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The Best Big Zig of All Time

The Best Big Zig of All Time

September 20, 2017

Recorded among business urban legends and folklore are stories about true leaders. Sometimes, their stories are so outlandish they seem unreal. But these people did exist, and changed the world of business. 

Meet Robert LeRoy Ripley, aka the best Big Zigger of all time.

[What’s a Big Zig? It’s a radically different marketing approach that boldly says, 'I'm not like the rest!' If everybody else is zagging, you zig. Your Big Zig could be your product itself (think Uber vs. taxis), or how you market your brand (think Motley Fool).]

Robert Ripley started out as a humble journalist reporting on quirky stories which morphed into the world-famous brand and sensation, Ripley's Believe It or Not!

His success was so outrageous that according to the United States Postal Service, Ripley received more mail than Santa Claus - and perhaps more than anyone in history. Sometimes he received over one million pieces of mail a year.

What made Ripley and his brand, his Big Zig, so successful? He tapped into the public’s desire to be provoked and entertained. The brand oozes in weirdness and pushes the limits of our reality. A marketing masterpiece, it barely needs words to convey the meaning.

Now, there’s a reason that I’ve dubbed Ripley's as one of the greatest Big Zigs of all time. It’s a pretty darn good one.

However, creating a killer Big Zig isn’t rocket science. There are specific strategies to implement to turn your brand from ordinary to “wow”.

Read on to discover how Ripley created his masterful Big Zig and 4 strategies you can implement to uncover your Big Zig.

Strategy #1- Find Your Core Competency

Ripley started off like most do - slowly. It took him a while to find his Core Competency(unique area in which he thrived).

Ripley played semi-professional baseball for a few years. It was a no go. After several stints at newspapers in San Francisco, he landed a job drawing cartoons of sporting events from the New York Globe. One day, in 1918 with nothing else to draw he began creating cartoons about sports odysseys. He drew illustrations of a man who was able to hop 100 yards in only 11 seconds. Next he drew about a man who held his breath underwater for 6.5 minutes. Finally, he drew about another man who had jumped rope 11,800 times without stopping.

He originally titled his cartoons; 'Champs and Chumps,' but the editor didn't really like the title. They really weren't champs and chumps. So he changed it to a wonderful name; he called it 'Believe It or Not.' By December 19, 1918 it became so popular that the editor asked him to draw many various subjects.

The Globe began occasionally featuring Ripley's cartoon, and as it grew in popularity, it increased in frequency. At first it ran on a weekly basis, and then daily. It started in the world of sports and moved onto other subjects. Over the years, he created over 340 categories.

Start with your Core Competency. What are you especially good at? What excites you? How you can leverage that as a unique selling point to stand out from the crowd?

Strategy #2- Embody Your Big Zig

For Ripley, his life was his Big Zig. He delighted in getting other people’s attention. He used to dress wildly and colorfully. He had two-tone shoes and he would wear batwing ties. One person described his appearance as a 'paint factory that got hit by lightning.'

Now clearly the take-away isn’t to dress in weird clothes. Find a Big Zig that you can embody. It has to resonate with who you are and what you stand for. If you’re a “Mr. Spock”, don’t call your firm, Funky Monkey Law. It won’t work. Your Big Zig has to resonate with you, your team and your company. It has to be something that you can do and be, consistently.

Strategy #3- Make Others Part of Your Story

Ripley used his articles to put challenges out to the world.

In 1933 Ripley claimed that nobody could invent a machine that could twist a pretzel into the shape that bakers had been hand making for centuries. A company called the Redding Pretzel Machine Corp took the challenge and engineered a patent on the first pretzel twisting machine. Due to Ripley’s challenge, this little company from Pennsylvania recreated itself.

Ripley created a system to get his readers to do his research for him. He ran contests that rewarded people for finding unusual subjects for his cartoons. In return, Ripley promised that when good ideas came his way, they would be published with the finder’s name attached. Fame and recognition were their own rewards.

Engagement is one of the most compelling components to a Big Zig. Can you enroll others, particularly your prospects, in your Big Zig?

Strategy #4- Get Controversial

By the 1920s Ripley’s column appeared in dozens of papers around the country, but his big break came in 1927. Charles Lindbergh made his famous solo flight across the Atlantic and the world was in love with him, except for Ripley.

Ripley took a different approach, claiming that 'Lindbergh is the 67th man to fly non-stop over the Atlantic Ocean'. Lindbergh was simply the 'first to go alone.' This made readers crazy with anger! 170,000 people sent letters denouncing Ripley and criticizing him for picking on their hero. However, here's the instructive point: this publicity made his new book, “Believe It or Not!” a best seller and it turned Ripley into a celebrity of awesome status.

He was willing to put his neck on the line and say something that was controversial, something that was different. He was willing to zig when everyone else was zagging. And take the heat. Everybody was talking about how great Lindbergh was and Ripley took a different angle.

What can you do in your business to take a different angle? What is conventional wisdom in your industry and how can you turn it on its head and offer a counter-intuitive approach or solution?

Ripley could have done what most of us would have, and remained an unsatisfied journalist. Instead, he found his passion, zigged while others were zagging, and made a career out of it.

His success made him a record holder in his own right as one of the world 's most highly paid journalists. And today his legacy continues to live on in museums, books and TV shows - all because he created a Big Zig that set him apart from everyone else.

How do you zig when everyone else is zagging?

Taking you from where you are to where you want to be.