I was reading this article about the headwinds JC Penney has been facing and it got me thinking about Apple. Apple has achieved mythic status – elevated to deity-worship in our hero-obsessed culture. It is no longer just Apple… it is APPLE! And like every good hero, APPLE inspires people to follow in its footsteps. And, in this case, that means there are no shortage of brands who want to “be APPLE.” They want to be leaders and trendsetters and rebels and innovators and hip and cool and thought-provoking and admired and… Pretty much all the good stuff that makes APPLE… And, for people like Ron Johnson who were there during the making of the APPLE legend, they are eager to trade upon the myth.
And that is the problem with Apple. Everyone wants to be like APPLE (perhaps even Apple, itself). But there is no recipe for achieving iconic brand status. Too many brands behave like there’s some simple alchemical formula they can follow to turn their lead brands into golden icons: Just add equal parts glass, wood, white and geeks in t-shirts and ta! Da! You’ve got an Apple Store! Which, of course, could not be further from reality. That certainly was the case with JC Penney which is most definitely in trouble. Look, I don’t know whether Ron Johnson is a great leader or not. He may be one. And given enough time, he may actually be able to turn the department store around. But that's not the point.
The point is that hiring him for a little bit of that APPLE magic - like pixie dust - was a fool's errand. There is no magic formula for brands - if there were, there would be more of them. Building an iconic brand, or saving one in the case of JC Penney, takes vision. It takes time - sometimes a lot of it. And it most definitely takes luck. And anyone who tells you that they know the magic formula that somehow eliminates the need for all of those things... and can, for a fee, reveal those secrets to you… you may as well ask them to give you a map to the fountain of youth while they’re at it.
Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line and let me know.