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[Review] Zag: The Number One Strategy Of High-Performance Brands


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 Number One 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.

With differentiation at its core, “Zag” distils 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 while presenting its own view of marketing and branding. At its core is the model with four elements – Focus, Difference, Trend and Communication – which can be represented as follows:



To capitalize on all four elements, Neumeier teaches us that there are 17 checkpoints which one should look at. These are namely:

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

2. What do you do (i.e. what is your purpose in 12 words or less)?

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

4. What wave are you riding? List the trends that will power your success (some examples on the right)

5. 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)?

6. What makes you the “only”? Complete the sentence: Our brand is the only ____ that ____.

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

8. Who loves you? Determine who makes up your brand community and how participants can contribute and benefit.

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

10. 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 defend.

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

12. 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. 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. What do they experience? Map your customer journey from non-awareness to full enrollment.

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

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 organizations with momentum that can damage “scissor” companies, and “paper” for large companies that can smother “rock” companies.

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

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!

(Images: Courtesy of Liquid Agency)