10 Truths from Zag, by Marty Neumeier

Zag, The *I Strategy of High Performance Brands Book cover design, a whiteboard overview by marty neumeier, author of the brand gap

I read this book as I traversed Highway 1 from Southern California, right up to Yosemite. What. A. Dream.

When I flick through the pages, I’m transported to the ultimate cruise-fest of winding roads that weave their way along coast-hugging cliffs and through deep-untouched forests, to the soundtrack of Fleetwood Mac blasting through the speakers of my dodgy hire car.

When I say I loved this book, I catch myself wondering if it was more the setting that I read it in, or the book itself. But I’m 99.9% sure it’s the book itself. Marty did a fab job competing with my insanely beautiful surrounds and had me deeply enthralled in his strategies of what it means to Zag, when everyone else is Zigging.

As a self-admitted headstrong (and head-butting) Taurean, I’ve always been one for going against the grain (just ask my Mum), and so, I really resonated with Marty’s writing as he delves deep into the question of how brands can harness the power of differentiation and why me-too brands are doomed to fail.

This book is a fab read that wins bonus points for beautiful design and punchy takeaways.

Here are the top ten truths I learned for my new mate, Marty:

  1. THE REAL COMPETITION IS CLUTTER.
    We not only live in a world of faster, we live in a world of more. When John Wannamaker launched the first department store in 1876, he opened the door to wider customer choice, and our choices have been multiplying ever since. Despite
  2. YOUR BRANDING IS YOUR REPUTATION.
    If the word brand didn’t exist, we’d have to invent a new one, because no other word captures the complexity and richness of this concept. The only word that comes close, is “reputation”. Your personal reputation, like a company’s brand, lies outside 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.
  3. FOCUS ON YOUR UNIQUE BUYING TRIBES.
    Customers today don’t like to be sold to – they like to buy, and they tend to buy in tribes. Better advice for companies is to focus their communications not on a USP, but on a UBT – a unique buying tribe – that has a natural affinity for the company’s products or services. In a tribe, news spreads quickly, which gives brands extra traction. Customers ask, “if I buy this product, what will that make me?”
  4. DON’T OFFER MORE, OFFER DIFFERENT.
    Traditional differentiation is an uphill battle in which companies lavish too much effort on too few competitive advantages: the latest feature, a new colour, a lower price, a higher speed. Radical differentiation, on the other hand, is about finding a whole new market space you can own and defend, thereby delivering profits over years instead of months.
  5. YOU CAN’T PLEASE EVERYONE.
    Everyone can’t be your friend. Rather than trying to please everyone at the risk of pleasing no-one, step right up and pick a fight.
  6. YOUR BUSINESS IS AN ECOSYSTEM OF PEOPLE.
    Every brand is built by a community. Not just the community of people inside the company, but it’s partners, suppliers, investors, customers, non-customers and even competitors. It’s a complete ecosystem in which there are gives and gets all around. Everyone has a role to play and everyone should be repaid for their efforts.
  7. YOUR ZAG SHOULD BECOME YOUR DECISION FILTER.
    The quickest route to a zag is to look at what competitors do, then do something different. No – really different. Remember, a zag is not merely differentiation, but radical differentiation. Once you’ve defined your point of differentiation, you have a decisional filter for all your company’s future decisions. By checking back against your ‘radical difference’, you can quickly see whether any new decision will help or hurt, focus or unfocus, purify or modify your brand.
  8. FORGET ABOUT BEST PRACTICES.
    Best practices are usually common practices. And common practices will never add up to a zag, no matter how many of them you apply.
  9. TOUCHPOINTS ARE YOUR IMPACT POINTS.
    Customers experience your brand at specific touchpoints, so choosing what those touchpoints are, and influencing what happens there is important work.
  10. CUSTOMER LOYALTY IS NOT A PROGRAM.
    Customer loyalty is earned. It starts with companies being loyal to customers – not the other way around – and only becomes mutual when customers feel they’ve earned the loyalty they’re receiving from the company. When focus and differentiation are powered by a trend, the result is a charismatic brand that customers wouldn’t trade for love nor money. It’s the difference between paddling a surfboard and riding a wave.

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