Ron Johnson the celebrated former Target, Apple, and now J.C. Penney executive clearly understood the above un-attributed law of change and went all in anyway.
So why didn’t Mr. Johnson’s strategy of getting rid of the hundreds of coupon and discount offers with everyday low price (EDLP) work, as well as, dramatic and fundamental changes to merchandise?
Some point to hubris, others to deep-rooted conviction born out of incredible experience. Here’s my two pennies: I say the issue was not about changing the discount culture of a store, but the broader reality of brand culture and habitual behavior/expectation that Johnson may have underestimated.
Changing people’s belief about a brand or changing its transactional soul is danger on steroids. People are creatures of habit. Consumers even more so regarding the ritualistic behavior of imagining they’re winning with a coupon or discount. People like winning at retail and EDLP takes the game away; while, framing a new “believe me/trust me” mindset- without the dopamine. Plus, for over 100 years J.C. Penney has meant something to its loyalists (dwindling as they may be) and that something was the feeling of special- discounts, days, savings.
Target let alone Apple never had that historical baggage to negotiate. From day one Apple wrote its own way of defining its unique user experience. Target with designers like Mr. Graves and Mr. Stark evolved and enhanced the product portfolio without alienating the consumer or their expectation.
Both defined their respective channels through innovation. From a brand POV innovation doesn’t have the negative reverb like change does. The obvious proof point is Coke changing formulation into New Coke- the #1 “don’t mess with my brand” case study in history. Coincidentally or ironically one of Mr. Johnson’s advisors, Sergio Zyman was the senior marketing exec. at Coke at the time of the re-launch. So clearly, Mr. Johnson had first hand and learned experience with this kind of fire.
In the coming days much will be written about Ron Johnson’s tenure- was he given enough time, was he fighting an impossible product, merchant culture battle, did his senior staff leave because they sensed what was happening or not?
Regardless of what gets said or not, this much we know “if change was easy, everyone one would do it!”