February 6, 2018
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How to Tidy Up Your Brand

What A Famous Japanese Cleaning Consultant Can Teach Us About Branding

I tend to start every year by tidying up my home, and this year—hoping to add a little bit of efficiency and thoughtfulness to the process—I picked up a copy of the bestseller “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. If you’re new to the book, it’s written by Marie Kondo (also known as Kon Mari), a Japanese cleaning consultant who takes tidying to a nearly psychological level.

As I read, I couldn’t help but notice that many of the principles Kondo developed for tidying are extremely applicable to much of the brand portfolio work that we do. I started reading with the intention of clearing up my family’s junk drawer, but by the end of it, I had the Kon Mari principles necessary to help our clients “clean up” their brand portfolios.

Below are three key tenets from the book that can help marketers tidy up their brands.


1. Letting go is more important than adding

Kondo talks about the importance of shifting conventions when it comes to organizing our things. Rather than worrying about bringing home the latest trend or adding new ways to store our things, we should first focus our time on the harder challenge–making tough decisions on what to let go.

As I think about our work, I realize that there is something powerful behind making these same kinds of tough decisions regarding brand portfolios. The biggest strides in the right direction usually occur when we help clients identify something that they can let go. Whether it’s a product line that’s not performing well or a sub-brand that has lost relevance, letting go means greater clarity and an ability to focus resources on the things that provide the best pay-off for the brand.


2. Tidy just a little each day and you’ll be stuck tidying forever

In the book, Kondo talks about the importance of tidying all in one shot, pointing out that doing so is a way to escape the “negative spiral” of constant tidying.

Tidying up is important—the health of your business depends on it—so you would think marketers would make it a priority to devote the time, brain power and attention required to do this critical exercise right.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Many brand portfolios only get tidied a little each day. Sure, time is scarce and the thought of a full tidy-up can be daunting, but tidying in short spurts can lead you down a meandering path that makes it nearly impossible to ever complete the journey. Tidying all at once affords you the focus (and deadline) needed to make clear, consistent decisions that are guided by a specific strategic vision or end goal.


3. Keep only the things that spark joy

This is perhaps Kondo’s most well-known principle from the book. The idea here is that the presence of joy should be used as selection criteria when tidying and discarding. So for example, you may pick up a t-shirt and ask, “Does this bring me joy?” and if the answer is “no,” then you should discard it. Kondo argues, “This is not only the simplest, but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge.” Easier said than done, right?

 From a brand portfolio perspective, we often experience brands keeping products at shelf well past their use-by date. There are many factors that can go into this, but often, the reason has to do with its legacy or level of investment versus its actual performance. And so we ask the Kon Mari question, “Does it bring me joy?” The answer, especially if it’s affecting your bottom line, is probably no.

There’s something truly magical that happens when you give yourself the freedom to let go of something that might be weighing down your business—there’s suddenly more time and resources to spend on the things that positively impact your brand.


Ultimately, by applying the principles that Kondo has outlined in her book, not only should our homes be tidy, but our brands should be too. And like she says, “Your best life can begin when you put your house in order.”


Emily May is VP, Strategy at Seed Strategy where she specializes in navigating a diverse range of complex business challenges to achieve success.

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