Last year, Microsoft introduced their newest version of Windows, Windows 8. Along with the new version came a new look. Gone was the “Start” button that was so familiar to millions of users. In was a new tiled window which attempts to make your personal computer more “tablet-like.” In an effort to bring Microsoft’s flagship operating system up to date, Microsoft re-imagined what an operating system should look like.
Not too long before, another corporation was making their own efforts to bring their business up to date. In an effort to overhaul their business, JC Penney undertook a new “Square Deal” policy. No longer would they offer inflated retail prices that would be reduced for “Sales” events. They would now offer all of their items at an everyday square deal. A fair price each and every day. Sounds good on the surface right? After all, doesn’t it work for other retailers. Interestingly, the man who undertook this mission at the clothing retailer was a former Apple executive, who tried to bring the Apple methodology of pricing to the garment world.
Even though these two separate examples from American corporations are completely different, they both achieved the same result. They both failed miserably. According to the Washington Post, personal computer sales have decreased almost 14% in the first quarter of this year. Much of the blame lies with Windows 8. And after JC Penney fired their new CEO, only to replace him with his predecessor, their stock prices are the lowest that they have been in over three years. The new pricing structure has cost the company almost 25% of its sales over the past year.
What do these two examples have in common, other than their huge failure? In both cases, the company in question decided what they thought was best for their customers and business without any regards to the things that had made them successful through the years.
Microsoft decided that they needed to update their user interface. However, they made such a radical change, that the millions of users that they currently have running their software has balked at upgrading because they simply don’t like the new interface. Gone are all of the things that the current users found familiar with the product. They were looking for an upgrade, not a redesign. Microsoft simply forgot about their current users. Now I know that millions still use Microsoft Windows products but they are not upgrading. People are holding on to their current hardware longer, refusing to upgrade because they want to avoid the new Windows 8. Business users in particular are shunning Windows 8 like it is the plague.
In the case of JC Penney, the company soon learned that what works for Apple would not work for the clothing retailer. What this company failed to see is that American’s love a bargain. Even if it is only a perceived bargain, shoppers are drawn to sales events, not every day low price events. Shoppers that had once flocked to the retailer for their advertised specials now went to the other end of the mall where they could buy the same garment “on sale.” The prices were not always cheaper at the other stores but when it comes to consumers; perception equals reality. Those spending their hard-earned cash are much more likely to let go of the dough when a bargain is perceived. An every day low price just doesn’t cut it.
Single pricing structures work well for Apple because they have a unique product that the consumer wants. You can not buy the same product elsewhere. (Sure there are Apple approved retailers but they too are restricted by Apple’s pricing policies.) This simply isn’t the case for clothing sold in JC Penney stores, they are not unique, so the one price model does not work.
Both of these companies forgot something very important; they forgot the very thing that caused their success. In the case of Microsoft, they forgot about their biggest strength, their user base. They made such a drastic change to the familiar interface that people have rejected them. Computer users, even though they want the latest in technology, also seek something that is familiar to them. They want to be able to go straight to work without having any sort of learning curve. This is one of the things that has kept the Microsoft operating system so successful over the past 10 years. Users were afraid to venture into the Mac arena because it was unfamiliar to them. Businesses have stayed with Microsoft because they wanted to avoid loosing productivity while their employees learned a new operating system. Now that Windows 8 has been released, users are faced with a different decision; stay with the things as they are and refuse to upgrade or make the jump to the new operating system and go through the learning curve. Most have decided to just not upgrade.
In much the same way JC Penney forgot what their customers were looking for. They neglected to realize that shoppers are looking for bargains. They rejected the idea that their sales events was what led to their earlier success. Suffering the same result as Microsoft, JC Penney saw customers refusing to participate in the new strategy and it almost sent the company into bankruptcy.
So what does all of this have to do with the church? Today it is just as important as ever that churches stay true to their message. The purpose of the church is to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of this world. Sure we can present the message in many different ways, but we have to present the message. The Gospel is the foundation of the church. The Gospel has sustained the church for the last 2000 years. It is this same Gospel that will nourish the church until the end times; but only if the church stays true to the Gospel.
When we start to change the message to match what we think it ought to be, the church runs the risk of suffering from the same mistakes as Microsoft and JC Penney. The method that we use to deliver the message can and should change to keep up with the society that we live in. However, the message itself can not change. A watered down version of the Gospel is not the same Gospel that was brought by Jesus and taught by Paul, Peter, John, and the other others. An abbreviated version of the Gospel is not the same message that has been preached for centuries.
Only by preaching the full Gospel of Jesus Christ will the church continue to grow and flourish. By staying true to this message, the church will continue to be blessed. By avoiding the mistakes of Microsoft and JC Penney, the church will be alive and well when Jesus returns to claim His bride.
What other companies have failed to stay true to what made them successful?