J.C. Penney Co. rolled out its new logo last week. The public debut of the logo took place during the Academy Awards on Sunday, kicking off the spring marketing campaign.
The iconic red box remains but is modified with a lowercase "jcp" inside in white lettering. The font is Helvetica, as was the ill-fated Gap logo.
After quietly unveiling a new logo in October 2010, the Gap received a customer backlash via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, resulting in the reinstatement of the original logo.
One Facebook fan, using the screen name Rebekah Del Collo, responded by posting, "I hate it. It looks cheap."
Another fan was equally dissatisfied with the new logo posting that she would shop somewhere else because she never wanted the "horrible" design touching her skin.
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Mike Wittenstein, a customer experience consultant specializing in branding and customer service, thinks that if companies would communicate the reasons why they're changing a logo to the customers beforehand, they might receive positive feedback, especially if the change is accompanied by consumer benefits like new product offerings.
"In many cases, brands spring new logos on customers as a surprise rather than a reflection or a benefit," said Wittenstein. "What's in it for the customer? If you want to change the way your logo looks, you should be making changes to your brand as well."
"J.C. Penney has a lot of new things going on. It's creating new communications channels, providing different merchandise offerings, launching store-in-store concepts, offering a Facebook shopping site and has positioned itself as a fashion leader with affordable price points," said Wittenstein.
When long-established companies, like Gap or J.C. Penney, change their visual branding, customers can become confused if no valid reason for the change is provided.
"I have recognition of a company's logo, and when it changes I find it more frustrating than anything else," said Doug Johnson, president of G.R. Johnson and Son Consulting. "Unless there is something really wrong with your logo, why change it? I tend to believe that something that is long-established sends a message of success, and a company that has been in business for a long time will be there in the future."
Similarly, some consumers become frustrated when the visual branding changes because they find the company they have grown accustomed to is no longer easily identifiable.
"As a customer, I'm typically aware of changes made by my preferred products or store logo changes," said Ebony T. Grimsley, owner of Above Promotions Company. "As with Gap, no notice tends to upset us consumers. We need warnings so we know how to easily identify things or places that have become staples in our lives."
Visual branding changes and buying behavior
Lars Perner, assistant professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, teaches a course on consumer behavior and the psychology of marketing and believes drastic visual branding changes can cause consumers discomfort.
"People get accustomed to brand identity and, in some cases, develop an emotional connection to a particular logo. It makes more sense to make gradual, subtle changes over time to reflect modern tastes," said Perner.
AnnaMaria Turano, executive director of Marketing Consulting Associates, thinks customers will get onboard with a new company logo as long as it reflects the company's evolving store environment, merchandise and customer service.
While customers seem to find unexpected visual branding changes unnerving, it doesn't necessarily change their buying behaviors, unless the changes evoke a feeling of uneasiness about the company's stability and organization.
"It actually could keep customers from shopping in a particular store because there are so many other choices out there. If they see brand confusion taking place, like with the Gap, they might think the organization doesn't have its act together," said Turano.
Adam Fox, managing partner with Intelliga Communications, says he would continue shopping with a retailer if his needs in terms of products and services were still being met.
"If their product or service was poor, that would be an actual issue of the brand, not merely of the brand identifier," said Fox.