Zag – What I got out of it

Thanks to Len from Hypenotic who let me borrow Zag – The #1 Strategy of High Performance Brands. Marty Neumeier wrote it. He’s the guy who wrote The Brand Gap. I like to read. However, when I read I’m constantly thinking about how I can use the material in my job as a collaborative event designer. So rather than review Zag and identify highlights of the book, I figured I would share some of my thoughts on how I might use some of the content or exercises from the book in a workshop that I would design. Part of the reason I won’t summarize the book is that it’s less than 170 pages so it’s pretty much a summary all on its own.

What I will mention is that the title of the book alludes to his belief that in order to truly stand out in a cluttered market, you have to Zag when everyone else is Zigging. He actually describes it as “finding the whitespace”, ie. the title of this blog! If you’d like to read it first and then come back to this posting, I’ll wait….

Ok…now that you’re back I’ll mention a few things that I really liked about this book if you’re looking to do some activities with a group that require them to think creatively about the branding or positioning of either new or existing products.

First of all, “the obituary.” Neumeier suggests that if you project yourself 25 years into the future and had to write an obituary about your company (product), what would it say? In other words, what are some of the key things that you would want to be remembered for? This helps distill out some key principles about your mission or vision. I’ll also add that the idea of “backcasting”, ie. thinking about a desired future and thinking about the steps that would be required to make that desired future a reality, is a powerful creative tool. There’s a big change in mindset when you make the subtle shift between asking people “what problems do we have to overcome today?” and “what is the future that we want for ourselves and what do we have to do in order to make it happen?” People tend to be more creative, more positive and generally much more fun to deal with when you ask them to think in this way.

Complete this sentence: Our brand is the only ______ that ______. The strengths of a brand should be pretty clear to everyone on the team and by doing this quick exercise with the operations, finance, HR, marketing people, you can do a quick pulse check as to whether or not the messages are clear throughout the whole team. Neumeier points out that often the hardest part of branding is not what to include, but what to prune. This exercise would be effective for testing existing brands and exploring potential new brands as well.

He then suggests a build on this exercise by making it more detailed in the way a journalist approaches a story. Example:


What: The ONLY chain of restaurants
How: that hires overtly sexy waitresses
Who: for young male customers
Where: in the United States
Why: who want to indulge their libidos
When: in an era of strict political correctness.

Again, I’m a big fan of multiple iterations on stuff like this, so I would have everyone in a workshop do an exercise like this and slowly iterate and consolidate until everyone on the team has had a chance to create and change this exercise over time. The reason why it’s better to have people DO this rather than be TOLD, has been summed up nicely by Mitchel Resnick at MIT Media Lab, as written in Turtles, Termites and Traffic Jams when he differentiates between instructionism and constructionism styles of learning. People will retain things more effectively if they build it, rather than if they’re told.

The last thing I’ll mention from Zag is that Neumeier highlights a 17 step process/series of questions to go through in order to help you figure out if you’re “Zagging”. Cherry picking from a few of the steps could certainly make for a very interesting conversation/meeting.

With “brand” being such an ethereal concept, I would love to hear some feedback on how others have tried to elicit some “concrete” answers. Leave those comments!

2 responses to “Zag – What I got out of it

  1. Hey–that book is half mine!

  2. I only read Len’s half.

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