Marty Neumeier's new book, Zag, is cleverly designed and efficiently written--no surprise given Neumeier's many years of experience as graphic designer, copywriter, and editor of the much-missed design magazine Critique. If you're a marketing student, or have just been hired as a marketing manager, or are a new CEO who isn't quite sure what a brand is or what to do with one, or if you want to feel comforted by a lot of branding platitudes dressed up in cool clothing, I recommend you read Zag. If, on the other hand, you've been working with brands for years and are looking for some new ideas--as opposed to some new ways of playing with type, images, and white space--I suggest you donate the cover price of $19.95 to your favorite charity and read some good blogs such as Own Your Brand, Branding Post, or Creating Passionate Users instead.
Zag benefits from a catchy premise ("When everybody zigs, zag") and a big-promise subtitle ("The #1 Strategy of High-Performance Brands"). It's short enough to be read on a two-hour plane ride, with plenty of pictures for people who get bored with words, and some GREAT BIG TYPE for people who read only headlines. It has a solid bibliography that includes several serious academic titles as well as some marketing-lite stuff (Seth Godin, Ries & Trout).
You tell me just how revolutionary these nuggets from Zag are:
- "We not only live in a world of FASTER, we live in a world of MORE."
- "A brand is a customer's gut feeling about a product, service, or company."
- "True vision can't be imposed on a company--it has to grow from the shared purpose and passion of its people."
- "The truth is, loyalty can't be programmed."
- "Sometimes the enemy is not a competing company but an old way of doing things."
Useful? Certainly. Innovative? Hardly.
Neumeier even resuscitates the oldest marketing joke in the world, tricked out here with stylish silhouette drawings to make it seem original: What is marketing? "I'm a great lover." What is public relations? "Trust me, he's a great lover." What is advertising? "I'm a great lover. I'm a great lover. I'm a great lover." What is branding? "I understand you're a great lover."
I had high hopes for the section of Zag on naming. Alas, here too I ran aground in banalities such as "It's an ironic [sic] fact of marketing that a brand's most valuable asset is often the one given the least attention--its name" and "A poor name is a drag on the brand-building process, but a good name accelerates it." Wow...really? There's more substance to Neumeier's comparison of strong and weak brand names--FedEx vs. DHL, Dreamworks vs. United Artists, Viagra vs. Cialis. (You have to go to his web site to read the full critiques, though, and here Neumeier's usually infallible design radar, or his programmer, fails him: the columns don't match up, and you have to figure out which names belong in the "Strong" column and which belong under "Weak.") I don't agree with all of Neumeier's opinions--I think "Eukanuba," as weird as it sounds, is as strong a name for its niche market as is "Meow Mix," which Neumeier prefers--but I respect his analytical process.
Throughout Zag Neumeier develops a case study for a hypothetical new company on the brink of Zagness. As he describes the company, it's a wine bar--or rather, "the ONLY chain of wine bars that builds community around education for men and women of drinking age in cities and progressive towns around the U.S. who want to learn more about wine in an era of cultural awakening." (Of course, he does something cute with the layout of that phrase, which I won't presume to duplicate.)
So now the wine bar needs a Zaggish name. Neumeier presents six options complete with logos. He rejects "Uncorked" has having too little to do with education, "Sunset & Vine" as too "Hollywood," and so on. The winner? "Bibli is European slang for biblioteque [sic--it's bibliothèque], or library, which provides a good metaphor for education. It's also catchy and brief. Bingo!"
Well, not so fast, I can hear the client saying--we're opening wine bars, not libraries or bookstores or community colleges. And who in the U.S. knows about "European slang," anyway?
Good questions--and missed opportunities for Neumeier, who stuck to the superficial here as elsewhere. Here's the story I would tell for "Bibli" if this were my naming client:
- The "bib" in Bibli suggests "imbibe," from the Latin verb bibere, "to drink." "Imbibe" has a figurative meaning, too: to "drink in" knowledge--highly relevant for this new brand.
- "Bib"--the article of clothing--suggests youth, play, experimentation, and a safe way to dive into food and drink. Like "imbibe," "bib" also derives from bibere.
- "Bibli" sounds like "bubbly," which can mean champagne or the animated feeling one has when one is in congenial company.
- "Bibli" is fun to say. To make the "b" sounds (which linguists call "plosives"--energy-filled consonants formed by little bursts of air) you have to put your lips together almost as if in a kiss. The two short "i" sounds are friendly and diminutive. The combination is happy and even a bit silly, helping to demystify the often-intimidating subject of wine.
- The twin "i's" suggest the personal nature of the wine bar--it's a place I can go to expand my interests.
And by the way--my favorite brand name in Zag is the name of Neumeier's own branding agency: Neutron. It's a play on Neumeier's name combined with the concept of "elemental particle." Cheers!