The following case histories give an indication of the type of projects we have tackled in recent years at Town and Town. They represent our work for companies both large and small across a wide range of business areas. Continue reading “CASE HISTORIES”
This represents a cross section of the clients I have worked with over my career. For the majority, I have provided design and creative marketing solutions both nationally and internationally, and in many cases I have also provided strategic consultancy.
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Successful product design consultancy IDEO, based in California, have come up with an unusual concept as a cornerstone of their company culture. They believe in ‘collaborative helping’ – essentially, sharing knowledge and ideas, not only with fellow workers but with clients too. To me, when I first came across it when researching my series of lectures on Leadership, Teambuilding and Managerial Creativity, this seemed like the antithesis of good business practice, and I wanted to know how they had managed to make it work.
In my early career, knowledge was king. The best way to protect your own job and keep your company one step ahead was to keep your knowledge to yourself – to make yourself indispensable. Not so these days, it seems. IDEO have found that by encouraging the exchange of ideas and knowledge, employees complete tasks more quickly, grow in confidence, and enjoy a feeling of ‘ownership’ of projects, however peripheral their involvement. And to do this, the company has to build ‘slack’ into the system, to allow time for all this helping, which they claim then leads to greater efficiency overall. Maybe it’s time, then, for all of us to ‘let it go’.
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‘How are the mighty fallen’ – or so we all thought when news erupted about Volkswagen’s emissions scandal, right at the height of their world domination of the auto industry, spearheaded by their ‘Think Blue’ manifesto (and for ‘Blue’, read ‘Green’). I was so impressed by their commitment to excellence across the board that, pre-scandal, I chose VW as a case study for my series of lectures on Leadership, Teambuilding and Managerial Creativity. So, if it had all gone very wrong, where did that leave my lecture?
A couple of years down the line from the breaking news, VW seem to be doing OK. They have obviously paid out billions in penalties, and top executives have been charged, but they are moving ahead on all fronts and are planning to become the world’s number 1 producer of electric cars. The emissions scandal has become yesterday’s news in a world where news, these days, has the power to knock you sideways. Perhaps, then, some of the messages from their manifesto made a lasting impression with the workforce, who remain loyal and determined to pull the company round. In any event, it makes for an interesting case study.
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When the old Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite back in 1957, it beat its rival US into space, and prompted the creation of a special unit in the Pentagon that was designed to make sure this never happened again. Called the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency – or DARPA – the unit was making significant progress until it was side lined by the creation of NASA in late 1958, and funding shifted. How could DARPA continue to function on a much reduced budget, and with little public awareness?
This is what really interested me, and prompted me to include it as a case study in my series of lectures on Innovation and Design Management. What I discovered was that DARPA adopted a completely revolutionary business model, appointing specialist teams on a project by project basis, all working to fixed budgets and deadlines. It was not always necessary to have people working on site, and team members left mid-project if they were no longer required. Yet DARPA has racked up a string of successes, proving that creative management leads to greater creativity. Good to know.
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We’re all familiar with Netflix and the services it provides. From the early (not so long ago) days of supplying DVDs through the post, Netflix has gone on to become a major media streaming service and creator of original material, with huge international reach. What is less familiar is the story behind their company culture – ‘Freedom and Responsibility’ – which I discovered when researching my series of lectures on Leadership, Teambuilding and Managerial Creativity.
Netflix started an HR revolution when their 128-slide presentation went viral. Music to the ears of employees everywhere, it shifted the responsibility for holidays, hours worked, expenses, share options and more, onto the employee, in the belief that ‘97% of people will behave in a responsible manner, and always do the right thing for the company’. This was radical creative thinking for what has become a very creative company, and it has allowed them to attract the best creative talent in a hugely competitive area. And what of the 3% who fail to make the grade? They get a generous pay off and leave quickly – so it’s a win win situation.
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There is no escaping social media when thinking of examples of success stories for my series of lectures on Innovation and Design Management. One of my favourites is the story of WhatsApp, the brainchild of US-based but Ukrainian born Jan Koum and his colleague Brian Acton. Born out of the need to communicate cheaply and easily with his father back in the Ukraine, WhatsApp was developed by Koum as a cross-platform, ‘family-friendly’ messaging app with no passwords, no advertising, and, most remarkably, no data collection.
What a pity, then, that since being bought out by Facebook for $19 billion in 2014, WhatsApp has been forced to relax some of its early principles that made it so attractive to users. There have been changes to allow Facebook access to WhatsApp’s Contacts database, providing vital marketing information to Facebook’s advertisers. Early adopters, understandably, are not happy. But over a billion users worldwide seem to be happy enough, and that no doubt makes Facebook happy – and richer, of course.
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A course on Retail and Merchandising now has to include a study of a purely online retailer, and I chose to look more closely at fashion retailer Zappos as an interesting example for my recent series of lectures. This wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon started out as an online shoe retailer, and quickly gained traction with the young set. The company has a reputation for extraordinary customer service, going ‘above and beyond’ in an area where expectations are generally low, and so are able to maintain a loyal customer base. But what is their real USP?
From early days in the noughties, Zappos recognised the value of social media in building strong customer relationships. CEO Tony Hsieh regularly tweets – and not just about the business – and encourages all his employees to do the same. The effect has been to retain customers who feel they are part of the Zappos family, with genuine involvement and value, and with less of the prevailing feeling of being just a ‘number’ and the product of some clever algorithms. The long-term trick for Zappos will be in finding a good balance between keeping in touch and becoming intrusive, but for the younger generation, that day still seems to be a long way off.
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Part of my Innovation and Design Management lecture series focuses on whether it is better to be first or best when bringing a product to market. A great example is the story of Coca Cola and Pepsi, arch rivals in the soft drinks business, who have been slogging it out for well over a century. The products are remarkably similar, and in blind taste tests Pepsi is often found to be the favourite, yet Coke is the undisputed market leader.
Despite recent concerns about sugar content, Coke shows no signs of losing its popularity and looks set to continue as the world’s favourite – even though Pepsi might taste better. This says much about the power of advertising and marketing. Coca Cola has strong branding which remains almost unchanged from the 1890s original, and consistently innovative, eye-catching advertising campaigns over the years have ensured that it remains ‘top of the mind’ in audiences all around the globe. One of the many things I learnt from my years as a creative – don’t mess with the logo!
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These days, the fashion market seems to be a very crowded place to be. With so many choices for young buyers both on the high street and online, it must be difficult for many retailers to survive. I have always taken an interest in the rise of the Spanish chain Zara, which seems to have bucked the trend and enjoyed several years at the top, and so I chose to include it in my recent series of lectures on Retail and Merchandising as a company that has taken a slightly different approach.
Zara has cleverly chosen to house its stores in prime retail locations, with top-quality fittings and great merchandising, all disguising the fact that the product is very competitively priced and often mid-range on quality. However, their adoption of ‘fast fashion’ – the disruptive strategy that allows them to make rapid changes to their offering in response to buying patterns – means that they always have something new and stylish on show. And so Zara’s owner Amanico Ortega is now the richest retailer in the world, not least because of his huge holding in prime real estate – a great exit strategy, should he ever need it.
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Considering the question of invention versus innovation in my series of lectures on Innovation and Design Management, I came across the fascinating story of the little-known Croatian-born inventor Nikola Tesla. The name Tesla has now become synonymous with the classy electric sports car that bears its name, a car that is enjoying remarkable success against all the odds, but the story of Nikola Tesla is even more remarkable.
Tesla made huge strides in the early adoption of electricity, developing the ‘AC’ system while the likes of Thomas Edison were still using the old ‘DC’ system. He even worked on wireless lighting and communication as far back as the 1890s. But, as is so often the case, Tesla lacked the necessary business skills to make a commercial success of his inventions, and others profited from his brilliance. How often, in recent years, have we seen great British inventions taken up and exploited by foreign companies to their obvious advantage?
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It is possible that you are controlling your home heating system with the help of Nest, the brainchild of ex-Apple engineer Tony Fadell, who sold his 4-year-old start-up company to Google in 2013 for $3.2 billion. Why would a company like Google be interested in a device that regulates people’s central heating? (Oh, and there was also a smart carbon monoxide detector under the Nest banner.) I found the answer when researching my series of lectures on Leadership, Teambuilding and Managerial Creativity.
Tony Fadell is not just interested in user-friendly heating regulators. He is interested in total connectivity, or The Internet of Everything. And that is something that Google are very interested in. Imagine the sort of data gathering that can be achieved when a company has access to people’s total buying habits – whether it’s their domestic fuel consumption or the contents of their fridge. That equals power, and one amazing revenue stream. Fadell claims that he is not motivated by money – hence the sell-out – as he just wants to get on with making great products. He trusts the team at Google to look after our data. I only wish that I shared his confidence.
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