Book Review: Surfing the Black Wave - Brand Leadership in a Digital Age (Daniel Cobb)

March 28, 2018

In 2014, I was part of a team running a leadership development program in Los Angeles. One of the other facilitators was a veteran movie script editor. Between sessions he asked me: “Wanna know the secret formula behind every Hollywood hit?” Who would ever say no to a question like that?
 

“It's easy," he said. "Three words: Make-me-care.”

 

I love collisions of the simple yet profound, and this was one of those moments.

As his words sunk in I realized that this ‘secret formula’ extended well beyond the silver screen and spoke to the heart of the dual challenges facing every corporation: making customers and employees care enough to continually invest in their long term survival.

 

Learning to surf

But in an unpredictable, digital world, the companies who survive and thrive will be those who grasp ‘care’ in a way that goes way beyond selling great products and services.

 

So says Daniel Cobb in his book Surfing the Black Wave, a field manual for any leader or manager wanting to understand how to create enduring and profitable relevance for their organisation.

 

Drawing from the lessons of a Japanese village that survived a devastating tsunami in 2012, Cobb decodes principles to help any organization make subtle yet crucial recalibrations for improved market agility and brand longevity.

 

Essentially this is a book about deliberately helping people fall in love, and stay in love, with your company, both your employees and your customers. But it’s not a cynical methodology for people manipulation. It’s a practical, emerging approach to how companies can show up in ways that customers and employees genuinely love, in a global context where loyalty and relevance are harder to sustain than ever.

 

Going digitally deeper

But for a “make-me-care” mantra to deliver real impact, it needs to go deeper than most companies have ever been prepared to go. And yet the digital economy gives us bigger opportunities to go there than ever before.

 

So what does Care 2.0 look like? Cobb’s extensive research points to a growing body of evidence that shows that while products and services are still the obvious entry point to a customer relationship, they are no longer sufficient for long-tem relevance.

According to Cobb’s research, 1 in 3 consumers boycott businesses based on causes that they care about; 7 in 10 millennials consider themselves to be social activists; and 4 in 5 consumers reward companies for supporting various social causes.

 

The companies that endure will be those whose customers and employees engage beyond the product.  Those companies understand that customer decisions are driven 30% by logic and 70% by emotion, according to Cobb’s research. Making people care means making people feel something. Over and over again.

 

Meaning makers

Cobb is really pointing to a growing correlation between a company’s ability to authentically illicit emotion and its long-term profitability.

 

That starts with delivering products from of a place of values that are shared with customers, but then goes a lot further. Cobb’s research shows that the companies who are creating the deepest levels of engagement aren’t content with mere product delivery – that’s just the price of market entry. These companies are also using shared values to create authentic experiences for customers and employees that allow them to participate in changing the world in ways that matters to them. 

 

Just like a Hollywood scriptwriter, the CEOs of these organisations understand that “make-me-care” customers and employees want companies to be meaning-makers. Their products, services and workplaces become platforms for impacting the issues that they deeply care about.

But they also smell fakery a mile off. If there’s any whiff of purpose being used as a sales tool, they’re off. And they’ll tell their friends.

 

From consumption to participation

Cobb’s book is full of examples of successful, meaning-making organisations that are taking advantage of digital technology to amplify their impact. Examples range from US pizza chain Hungry Howies, which is growing in a shrinking sector, through to a fascinating behind-the-scenes view of Donald Trump’s unlikely election campaign win.

 

Surfing the Black Wave is a great blend of analysis and practical strategies that companies can employ, and include lessons from Cobb’s extensive experience as a brand strategist.

 

The extent to which a company can move customer relationships beyond mere product consumption to ‘purpose participation,’ the more likely they will stick around for the long term.

 

The same applies to employees: when people view their employer as more than just a pay cheque, they deliver better work and stay longer. Their depth of participation increases.

 

People in love stick around longer, they cut you some slack when mistakes happen, they tell their friends about you.

 

Don’t be mistaken. This book isn't a respray of cause marketing. This is a new way of thinking about what it means to be a company of enduring relevance and profitability in the 21st century.  

 

Companies that sniff and treat the coming “black wave” as a mere CSR will undoubtedly find themselves requiring corporate CPR in the not too distant future.

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