Zag: A book review by Bob Morris

Zag: The Number One Strategy of High-Performance Brands
Marty Neumeier
Peachpit Press (2006)

How to “zag” when everyone else “zigs”

In a previous book, The Brand Gap, Marty Neumeier explains how companies can bridge the gap between business strategy and customer experience, noting that brand-building isn’t a series of isolated activities; rather, it is a complete system in which five disciplines – differentiation, collaboration, innovation, validation, and cultivation – “combine to produce a sustainable competitive advantage. ” His intent in Zag “is to zoom in on differentiation to reveal the system within the system.”

Initially, he observes that the human mind deals with clutter the best way it can: by blocking it out. As a result, “the newest barriers to competition are the mental walls that customers erect to keep out clutter. For the first time in history, the most powerful barriers to competition are not controlled by companies, but by customers. Those little boxes they build in their minds determine the boundaries of brands.” (Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck also have much of value to say about these boundaries and barriers in The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business.) In his latest book, Neumeier explains how to overcome these barriers with radical innovation – “the engine for a high performance brand” – that requires mastery of four disciplines:

1. Finding your zag
2. Designing your zag
3. Building your zag
4. Renewing your zag

Everything begins with identifying the zag. That is, offering something that combines the qualities of both good and different. “When focus is paired with differentiation, supported by a trend, and surrounded by compelling communications, you have the basic ingredients of a zag.”

OK, but how to do that? Neumeier provides a design process that consists of 17 checkpoints, each formulated as a question. He explains how to answer each of them correctly (i.e. an answer most appropriate to the given organization) by proceeding through a sequence of 17 checkpoints, each of which evokes a question to be answered correctly (i.e. appropriate to the given organization), with the first two previously posed as a trilogy in The Brand Gap: “Who are you?” and “What do you do?” Responding to them may prove far more difficult than it may first seem and a correct (i.e. appropriate) answer to each is essential to achieving radical innovation. The third question posed previously, “Why should I care?” creates an even greater challenge. Fortunately, a correct (i.e. appropriate) answer to that question will be revealed by carefully proceeding through the remaining 15 checkpoints.

It is truly remarkable how much substance and how many thought-provoking questions Neumeier provides within a narrative of less than 200 pages. With both rigor and eloquence, he explains how radical innovation can break through ever-increasing clutter in a competitive marketplace, whatever and wherever it may be. Special note should also be made of the book’s production values. All of his core concepts, checklists, key points, observations, and recommendations are presented within a visually appealing context. The last time I checked, there are about 34,000 business books on the general subject of brands. Neumeier has written two of the most valuable among them. Bravo!



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