Author’s Note: This post is a new feature at My Life as a Freelance — reviews of books that can boost writers’ and freelancers’ skills and business acumen. ZAG: The Number One Strategy of High-Performance Brands is the perfect first book for this series, because it holds the potential to change the way you look at both creating content for your clients and marketing yourself.
Last year I attended a marketing discussion hosted by our local Food + Tech Meetup group. Food, technology, and marketing are among my top interests. So I went with high expectations for gaining new insights. I came away with a suggestion to read what is now one of my favorite books on marketing.
The panel of speakers, all heads of location PR and marketing agencies, shared passionate insights about boosting results. When it was time for Q&A, I asked the most questions. My goal was to wring every ounce of insight from these practitioners.
Jones had talked about finding the one thing you do that no one else does — or, in the parlance of ZAG author, Marty Neumeier, your “onliness.” The heart of his message is this:
When everyone else is zigging, you need to zag.
THIS is the secret to marketing success, especially in our oversaturated world of clutter from products, features, advertising, messaging, and media. (ZAG was published back in the “olden” days of 2006. A decade later, we are even more saturated than ever.)
Examples of companies that have cornered the market on onliness are:
- Apple (of course!)
- Harley Davidson
Neumeier goes into some detail on companies who’ve leveraged this concept to ride to the number one spot in their niche — often niches they created out of whole cloth. Achieving this feat requires a smart combination of human psychology, brand creation finesse, and marketing guts.
So how do you (or your clients) find your onliness? The heart of the book is a 17-step strategy to help you find the one thing you can dominate — in other words, create your zag.
17 Steps to Create Your Zag and Find Your Onliness
Neumeier created this 17-step system for finding your onliness by zagging. Each of the steps falls into one of four categories:
“When focus is paired with differentiation, supported by a trend, and surrounded by compelling communications, you have the basic ingredients of a zag,” wrote Neumeier.
So what’s your onliness?
1 — Who Are You?
What do you want others to say in your obituary about your business life? I’m not being morbid. This was an exercise conducted by corporate bigwigs in San Francisco. From the answers, they discovered who they are, where their passion lies, and what gets them up in the morning.
2 — What Do You Do?
You need a fundamental reason to do what you are doing beyond money. Try articulating your purpose in 12 words or less. Here are a few examples to spark your brainstorming session:
- Microsoft — “To put a computer on every desk and in every home.”
- Coca-Cola — “To refresh the world.”
- Cirque Du Soleil — “To invoke the imagination, provoke the senses, and evoke the emotions of people around the world.”
3 — What’s Your Vision?
Lacking a clear vision leads to confusion, anxiety, and distrust — never good for communicating with people. Write down your vision. Ponder it. Edit it until it’s right on.
4 — What Wave Are You Riding?
Barring a fluke piece of viral content, riding an existing trend is the best way to gain momentum quickly for your idea. “It’s the difference between paddling a surfboard and riding a wave,” says Neumeier.
He cites 36 waves that emerged in the 2000s (what new waves do we have today?) including these:
- World travel
- Organic food
- Mental fitness
- Pet services
5 — Who Shares the Brandscape?
In business, success order is dictated by consumers based on two variables: who’s first and who’s popular. If your category is already lead by someone else, start a new category.
6 — What Makes You the “Only”?
Our brand is the only _________ that ________. In the first blank, put the name of your category (frozen pizza, furniture dealer). In the second blank, describe your zag (that tastes like Naples, that sells sustainable manufactured furniture, etc.).
7 — What Should You Add or Subtract?
“The quickest route to a zag is to look at what your competitors do, then do something different,” says Neumeier. Add or subtract anything that doesn’t support your onliness. The wider your competition, the narrower your focus has to be.
8 — Who Loves You?
“Every brand is built by a community.” Who is in yours?
9 — Who’s the Enemy?
“David was nothing without Goliath.” Your goal is not to topple your competitors, but to employ the principal of contrast to throw your zag into sharp relief.
10 — What Do They Call You?
A brand’s most valuable asset is often the one given the least attention — its name. Neumeier says that strong, specific, short names are best — think Starbucks, FedEx, Burt’s Bees.
11— How Do You Explain Yourself?
All brand communications should emanate from an internal positioning line or “trueline.” A trueline is the one true thing you can say about your brand, your value proposition, or the reason your brand matters to customers. Can you identify these truelines?:
- The Happiest Place on Earth
- Just Do It!
- What Happens Here, Stays Here
12 — How Do You Spread the Word?
There were 14,659 MP3 player models in the world at the time the book was published. How many do you remember? Probably one. The Apple iPod. Steve Jobs believed in marketing. Sim Wong Hoo admitted he was stingy. Do you remember his Creative Technology MP3 player?
13 — How Do People Engage with You?
In Blue Ocean Strategy, authors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne offer a systematic way to reposition yourself from competitors and engage people. Head for an uncluttered market space (blue ocean), instead of space characterized by bloody competition (red ocean).
14 — What Do They Experience?
Customers experience your brand at specific touchpoints. So, choosing what those touchpoints are and influencing what happens there is important work. Neumeier said: “The best way to start choosing and influencing your touchpoints is by mapping your customers’ journey from awareness to brand loyalty. How will they learn about you? How can you help them ‘enroll’ in your brand? Who — or what — will be your competition at each of the touchpoints?”
15 — How Do You Earn Their Loyalty?
“More than 50% of customers would pay a 20 to 25% premium for their favorite brand before switching to another brand. In some categories, a 5% increase in loyal customers can produce a 95% increase in profitability.” Creating this level of loyalty from customers begins when companies are loyal to their customers.
16 — How Do You Extend Your Success?
If your business is a success, it’s tempting to start leveraging that success through product extensions. But Neumeier recommends caution against muddying the water. Aim to keep brand extensions true to the company’s onliness.
17 — How Do You Protect Your Portfolio?
“The era of the stand-alone brand is coming to a close as more and more companies understand the value of linking brands together.” Brand portfolios face four dangers that single brands don’t:
- Contagion. This is the dark side of synergy. Bad news can spread through brand linkages and infect the rest of your portfolio.
- Confusion. Confusion happens when companies extend their brands past the boundaries their customers draw for them.
- Contradiction. Since brands are defined by customers, not companies, customers in one culture may have a different opinion of a company or product than in another.
- Complexity. “Subtraction is the key to building strong portfolios — pruning back brands and sub brands that don’t support your zag.”
Are you as mesmerized by this marketing insight as I am? Don’t stop with my brief overview of Neumeier’s great marketing book. Get your copy of ZAG — and read all of the great insight he shares with us.
While you’re at it, you may also want to read some of his other books, like I did (I am now an official raving fan!):
- The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design
- The 46 Rules of Genius: An Innovator’s Guide to Creativity (Voices That Matter)
- Metaskills: Five Talents for the Robotic Age
Photo Credit: © RomanenkoAlexey