How to Be UGLY: Finding Your ZAG with Marty Neumeier

Crocs. Cake Pops. Uggs. Snuggies. What do all these have in common? Well, you probably hated them before you loved them. Uggs were ugly, Cake pops were foreign, and Crocs were for geezers.

Turns out, these products had some genius behind them. That genius is called ZAG.

So, what is ZAG? Marty Neumeier describes it in his book, Zag: The Number One Strategy of High-Performance Brands, as the embodiment of what it means to be different.

Today, we all have a need for speed. Amazon ships overnight, Seamless delivers everywhere, messages send in seconds, and what used to take years to discover is now accessible with the click of a button. What comes with this fast-paced lifestyle is a heck of a lot of marketplace clutter.

Every day, the app store is flooded with new products, services, and indications that there really is no limit to progress. Peruse the supermarket isles and you’ll find twenty brands of toothpaste, thirty kinds of chips, fifty different cereals. Where do we even start?

As we struggle to block out all the clutter, we gravitate towards what’s really useful, or what seems the most interesting. In Neumeier’s words, we crave what is different, what stands out. In his book, he outlines seventeen checkpoints to breach before you can fully own your ZAG. Here are some of his main points that you want to keep in mind when creating a product and bringing it to market.

Hit ‘em where they ain’t

Imagine yourself standing at home plate, bat in hand. When the pitcher throws the ball, you swing hard and aim for the gap in right field, not directly at the shortstop.

As we speak, there are people out there looking for help, and they may not even know it yet. Locate a job that needs doing, and do it. Don’t try to squeeze your way into an already jam-packed market. The open spaces are there. You just need to find them, and the crowd will love you for it when you do.

Be the only [BLANK] that [BLANKS]

Today, when you wake up craving a waffle, all it takes is a trip to the freezer to satisfy that hankering. Sixty years ago, that wasn’t the case. When Eggo invented the first toaster waffle in 1953, they were able to say, “We just made the only waffle you can toast.”

As Neumeier puts it, if you can’t say you’re the “only,” go back and start over. Without your “only” statement, you can’t have ZAG.

A poor name is a drag

Though it won’t make or break you, a strong name accelerates your product’s popularity. Find a name that’s meaningful but catchy, interactive but understandable. Think Apple, Google, Nike, Oreo. Fun to say but filled with meaning, these names have become staples in household conversation.

What wave are you riding?

Today, trends come and go like waves. If you see the water swell, get in front of it and ride that wave home. When online shopping surged, eBay came around. Because today’s youth is addicted to smartphones, Pokemon Go was able to take over. Harness that momentum and bring your product to all the tanning, happy beach bums.

Let the revolution begin!

There’s always a bad guy. It’s just a matter of finding him and using him to your product’s advantage. Crocs are not cute sandals, cake pops need no fork, trendy boots freeze your toes and average, sleeveless blankets fall to the floor. These first four examples had clear enemies they used to propel their product forward. Find your enemy and prove that you are not them.

Who loves you?

Every product needs a community, but it’s not enough to simply identify your target market. Make an emotional connection with your customers and establish a loyalty that lasts. Chances are, if you remember their coffee order, or know they hate pickles, they’ll trust you with their daily indulgences.

Be brutal

Exercise self-discipline, and know when to say “no.” By trying to take on new competitors and expand your brand, you may put yourself on a playing field you’re not prepared to dominate. That, and you risk confusing your customers. Stick with your ZAG, and be careful before stretching yourself too thin.