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A friend recommended KonMari to me the other day. To be honest I didn’t know what it was so I Googled it. It’s apparently a Japanese life-changing method of de-cluttering and tidying up. I’m a little sceptical given Japan has done little to tidy up issues like the comfort women etc. That said they are tidying up the southern oceans of those pesky rodents of the sea – whales. OK cynicism noted but parked! So I set forth to de-clutter a key part of my life – my home study. There’s a lot of rubbish in there, I admit, but some gems too. I’m not one to have my qualifications on display at work but I do like them up somewhere (all that hard work you see) so I just throw them up more or less at random on the walls of what my partner affectionately calls my ‘shrine’ (to myself I guess she’s suggesting). Feet kept firmly on the ground in our house!

That got me thinking. Back in the day you could just de-clutter, now it is a brand. Brands are everything we are told nowadays and to add to that, a brand must have a narrative – a story. Americans do brands best and you could do worse than read Built to Last by Porras and Collins who reflect on some long-lasting well-known brands that have survived the ravages of time e.g. Ford, Johnson & Johnson and IBM. Protecting brands is important, as is advancing them. For now back to KonMari.

If you are anything like me, the de-cluttering process follows something akin to the business life-cycle. Lots of initial enthusiasm with ‘good stuff’ heroically thrown out at the beginning (the growth spurt), only to plateau a bit (maturity) and at the end (decline) some of the good stuff transfers from the throw out pile to the keep pile. In this clean-up I noticed some superannuation notices for my children. I’ve been meaning to file them away but hadn’t got around to it. Superannuation is like that isn’t it? Don’t really have to deal with it until they reach about 55 years of age. Don’t worry though I’d have filed it by then! They are in Industry Super Funds; three to be precise. Good on them I thought, they will be taken care of. After all it’s the Industry Super Funds that everyone trusts. Talk about strong brands. If you showed anyone that cute (and genius) folded hand above hand sign and they are above 20 I’m guessing they would work out straight away that it’s an industry super fund…priceless. And if you continued your in-the-field market research and asked what it stood for i.e. what the brands says to you, they would likely respond with words like honesty, integrity, reliability etc. Go ahead and try it. I have and that’s the response I got.

We all know the adverts that have changed over the years, but the same folded hand sign has continued throughout. Bernie Fraser the old Governor of the Reserve Bank did it at one stage himself. There is no greater bastion of integrity and reliability than our Reserve Bank Governors, especially when retired. The latest iteration is two men seated side by side and the future value of their superannuation calculated out, presumably inclusive of fees and commissions etc. Not surprisingly the Industry Super Fund is the clear winner here and the Retail Super fund holder is left looking a little forlorn and sheepish…if only he’s opted for the Industry Fund!

A mirror image advert with two women uses exactly the same tactic. It annoys me every time I see it because how does one triangulate with only two reference points? If you want to get some prices to have a deck built at home the best and most often used method is to get three prices. Yes three because then you have a choice between highest, middle and lowest. Two gives you a choice between highest and next highest. The Industry Super Fund adverts do the latter. Just because the Industry Super Fund may be better than the retail fund does not mean there isn’t a third option (maybe a product not offered yet) which has fees at a much lesser rate than the other two. Getting slightly ripped off on the price of something is still being ripped off even if you saw it somewhere else marginally more expensive. You cannot make a value for money call from just two options, we know this from the business world. That is why Government procurement and lots of businesses have the three quote policy as a general rule of thumb.

So with this in mind – mid KonMari – I scrutinised the forms from the three Industry Super Funds. My respective 19 and 23 year olds, I noted, are well scaffolded with death cover, TPD and income protection. Only $3 a week for each fund, but bearing in mind the fact that most young people will not revisit the details of this paperwork (remember these are digital natives) for many years to come they have effectively been given the old ‘value add’ (code for things they don’t need wrapped up as something of great value). Call it for what it is – they are being ripped off. Remember this is the good old honest, reliable Industry Super Fund. I bet you didn’t factor this in when thinking about that brand.

For brands to work well their narrative has to be one built on a true foundation of integrity. Look at VW now to see the risk of not being authentic. Re-read Enron’s Core Values and laugh at the absurdity of that contradiction. This is what I was thinking as I fired a quick text off to both children suggesting they crack on and untick the default box so that their precious earnings don’t get wasted on value adds they don’t need at this time in their lives.

And so I realised that maybe there is something to KonMari after all. Not only do you get some of your home study back but you divest yourself of some long-held but ultimately inaccurate beliefs. Brands entice, brands assure and brands mislead. It’s worth remembering this next time you do a spring clean!