Inside This Issue - Opinion
For marketers at Target, Francis set the bar high
October 17th, 2011
The sudden departure of Michael Francis from Target Corp. brings into sharp focus his pivotal contributions to the development of one of the iconic retail brands and highlights just how much the discounter has at stake in finding a way to perpetuate the marketing prowess that has become a central component of its business model.
The 48-year-old Francis, who became president of J.C. Penney Co. early this month, just a day after his resignation from Target was announced, fostered the development of the discount store operator’s enviable reputation for “cheap chic.” Frequently capitalizing on Target’s use of notable designers in apparel, housewares and other categories, the marketing programs he oversaw utilized sophisticated advertising and other tools to appeal to consumers who usually fall outside the bounds of the trade class’ customer base. Always in sync with broader cultural trends and willing to embrace new ideas, Francis and his colleagues adopted such tactics as pop-up stores to highlight innovative aspects of Target’s merchandise mix, sponsorship of shows by well-known entertainers and the inclusion of local landmarks in regional marketing efforts.
Francis’ unmatched ability to generate shopper interest was on display again in September when the discounter’s limited-edition Missoni line of clothing and home goods was snapped up in short order. Prior to the introduction of the collection by the Italian luxury design house, Target’s marketing team featured the merchandise at a pop-up store during Fashion Week in New York City. Stock was depleted in less than a day, a pattern that was repeated when the line went on sale at Target stores across the country and on the retailer’s website.
The knack Francis consistently exhibited over the course of a decade as head of marketing at Target is a good fit for Penney, a major player in a department store sector that is battling to stay relevant. Francis will soon be joined by Ron Johnson, the Apple executive responsible for the technology maker’s eponymous stores, who was previously hired as Penney’s CEO. Together they should make a potent team.
Francis’ exit leaves a significant void at Target. He was not only the retailer’s marketing guru but the executive in charge of its push into Canada. Whoever CEO Gregg Steinhafel decides should succeed Francis in those roles will have some very big shoes to fill.