June 30, 2010, 2:09 PM

J.C. Penney plans more social and mobile marketing

The retail chain will rely more on mobile apps and on a tactic known as “hauling” to reach tech-savvy women shoppers age 25 to 34. 

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J.C. Penney Co. Inc. is shaking up its marketing and advertising program and will use a stronger mix of social media to help generate $1 billion in additional web sales by 2014.

J.C. Penney’s most coveted online customers are technology-savvy younger women. And to reach them J.C. Penney has concluded it needs to rely less on traditional marketing and advertising and more on emerging social media. “Marketing more and more is a conversation, and the days of the brands talking at people are numbered,” J.C. Penney chief marketing officer Mike Boylson said last week during a presentation at the Goldman Sachs Dot Commerce conference in New York. “The evolution of our brand lies with reaching tech-savvy women ages 25-34.”

J.C. Penney, No. 16 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, still uses plenty of e-mail marketing and paid and natural search to reach out to customers. “The search browser remains the killer app because that’s the customer deciding how they want to search and shop,” he said. But J.C. Penney will now augment its Internet marketing with much more social media. “It’s all about the customer and what they think is relevant,” Boylson said. “Relevance is the table stakes and you want people talking to other people about your brand and becoming your evangelist.”

Though he didn’t provide substantial detail, some elements of J.C. Penney’s more social marketing push will be part of back-to-school promotions, Boylson said. J.C. Penney will rely more on mobile apps to build very specific marketing and coupon campaigns for iPhone users and other back-to-school shoppers.

Last year J.C. Penney rolled out a series of free apps that enable mobile shoppers to browse a select group of sale items featured in the latest weekend sales circular; create a portable shopping list by saving items as Favorites; check for the latest special offers; and find the nearest store to either their current location identified via satellite or to a ZIP code or city name. “Apps-based marketing is very much like cable TV advertising in that you can target specific audiences,” Boylson said. “This is a very rich customer experience and we will target new apps for back-to-school.”

 In addition to more mobile marketing, J.C. Penney will use a new social media concept known as “hauling” to reach more back-to-school shoppers, especially fashion- conscious teenagers. Unlike bloggers who write about their shopping experiences and then post their prose online, “haulers” tape their shopping excursions and then upload the video and audio commentary to YouTube. For back-to-school, shopping J.C. Penney has chosen a series of “haulers” ages 14 to 18 who will shop online and in stores and post their shopping episodes on YouTube. “We’ve chosen haulers we think are also key influencers,” Boylson said.

With more social media and a new e-commerce infrastructure, JCP.com is entering a new era for online and conventional retailing, he told attendees. “JCP.com is our flagship customer experience and our largest store,” Boylston said. “It’s the growth engine.”

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