Zag: A Book Review

March 4, 2012 Book Reviews, Business and Management 1 comment

Zag a book review

“In a world of extreme clutter you need more than differentiation. You need RADICAL differentiation. The new rule: When everyone zigs, zag.”

That, in a nutshell, is what Zag: The #1 Strategy of High Performance Brands is all about.

Written and designed by Marty Neumeier from Liquid Agency, Zag is pretty short (you can probably finish the book in half a day or less) but packed with lots of punch. The book focuses on how organisations can develop strong and differentiated brands in an increasingly competitive and crowded communication and marketing landscape.

With differentiation at its core, Zag distilled in simplified form the wisdom of thought leaders like Jack Trout, David A. Aaker, and Al Ries as well as books like Blue Ocean Strategy. The slim volume also presented the author’s own view on marketing and branding.

Focus, Difference, Trend and Communication

At its core, Zag has a brand marketing model with four elements – Focus, Difference, Trend and Communication – which can be represented as follows:

Zag Difference Focus Trend Communication
Courtesy of Liquid Agency

To capitalise on all four elements, Neumeier guides us through 17 checkpoints which we could use as a gauge of how well developed and differentiated our brand could be.

These are namely as follows.

#1 Origin

Who are you? Where do you have the most credibility?

#2 Purpose

What do you do (ie what is your purpose in 12 words or less)?

#3 Vision

What’s your brand vision like? Paint a vivid picture of your future, test and refine it.

#4 Riding Waves

What current or future wave are you riding? List the trends that will power your success, and study each carefully to ensure that they match your business.

Some examples of waves include body enhancements (eg cosmetic surgery and tattoos), green living, environmental responsibility, personal technology and others. You can see them highlighted below:

Zag trends and waves
Courtesy of Liquid Agency

#5 Your brandscape

Who shares the brandscape? Who are your competitors and how do they rank?

How can you be number one or two (aka the Jack Welch way) in your market?

#6 The only ___ that ____

What makes you the one and “only” player able to fulfill the promise or deliver that experience?

Complete the sentence: Our brand is the only ____ that ____.

#7 Add or subtract

What should you add or subtract? If in doubt, be brutal and err on the side of sacrifice. Less is more

#8 Find brand loyalists

Who loves you?

Determine who makes up your brand community. Engage the participants in this community. Find ways for them to can contribute and benefit your brand.

#9 Identify enemy

Who’s your brand’s enemy? Which competitor can you paint as the bad guy while you’re the hero?

#10 The name game

What do they call you?

Choose a name that is different, brief, appropriate, easy to spell and pronounce, used as a URL, suitable for “brandplay,” and legally defensible.

#11 Truelines and taglines

How do you explain yourself? What are your truelines (that tells why your brand is compelling) and taglines (that can be used with customers)?

#12 Spreading the word

How do you spread the word? How can you unpack your name, trueline and tagline, enroll brand advocates and compete at touchpoints where you can win?

#13 Engage to win

How do people engage with you? Which touchpoints let you compete in white space?

How can you map your value proposition against customer touchpoints where you can win?

#14 Map customer experience

What do your customer’s experience? Map your customer journey from non-awareness to full enrollment and beyond.

#15 Earn loyalty

How do you earn their loyalty?

Be loyal to your customers, ditch discounts that can result in “disloyalty” and give loyal customers tools to refer new ones.

#16 Extend brand success

How do you extend your success? Choose between a house of brands and a branded house, and add extensions that reinforce the brand’s meaning.

#17 Protect brand portfolio

How do you protect your portfolio? Avoid the C-Sickness – Contagion, Confusion, Contradiction and Complexity.

Way to Renew Your Zag

Beyond the 17 points, Neumeier also introduced a rather novel way to “Renew Your Zag” based on that old kiddy game called Scissors, Paper, Rock!

The game is cleverly used an analogy for companies at different stages:

  • Scissors for start-ups with only one brand that is razor sharp, punching holes in large “paper” companies;
  • Rock for medium-sized organisations with momentum that can damage “scissor” companies; and
  • Paper for large companies that can smother “rock” companies.

Zag paper rock scissors

Courtesy of Liquid Agency

In other words, focus beats size, size beats momentum, and momentum beats focus.

Are You Ready to Zag?

In summary, Zag is a pretty compelling read and a great trigger of ideas.

What I especially like about it is that the company itself has a blog where you’re encouraged to “steal ideas.”

In an age where companies are trying to impose more piracy protection through acts like SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), that is certainly a breath of fresh air!

After all, there is an abundance of ideas available out on the Internet – most of them free – and the challenge lies more in implementing them successful than in generating tonnes of ideas.

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.

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