Skip to content

Zag When Others Zig

Creating a brand is an easy process. The major challenge is creating one to stand the test of time and be visible in a crowded marketplace.

To do this, your business must ‘zag’ when others ‘zig’. This is a concept by author Marty Neumeier, first seen in his book, ZAG: The Number One Strategy Of High Performance Brands. In the book, the author describes how radical differentiation is the key to successful brand placement and creating value with your shareholders and customers.

Learn more about how you can zag instead of zig in this article.


A Fresh Look At Brand Strategy

Neumeler informs readers that the true power has shifted away from the brand and more to the consumer. Now brands must work harder to create an image to stand out in a crowded marketplace and produce a strong identity that offers a distinctive consumer experience.

One of the most important quotes in his book sums up exactly what businesses should be aiming for:

“When focus is paired with differentiation, supported by a trend, and surrounded by compelling communications, you have the basic ingredients of a zag.”

Each brand’s zag will be different and the result will be dependent on the personality of the company as well as the audience they are targeting.

For brands who want to zag they must complete a simple statement:

Our brand is the only ________ that _________.

Completing the blanks is a hard task. Yet without completing this sentence your brand is likely to fade away and suffer in the long term.


How Can You Complete Your Sentence?

To complete the primary sentence for zag you should break it down into the two parts.

The first is dealing with what your business offers customers. This sounds fairly simple. For example; a coffee house could write it sells coffee but there are thousands of businesses selling coffee. Therefore, the coffee house should be looking for the unique selling point: what makes it different?

For instance, it can claim to be a “business meeting place” or a “friends’ hangout”. Notice these two options have little to do with what product is sold but how the coffee house is used.

The second part of the sentence adds the benefits of the business. For instance, the coffee shop could state it sells organic Cuban coffee. But there is nothing to stop other organisations from selling the same product now or to do so in the future. Alternatively the term tasty coffee or tasty drinks could be used. However, again the same coffee can be sold elsewhere.

Instead, the business could state it “offers entertaining experiences in a comfortable environment”. Although others can claim that, no two businesses can give exactly the same experience.

The completed sentence becomes: “Our brand is the only friends’ hangout that offers entertaining experiences in a comfortable environment.”

This sentence does not mention coffee or what products are sold.

Instead, the sentence developed gives an identity to guide the production of marketing materials and the enduring company culture.


How To Use Your Sentence

The sentence you have created is not a tool to be used within marketing materials. Instead, it is something to direct and align all your marketing materials so they have a clear focus.

Using the coffee shop example; we see that coffee should not be part of the major focus of the marketing campaigns, as it is not part of the main focus or identity of the brand. The marketing should be focused towards the three key elements mentioned:

  • It’s a friends’ hangout.
  • It delivers entertaining experiences.
  • It is a comfortable environment.

Therefore all the marketing materials created should focus on one or more of these elements. It doesn’t matter that the business sells coffee (although it can be applied with a product placement), what does matter is that it is a social setting that promises positive experiences and where people can relax.

For this, the coffee shop could use a group of young adults sharing a joke in the coffee house. This implies all the aspects of the sentence.

Also any marketing testimonials should be those which mention great experiences and the environment. Advertising reviews and customer feedback mentioning only coffee is not suitable as it is not part of the brand identity. These reviews could be about any coffee shop.


Test Your Sentence

To know whether your marketing campaigns are aligning with your sentence you can perform a quick test.

Take your materials and remove all of the identifiable items (e.g. logo, name, address, etc). Then show this to your customers. They should be able to tell it is your brand from the marketing materials.

This technique can be seen on television adverts. Brands that follow a standard message and style on television can often be identified before their name is mentioned. Classic examples of this would be fashion houses or insurance brokers.

Ensure that you are testing your sentence out with focus groups and customer services. You need to know exactly what your customers think about how you brand yourself and their perception of you. If they don’t agree with your branding strategy, you need to consider going back and starting again. Or you could adjust your brand image, though this might be damaging to your revenue if you have an already established brand image.

If you are a new business, asking your target audience will aid you to know how your audience will react.



Zag when others zig is about differentiating your brand from your competitors in a crowded market. There is not a huge amount of information to consider. All your brand needs to do is complete one sentence and apply that to your marketing, so your brand is identifiable.

With an identifiable brand your business can grow and gain a significant loyal following.


Action Steps:

  • Complete the sentence to find your zag.
  • Check your marketing to see if it matches the major points in your zag sentence.
  • Align your future marketing to align with your sentence.

No comment yet, add your voice below!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *