ZAG: The #1 Strategy of High-Performance Brands

Book Notes & Synopsis

Andrew J. Chwalik | September 17, 2018

Andrew J. Chwalik | September 17, 2018


This book by Marty Neumeier looks into high-performing brands and how they seem to resonate so well with consumers. They key? It all starts from the foundation of the company and how it chooses to differentiate itself from the competition. Marty provides the readers with a roadmap on how to build a brand from scratch as well as informs established businesses on how to turn their brand into a success.

Companies have no choice but to focus on the three demands of business — free, perfect, and now. These characteristics are where all companies are competing because the customer is now in-charge. The main competitor is no longer other companies, but the amount of clutter/content that is being produced. All this “stuff” can be categorized into five addressable groups of product clutter, feature clutter, advertising clutter, message clutter, and media clutter. The human mind deals with clutter by blocking most of it out, that’s why content must provide value for the end user. The newest competitors are the blinders that our minds use to block out all this clutter.

A brand is a customer’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company. “Your personal reputation, like a company’s brand, lies out of your control. It’s not what you say it is, it’s what they say it is. The best you can do is influence it.” Your customers are the ones that build your brand. Make sure they’re given the right tools to begin construction. It’s not even individual customers, they form “Unique Buying Tribes”, groups that have a particular interest in your product because of your company values or the lifestyle attached to your offering.

Start being radically different, zag instead of zigging with the rest of the market. Everyone thinks that if no one is doing it, there must be a reason. Wrong. “You can’t be a leader by following the leader.” Find a new market corner that hasn’t been touched. Then go take it. The human mind is wired to only noticed what’s there, not what’s not there. The secret to zagging is find that white space that no one else sees. Need a mystical compass that points you right to it? Focus on the pain points of customers. “Don’t think so much about the unbuilt product as about the unserved tribe.”

Find a trend and get out in front of it. Be the leader of the movement.

Here’s a client exercise: 25 years from now, your company is wiped out. Sit down and write the obituary. What would you want all the articles to say?

You need to build your zag so you have a plan of action to follow as you grow. These are the steps to follow:

ONE: Define your passion, uniqueness, and focus. You need to know who you are before you can introducing yourself to the world.

TWO: Nail down the fundamental reason why your company exists beyond making money. “Google’s stated purpose is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible; Disney’s purpose is to make people happy.” One rule, your purpose statement should not be more than 12 words.

THREE: Express your vision, the illustration of your future. “While a company’s purpose can be abstract, a company’s vision should be concrete. True vision leads to commitment rather than compliance, confidence rather than caution.” Work it out by producing vision related content, such as brochures or an important speech.

FOUR: Find a wave to ride. Find relevant trends and infuse them into your brand. These are what fuel companies and provide life, something you’ll need.

FIVE: First mover advantage doesn't matter. Being first into people’s minds does. “Define your company by what makes it unique, not what makes it admirable.” Too many companies define themselves as innovative, responsible, progressive, and (insert empty fluff word with no meaning here).

First Mover (built in the short term) + Popularity (built in the long term) = Leadership

SIX: Show what you do, that only you do. “Complete this sentence: Our brand is the only _________ that __________.” Once you understand what you do better than anyone else, answer these questions: What is your category?How are you different? Who are your customers? Where are they located? When do they need you? Why are you important?

Check out Haley-Davidson’s statement. Once you have your own, use it as a filter for all future company decisions.

Harley Dvidson Marketing Example from ZAG.png

SEVEN: Know what to add and subtract. While you attempt to influence your brand and grow your company, you have the ability to add and subtract various elements and product extensions. “If adding an element to your brand brings you in competition with a stronger competitor, think twice. Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM, would always say, “If you don't know where you are going, any direction will get you there.” Look at what your competitors are doing, then do something different.

EIGHT: Make love to your community. Companies don’t operate in a vacuum, they are part of an ecosystem where every entity should give and gain. Every person, group, and organization needs to benefit from your existence.

NINE: Define the enemy and do so with intense clarity. Once you figure out who you’re fighting against, it could even be an old way of thinking, take on the largest opponent. It puts the “radical”, in radical differentiation.

TEN: What you call yourself is also part of the equation. Companies are still missing the mark when determining a brand name. Be different and stand out in all the clutter. “A name should be: different than those of competitors, four syllables or less, appropriate but not so descriptive that it sounds generic, easy to spell, satisfying to pronounce, suitable for “brandplay”, and legally defensible.”

EVEVEN: It’s all about what they say so take their words and use them.Define your brand by what people say about you with a “trueline”. “One example of a trueline is what people might say about Southwest Airlines: You can fly just about anywhere for less than it costs to drive. Once you have your trueline, it's a short step to a customer facing tagline. For example, when Southwest says, “You’re now free to move about the country”, they are simply translating their trueline into a more polished form.”

TWELVE: Spread the word of your brand and the value it brings by selecting marketing strategies that relate to your defined image. Make sure you have every customer touchpoint aligned with your brand, from the store environment to product packaging.

THIRTEEN: Define how people engage with your brand and reach them with added value through these channels. What can you offer that competitors won’t? Forget all the so-called best practices and find what works best for you, even if it is unconventional.

FOURTEEN: Influence customer touchpoints by mapping out your customers’ journey from awareness to brand loyalty. Make sure to be aware that the customer journey will be different for each Unique Buying Tribe.

FIFTEEN: Driving customer loyalty will be vital for the success of your brand. Practice a strategy of mutual loyalty because you benefit from the customer and the customer benefits from you. Loyalty must continue to grow (and be nurtured), be earned, and be mutual.

SIXTEEN: Once you’ve succeeded, have a plan built that will guide growth. Use your trueline as the foundation of your plan. Brand extensions can be done through a “House of Brands”, where one company creates a variety of different brand for their products, or a “Branded House”, where one brand manages a variety of products. Think about which scenario will be more beneficial for your product offering and each tribe that will be interested in your extended products.

SEVENTEEN: Protect your portfolio by “establishing clear roles, relationships, and boundaries for brands.” Consistent quality and marketing will help you stand out from the clutter. “Stickiness is a brands ability to own a distinct meaning in peoples’ minds. Stretchiness is its ability to extend its meaning without breaking.”

“There are two types of innovation, “sustaining”, which calls for incremental improvements to existing offerings, and “disruptive”, which attempts to find new market space.” Regardless of what innovation you pursue, “cultural lock-in” will prevent any positive change from occurring. Change must be built into company culture. If you want to leverage change, ask these three questions: “What is stopping the change? How is that a problem? What would have to happen for it not to be a problem?” In all reality, people like change. The don’t like being changed.

There comes times in a brand’s life where it needs to take on a new look and focus. Envision this as a two-stage rocket. “Like launching a rocket, a new brand can use about half its fuel just escaping gravity. With this strategy, the company uses the first stage — its existing brand — to fuel the second stage — the new brand.

— Andrew J. Chwalik

Get your copy of Zag: The #1 Strategy of High-Performance Brands from Amazon!