile predecessors failed to do.  Her hiring signaled that the Internet Company was likely to renew its focus on Web technology and products rather than beefing up online content.  Her appointment capped a tumultuous year at Yahoo when former CEO Scott Thompson resigned as CEO after less than 6 months on the job as a controversy flared up over his academic credentials.

Anyone who has been in the position of turning around a failing company will readily admit that the weapons of public criticism, pent-up institutional frustration and anger quickly become squarely focused on virtually every decision you make.  And no matter how deep the chasm, progress out of the depths of failure cannot come fast enough to critics and detractors, most of whom could not artfully orchestrate their own turnaround in the driveway.

Most recently, Mayer has been charged with failing to make significant progress in hiring much needed human resource talent that is necessary to bring about institutional changes and discipline to Yahoo.  Some say that her insistence on interviewing every new recruit and instituting high standards and practices in hiring are hampering the effort to fill Yahoo’s 900 vacancies, nearly 8 percent of its 11,500 member workforce.  To make Yahoo a more attractive place to work, Mayer has borrowed from the Google playbook and provides employees with free food and the latest smartphones.

But the recent decision to eliminate the practice of employees working from home for Yahoo employees has spawned the most attention from the media outlets, social engineering pun dents and even other chief executives.  “From the time she got there, she was kind of shocked by the Culture, by the fact that so many people were working from home that you couldn’t even have a Friday staff meeting,” said a person familiar with Mayer’s thinking.   In announcing the decision Mayer commented, “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” the memo said. “That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.”  Observers say that the new CEO has more than a dozen ideas to make the organization more efficient and orderly, some of which will be controversial and unpopular.

In this case, Mayer consulted logs from Yahoo!’s Virtual Private Network (VPN), which employees use to remotely access the company’s network.   Since workers weren’t logging in from home often enough…. they will soon do so from the office.

Working from home has its advantages and disadvantages, and under certain circumstances, it might be necessary for organizations to reel in their remote workers.  They may be concerned about communications, team cohesion or personal accountability, or they may need all hands on deck to meet strategic goals in a turnaround situation.

Many business leaders feel organizations should not offer telecommuting as an option simply because it is part of the employee engagement model that has come into fashion in the past 10 or 15 years. Yahoo and other Silicon Valley companies virtually invented this employee engagement model, one that emphasizes employee perks like workday flexibility to attract top talent and encourage creativity. In many cases, it works. However engagement without personal accountability is a recipe for disaster.

The challenge is striking the right balance to make telecommuting work for an organization and its employees.  Working from home may be convenient for some but it represents a huge opportunity cost to a company that’s trying to turn things around.  The effort is about Mayer getting to problems created by Yahoo’s huge, bloated infrastructure and a company that got fat and lazy over the past 15 years. The most immediate step in any rescue attempt is to stop the bleeding. Only after the patient is stabilized can you get to work in repairing the damage.

The first visual change to Yahoo involves a refreshed home page.  Features include bigger photos, a newsfeed with increased personalization and more prominent weather and financial apps along the right rail.  Yahoo’s mobile websites also were modernized.  So what was Ms. Mayer’s role in the process? First, “she challenged the team to expand the breadth of content that we were recommending,” said Yahoo VP Mike Kerns.  “She didn’t want more links, but more diversity of stories both from Yahoo properties and from external media properties that have partnerships with Yahoo.”

The ball is at least moving forward now. While the home page and mobile redesigns won’t “save” Yahoo, it is likely give it some necessary breathing room while it bets big elsewhere.  Mayer has said her top priority is to create a coherent mobile strategy for Yahoo and that she intends for at least half of the company’s technical workforce to be working on mobile products.  Towards meeting this goal, the company acquired mobile app developers, Stamped and OnTheAir, during the quarter, but turning development talent into revenue is the challenge the new CEO must address.

It is largely agreed that six months into her tenure, Marissa Mayer has arrested the decline of the Internet portal and has won favor on Wall Street with stock buybacks, but a longer-term turnaround remains uncertain.  Her promise of a modest revenue uptick in the coming year paled in comparison with the growth of its Internet peers. And Yahoo shares, which have gained roughly 30 percent since Mayer took the reins last July, fell nearly 3 percent to $19.77.  Q4 2012 was Yahoo’s second full quarter with Marissa Mayer at the helm as CEO.  The results Yahoo reported thus far should be some encouragement that things are indeed on the right track.

In a press release accompanying the earnings figures, Mayer had the following to say about Yahoo’s performance:  “I’m proud of Yahoo!’s 2012 and fourth quarter results. In 2012, Yahoo! exhibited revenue growth for the first time in 4 years, with revenue up 2 percent year-over-year. During the quarter we made progress by growing our executive team, signing key partnerships including those with NBC Sports and CBS Television, and launching terrific mobile experiences for Yahoo! Mail and Flickr. At the same time, we achieved tremendous internal transformation in the culture, energy and execution of the Company.”

When a new CEO comes to the rescue, they usually have one or two quarters before they have to start showing something positive, and time is clearly one factor that must be on Marissa Myer’s mind as the CEO of an injured giant.  With each day will come new challenges, opportunities and expectations of greater success, and who doesn’t like a good turn around story?

Everyone, Everywhere is Mad About Mobile

As more and more people discover the convenience of mobile technology, it is critical that marketers form a clear digital strategy to take advantage of the explosion in mobile applications.  With mobile subscriptions set to surpass the world population by the end of this year, the opportunity to reach out to potential customers through some mobile devise is virtually unlimited, and with adults spending more media time on mobile than on newspapers and magazines combined, it is vital that businesses make mobile a more significant portion of their marketing spend.

Mobile’s potential is huge according to The Mobile Marketing Association.  In its “2012: The Year of the Mobile Imperative” study estimated that there are currently more than 5.3 billion mobile devices in use in the world.

The global mobile ad market is expected to grow from $3.4 billion in 2010 to $22.0 billion in 2016, with the top marketing objective being to increase customer engagement.  Online social media, while the smallest sector of mobile and social media, has been growing at a very strong 42.1% year over year. Within the online social media category, social networking is the largest and fastest-growing segment by far.

Whether marking through smart phones or tablets, utilizing mobile web or mobile aps, social media, QR Codes or location-based proximity, marketers and consumers are obviously mad about mobile.  Not sure if you agree?  Look about, no matter where you are, observe those around you and watch as they interface with the world through their electronic devices.  Researching a prospective purchase, buying an event ticket, planning travel, reserving a night’s accommodations, securing dinner reservations or paying a bill, everyone everywhere is mad about mobile.

Even in the normally fast paced world of electronics and communication technology, the growth in business utilization and consumer acceptance of marketing by mobile technology is comparative to Star Trek’s Enterprise at warp speed, and given the results of resent studies and predictions, it is not about to abate anytime soon.

The biggest challenge for marketers is to keep up with the explosion of various digital channels and how they interact with consumers, particularly mobile.  In order to thrive amidst all the madness, businesses will need to understand what is unique about how a consumer uses their mobile devise; identify when mobile is most likely to  lead a consumer to make a purchase; and create a user experience that encourages continued mobile engagement.

Effectively, targeted strategy formulated and implemented, insanity conquered.