Email Marketing

Email Marketing: Analyzing J.C. Penney’s New Approach

J.C. Penney has received a lot of press for the many changes made by its new CEO, Ron Johnson, who came from Apple. As a J.C. Penney email subscriber, I have noticed its email program has become more engaging. The subject lines are more compelling. The emails contain unique and interesting offers.

One of those recent J.C. Penney emails is the subject of this article.

Subject Line

This particular subject line really stuck out in my inbox: “Letter and Gift From Our CEO.” It grabbed my attention for a few reasons. First, a letter and a gift sound intriguing. I was curious as to what the letter would contain, and what this gift really was. In addition, having the email from the CEO was also intriguing. The “From:” line on this email said, “J.C. Penney.” The subject line said it was from the CEO. If I had received the email from Ron Johnson, I would likely not have opened it because I didn’t know who Ron Johnson is, and would have no idea the message was in fact from J.C. Penney.

For your email program, keep your “From:” line consistent — using the brand or name of your site.

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This recent J.C. Penney email is from its new CEO, and includes a compelling $10 discount.

This recent J.C. Penney email is from its new CEO, and includes a compelling $10 discount.

Email Content

The email design was simple — mostly a text letter with the J.C. Penney logo and offer coupon at the bottom. The content was very interesting. Ron Johnson signed the letter. He addressed all of the changes at the company. He also explained J.C. Penney’s vision and mission for the future with a basic statement, “We want to help you look and live better every day while bringing back the fun of shopping”

Consumers don’t usually care about a company’s mission or vision statement. They care about service, price, convenience, and quality. The email letter is an effective way to communicate to everyday consumers how a mission or value statement will affect them. By understanding the basic principles behind major changes, consumers should feel more invested and attached to the brand.


Mr. Johnson includes a terrific offer of $10 off any purchase of $10 or more. It’s a free $10 gift card, in other words. These types of offers perform extremely well and are typically redeemed at a much higher rate than a straight percentage off, or dollar off with a higher minimum purchase.

The goal of this particular offer is apparently to drive people back into the physical stores. This applies to me, as I haven’t been in a J.C. Penney store in months, if not years, and do most of my shopping online. The $10 gift card offer is just enough to make it worth my time to visit the store and apply the offer to my next purchase.

What doesn’t work, however, is that the offer and letter ignores the online shopper. The email focuses on the changes in the physical stores; the offer is for physical store purchases only. But the message is delivered via email, after all. Recipients likely want an offer or call to action they can act upon online. This letter may have been better as a postcard or direct USPS mail piece if the objective is to drive people into the physical stores.


One excellent feature of this email is the call to action soliciting feedback from the recipients. At the end of the letter, there is a blue box stating “I’d like to hear from you,” with a link to a form to enter feedback that presumably goes directly to Mr. Johnson. This tactic is very compelling.

When receiving a personal message email from someone in a company, the recipient should be able to reply directly back to the person sending it. The feedback that you receive from email subscribers is extremely valuable. It should be read and addressed as needed. Make sure your email reply handling is set up so that you are receiving the replies. Consider adding a link similar to this at the bottom of every email. Seldom do marketing emails have a method to reply. Using a “noreply’ address — or sending an auto-generated email — states that no one is reading the replies. It is a sure way to discourage your customers from communicating to you. As email subscribers, they should be able to reach you as easily as you can reach them.


This particular email from J.C. Penney grabbed my attention. The CEO addressed the recipients directly. They likely feel a connection with the company, which increases brand loyalty, and sales. Although the offer is terrific, the fact that it is in-store only will deter online shoppers. J.C. Penney should have included some of the improvements for its online shoppers and a special offer for them, too.

Carolyn Nye
Carolyn Nye
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