JCPenney: Conversation-led marketing — Live from the Brands-Only Summit

Coverage of this session by Bridgette Cude of Connect with her by following her on Twitter.

2:10 —'s Erin McDaniel introduces JCPenney's Sean Ryan.

2:11 — Today we're going to talk about conversation-led marketing. Previous to my work in social I was in TV news. You'll see some of that influence in our approach to this.

2:12 — At JCPenney we don't look at social as a marketing thing — we see it as a business thing. My team is working with all of these different groups to do social. For example, they worked with the loss prevention team to catch a disgruntled employee giving away $7,000 worth of stuff for free on her last day.

2:13 — It's not real-time. It's planned. You have to know your brand, how it's perceived, your audience, what platform they're on, and how they're talking about you on it.

2:14 — We want to evaluate these three things:
1. Relevance
2. Timing
3. Tone

2:15 — Sean referenced a blunder when a tea pot on a JCP billboard looked like Hitler. Reddit picked it up, and it became a media crisis. But instead of sending out a press release about this, we decided to respond to this in social. They handled it with a touch of lightheartedness. The response was used when the Today Show covered it.

2:16 — We literally responded to maybe 20 influencers, but the coverage from one reply tweet made this a much better story than it could have been.

2:17 — I'm never going to advocate trying to fool you followers and fans. But we kind of did it. Let me explain.

2:18 — Our customers were not happy when we did away with St. John's Bay. Two days before we announced that we were bringing it back. We put out a poll asking what brand people would like us to bring back. Then we said “Look we're listening, we brought SJB back.”

2:19 — Everyone in retail knows this is not quite that fast of a turnaround, but we were still listening for a long time.

2:20 — Sean also shares a real-time marketing opportunity with lululemon's yoga pants blunder and K-Mart's jingle bells boxer commercials. They also had a real-time, sassy Twitter conversation with K-Mart that was picked up by other publications.

2:21 — Another real-time example: When the Olympic ring did not light up in Russia, Sean took the opportunity to tweet about their ring sale.

2:22 — As far as the Olympics go, they had an opportunity to join in a little late. The problem: They were not a “ring holder” so they could not say “Olympics” or use the Olympics logo in any of their marketing. They had to get creative withtheir sponsorship of Ted Ligety. So they led a campaign for #GoLigety to share a “No Digity” parody. It ended up airing on the Today Show.

2:23 — Sean admits that the #TweetingwithMittens campaign was a little polarizing. He says they didn't want to sit in front of the TV during the Olympics looking for a “lights out” moment. Their jumbled tweets for #TweetingWithMittens started a Twitter conversation about JCP being bored.

2:26 — We knew those questions were going to come. But they thought that after the second tweet, people would realize it was planned. Then, they started to see the conversation go in a more inappropriate direction. They were not trying to change the brand direction into a drunk tweeting voice.

2:27 — So they let people in on the “Tweeting with Mittens” idea.

2:28 — Even though they had their legal teams on board from the beginning, the executive board was wary. Then, they became the second-most talked about brand at the Super Bowl, they were the fifth most mentioned user, 50,000 RTs, 8,500 new Twitter followers. That's $6 million in earned media.

2:29 — They also earned a 105% sales increase after the Super Bowl. So this is my success story for taking risks and being bold.

Q & A

Q: How did you handle bringing the customer back with JCP's “sales” and “no-sales” period?

A: Sean: During the interim time, we just responded by saying we were sorry and we'd pass along our customers' thoughts. We also did a “We're listening” campaign. The #JCP listens campaign was inundated. We decided we wanted to make this organic and authentic.

Q: How do you caution your employees on taking risks?

A: Sean: After Tweeting with Mittens happened, our CMO was asked by a lot of people if she had fired me. So we decided we didn't need to do much more with taking risks. There have been some ideas we pitched that may have been less risky that we decided against because we have to remember who we are as a brand and how to pick those events. You have to think about the long game. We know how far we can go, but we don't want to go there all the time.

Q: How do you train and teach for tone? How do you keep them on it in real time?

A: Sean: I've put together four different social strategies for JCP. So I've run multiple training programs. You have to take risks driven by what your brand platforms are. It takes time, but you can train your muscles with tone. It's not a quick 1-2-3 step to get there.

Q: Why did you guys choose to combat the tea pot incident with humor, and did you get any push back on that?

A: Sean: We took it seriously in that we added that this was completely unintentional. You have 140 characters so you have to be delicate. At the same time, people were comparing a tea kettle to Hitler, you want to laugh it off, but you have to have some level of seriousness. We were able to diffuse it a little bit with some lightheartedness.

Q: Concerning hot button social issues: When Ellen Degeneres was your spokesperson and “Million Moms” were calling to boycott you, how do you take a position without alienating you customers?

A: Sean: Someone's going to come to you every day with a problem with being offended. You have to know when to respond. You want to respond to that initially, but if that's not enough, you may get to a point where a response is not necessary, as with the “Million Moms.”