Jos. A. Bank is running a big sale this weekend. Wait a minute, it seems that it runs a big sale every weekend. Buy one, get two free. 50% off all merchandise. There are endless permutations of the deal, but they all center on putting the store pretty much in permanent fire sale status.

I think any self-respecting brand expert would say that this is a dumb way to run a business, let alone build a reputation. The serial sale messaging blows up any claim to value beyond the immediate discount, doesn't it?

Yet the company reports that its latest quarter sales grew 10%, earnings increased 40%, and the stock price is approaching highs it hasn't seen since 2004.

We should all be so stupid.

I'm not aware that Jos. A. Bank has ever spent much time or money building its brand; to me, the store was always a Brooks Brothers knock-off, perhaps even diluting the preppy establishment thing to something pretty generic. It was the alternative store, defined by its upscale competitors, long before Men's Wearhouse, Target, or Kohl's figured out that shoppers would want to find "the look" without "the price."

It spent its time perfecting the art of getting people into its stores, and onto its web site. And getting money out of their wallets.

The business of doing this business isn't sexy, and there's little room for the moody, aspirational advertising that consumes the budgets of most other apparel retailers. There's no humor or other associative benefit attached to the brand, and I don't think the company would know a social media campaign if it fell on its CEO's head. The products are absolutely and unequivocally boring corporate interpretations, insights, or newness of design. You can't even find a flat-fronted pair of suit pants.

Which means Jos. A. Bank knows exactly what its selling, and who is doing the buying.

I've long maintained that sales and profits should be the only real measure of brand equity, not something that marketers note with an acknowledging shrug as they wax poetic about all the ephemeral things that matter before, instead of, and apart from that reality. The immediacy of sales as proof of a thriving brand is no more evident than in retailing; what's a brand worth if it's not selling stuff to customers this week, or next?

I couldn't tell you what Jos. A. Bank stands for, and I don't care. It's the brand that successfully sells generic classicISH clothing while every other business in its category is worried it can't make payroll doing the retail thing so much, er, better.  

Maybe the idea of a permanent sale isn’t so dumb after all?

The Bulb Asks:

  • Is there a gap between what your customers think about your brand, and the activators of their purchase intent?  
  • How much of your outbound communications is focused on prompting actions vs. educating or informing?
  • Is the "permanent sale" unsustainable, or could Jos. A. Bank do it indefinitely?

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