Dear Banana Republic, it’s not me, it’s you

Bensimon Byrne's Max Valiquette ends his long-term relationship with the clothier for losing sight of itself.

By Max Valiquette

So, Banana Republic: I’m afraid that we’re breaking up. I know, I know, Valentine’s Day is pretty terrible timing, but it just had to be done. We’re over.

Listen, there was a time when you were one of my go-to brands. Your clothes fit me well – something that I think is really important when shopping at a mass-market clothing brand. And your style is pretty great. I could buy not-too-expensive suits and basics too – but mostly, you offered modern, decent work clothing for a guy in advertising. Sweaters and shirts in contemporary cuts and styles, which are pretty much the uniform for industry guys like me.

But best of all, you felt (to use a word that we probably made up) aspirational. Even though I wasn’t breaking the bank when I bought your clothes, I felt like I was buying something substantive. Style notwithstanding, your brand felt pretty decent, and that made a difference to me. I was spending more than I would at your sister company, the Gap, but I was also getting better garments and a brand that felt more like me.

So I signed up for your e-mail offers. Things were looking good for us. I knew all my sizes so I could shop on-line with great confidence. So you became more available to me, showing up in my inbox. I thought this meant that we were going places.

Then the unthinkable happened: I started to get emails from you almost every single day. It wasn’t just the frequency – although that did start to feel quite desperate – but it was the content. Everything was about a sale. At least three days a week, you sent me something. All sweaters 40% off there, 25% off here – take an extra something-something off of already-discounted items every once in a while. But every message had something in common: your brand is on sale.

Always on sale.

Look, this may be a textbook example of what great retail marketing is supposed to look like. You found an interested customer and got him to willingly connect to your brand.

I know that. But the shopper marketing part of your business is the enemy of your overall brand equity, and that’s what drew me to you in the first place.

You’re not aspirational any more: you’re throwing yourself at me. And here’s the thing: somehow, over the past year or so, the way I see you has mirrored the way you see yourself. You’re a discount brand. So you’re no longer something I want in my closet – you’re something I’ll take if the deal is good enough.

And therein lies the lesson for all brands that treat their shopper marketing as something different from their brand work. The quick discount may move product, but the relentlessness of that discounting in an on-line space can remove any aspirational qualities of the brand that your customer loved in the first place.

Being about value and being consistently discounted aren’t the same thing: in fact, somehow, constant discounting can remove the true value that lies within your brand.

So if you have excess product to move, I recommend letting another brand that is all about discounting do it for you. Work with Gilt Group or MyHabit, on-line, for instance – great brands get rid of their excess product through these discount resellers and don’t lose their luster.

Or work with a company like Style Democracy that does warehouse sales and pop-ups that allow you to move huge amounts of product at a low price without compromising your own equity.

More than anything, remember that retail marketing and brand messages are part of an increasingly connected ecosystem.

For you and me, BR, though, it’s just too late. I no longer look forward to seeing what you have for me. I like how inexpensive you are, of course, but I just don’t feel the same way about you any more. The magic is gone.  And it’s not me: it’s you.

Max Valiquette is the managing director of strategy at Bensimon Byrne.