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The #1 Strategy of High-Performance Brands

For this month’s Book Club, Charlotte Bourke gives us her take on “Zag: The #1 Strategy of High-Performance Brands” by Marty Neumeier.

Marty Neumeier has written several excellent books on brands and branding. His most influential being The Brand Gap and ZAG.

ZAG maintains The Brand Gap’s ultra-clear narrative style but delves deeper into the question of how brands can harness the power of differentiation to stand out. The purpose of this book is to help brands in developing a value proposition that is distinct from competitors’ offerings. Neumeier contends that in today’s extremely crowded marketplace, traditional differentiation is no longer sufficient; instead, companies must engage in “radical differentiation” to create long-term value for their shareholders and customers. The new rule? When everyone else zigs, you must ZAG.


What did I think

If you search for the term “branding” on Google, you will find 6,999,000,000 results in less than a second. It’s something everyone knows and talks about, but only a small handful have built a successful brand and can explain how they did it. Neumeier has and can. He delivers just the right amount of information and clear direction by using clever examples that help define the process of successful branding. The book does well in breaking down this process into easy-to-follow steps, helpfully devoid of any business jargon, instead focusing on being logical and effective.

The core concept within these some 200 pages really focuses on the importance of finding, building, and maintaining one’s ZAG; the differentiating factor, which when viewed by consumers, works to define a brand. In effect, it requires looking at what your competition is doing, then doing something different in response – really different. But so many brands today simply follow the market, which results in them getting lost amongst the clutter of an extremely crowded marketplace. In fact, oftentimes, the enemy isn’t a competing company but is in fact the old way of doing things (zigging along with your competitors).

If you think about it, the average person is estimated to be exposed to anything from 6,000 to 10,000 ads every single day – that’s a lot to be thrown anyone’s way, so you might forgive someone for not being able to remember every single piece of comms they ‘see’ (especially when so many are all trying to do the same thing). People may be getting exposed to thousands of ads every day, but they aren’t really seeing very many of them. In short, without any sort of radical differentiation, even the most successful of brands can run the risk of getting lost in the abyss of beige-ness.

By breaking down ZAG into 3 core factors, Neumeier gives his readers an easy-to-understand guide to effectively standing out against the competition:

1. Finding your Zag:
This part is self-explanatory; to find your zag, you first need to go where your competition isn’t (differentiation); find the dynamics between different and good; look for the white space and find ways to parade it (finding a trend) – these core areas serve as the keys to finding your zag.

2. Designing (and building) your Zag:
In this section, Neumeier shares his “17 checkpoints” system designed to invoke both reflective & pragmatic thought by asking key questions at each stage; starting out with “who are you” and “what do you do” and finishing with “how do you extend your success” and “how do you protect your portfolio”. 

3. Renewing your Zag:
While the bulk of this book focuses on helping readers in finding and designing their zag, the final (albeit smaller) section provides a plethora of valuable resources for those who may need a zag renewal – those more established brands/businesses who may have potentially lost some of their focus along the way. Key insights are provided to help businesses to find both their uniqueness and their vision once again.

Overall, this book is well written, concise and to the point; filled with nuggets of wisdom that are as effective as they are logical. While it isn’t necessarily a heavily padded read (I flew through it in a few short sessions), it’s an ideal size to keep, a book you can refer to time and time again for snippets of advice and inspiration on how to do different.

To quote Neumeier, “brand history abounds with evidence that David can take on Goliath and win – the goal is not to topple the big guys, but to employ the principle of contrast to throw your zag into sharp relief”.


Who should read it

I would encourage anyone who may be interested in starting their own business, who is in any sort of business leadership position (both within and outside of marketing and communications departments) or whose curiosity is piqued by doing and thinking differently to pick themselves up a copy of this today.

★★★★★ (out of 5)