If you're like most companies, you've been planning your holiday promotions for months. You've hired an agency or consultancy. You've decided what products and services you're going to promote. You've built a whole campaign around the season. 

Earlier in my career, I had the privilege of working with Fortune 500 brands during the holidays in a field called "shopper marketing." We were responsible for building those holiday campaigns you see in stores. 'Campaigns' is a generous term for what we did. What we were really doing was discounting. 

Both the brands and the retailers pretended to be interested in the campaign element, but everyone knew that the strategy was to allure customers by offering a discount. 

Years later, those same retailers and brands running the same exact promotions, no doubt having spent a fortune on the "creative" collateral for them touting slogans like "Holiday Baking The Whole Family Can Enjoy!" or "Tastes Like The Holidays." Or if they're lucky, a good pun like, "Deck the Halls with Jolly - Ranchers!"

Customers have been conditioned to expect these discounts and plan their holiday shopping around them. Which, presumably, is the point. Discounting your product and attracting more customers. 

The question I'd like to explore today is: Do you want that kind of customer?

Over Thanksgiving, I had the fortune of being in my hometown of Houston, Texas. Black Friday I walked around an area called the Village, where there are tons of stores and restaurants, all of which were competing for attention with the promise of steep discounts. It worked. Customers flocked in and dropped more cash than they'd like to admit in an Inc. article.

Something I noticed as I was handing my credit card to the cashier: Would I have purchased these items at full price? 

Absolutely not. These retailers had conditioned me to expect these discounts.

I was buying because these products were on sale, making me the worst kind of customer: a "price shopper."

Price shoppers have zero brand loyalty. Instead, they seek out the best price (and of course, the bragging rights that come with snagging the best discount). 

It got me thinking: Is it possible to survive the holiday season without discounting? (Or without discounting steeply?) And was anyone doing it?

I found two brands who were daring to challenge the holiday discounting madness: A Pea in The Pod and Athleta. And what I discovered next is why you shouldn't discount around the holidays. 

A Pea in the Pod didn't even acknowledge it was Black Friday. No signs, no promotions. Fascinated, I walked in and asked the salesperson inside what deals they had for the holiday and she looked at me unamused and said, "None."

Yet... people were buying. 

A Pea in the Pod's offering is so specific and so valuable to their market (high-end clothing for women who are expecting) they didn't even feel the need to compete. 

It was the retailers' equivalent of a mike drop.

Similarly, Athleta never has good sales. The athleisure company that caters to wealthy stay-at-home moms was running a discount, but compared to its sister store, Gap, its meager 20 percent off was a joke (and even with a 20 percent discount, their leggings were still $100). 

Whether the quality is actually better isn't the point. The point is that customers believe it is and are willing to pay full price (or close to it) for the products they sell. 

That's a strong brand. 

And that's the kind of customer you want to attract: A loyal one who will want to come back again and again because they like what you're selling and being affiliated with your tribe.

They like people knowing that "people like them" buy "things like this."

Not because you're on sale. 

Published on: Dec 16, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.