“Everybody promises fresh thinking but in my experience Sword & Stone really deliver on that promise.”
“If I had one strategic brand initiative that I absolutely had to get right, Sword & Stone would be my pick.”
“Sword & Stone saved us thousands and made us millions.”
We find insights and new opportunities for our clients that don’t get them raising one eyebrow, but get them raising both eyebrows. Those are the insights that change things. Those are opportunities you can’t ignore.
Strategy is about problem solving. Innovation is about ‘new and better’. We’re about both. Comfortable with the board, polyboards and whiteboards. Multi-disciplined. Multi-sector. Multi-ples of three.
If ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ then it starts the day right. We help clients embed strategies and skills inside their organisations to create the culture necessary for change.
We have a rule that our project mix should always span a variety of categories, sectors and cultures. This cross-fertilization is just one of the reasons why we can promise our clients solutions that go beyond the predictable ideas they’ve seen before.
Brand Positioning and New Product Development Guidance
Cartoon Network is a global powerhouse of children’s entertainment brands. Its portfolio boasts some of the most recognised cartoons in the world, with their audiences spanning generations.
Over the last few years, Sword & Stone has been asked to help the network define what sits at the heart of several of its global franchises, aligning the business around each brand’s distinct place in its portfolio, ensuring their longevity and value.
Along the way we’ve helped the network develop an evergreen brand, turn a cult phenomenon into an iconic property for kids and adult fans, reimagined a cartoon about a family as a cartoon for the family, and positioned a key property for a global brand launch.
We’ve worked with Oxfam on a variety of projects, from communications, media and campaign strategy, to creating a corporate partnership and tapping into new audiences.
Even though we’d love to take you through them all in fine detail, the word count’s telling us that just one case study will do for today. So we’ll tell the story of our work on creating a corporate partnership with Oxfam.
It all began when Oxfam identified a particular corporation that they wanted to approach as a potential partner for fundraising and awareness. But, they weren’t sure how best to pitch themselves – the market is actually pretty crowded, and NGOs today need to show how they will help businesses hit their corporate and CSR goals.
In an intensive 2-day workshop using our Idea AcceleratorTM process, we worked through everything we knew about the corporate partner, and everything we knew about Oxfam, to look for the common points of interest – the middle of the venn diagram, if you will.
At the end of the two days, we’d collectively created a case which Oxfam could pitch.
Optimizing Fundraising Efforts
Princeton University, an Ivy League, in New Jersey is one of the finest universities in the world.
Princeton University wanted to increase their fundraising efforts, and needed compelling stories to engage in conversations with media and donors. Through role-play scenarios we armed frontline fundraisers, support staff and other influential Princeton voices with skills and stories to drive conversations towards engagement and giving, and ensured they spoke as one.
The work we did together with Princeton University was awarded a Bronze Award from CASE (Council for Advancement in Secondary Education), which is the leading international trade association for higher education.
“All of the work we did with Sword & Stone has been invaluable in helping us not only identify key messages, but also in unifying people from many different skill sets and positions.”
Erika L. Knudsen, Associate Director of Marketing, Princeton University Office of Development
In late 2015, the management team at Majestic were formulating their future business strategy and they wanted their employees to contribute to the direction of the company.
Sword & Stone ran ‘Have Your Say’, an initiative encouraging Majestic staff to voice their thoughts on the future of the company. From stores to head office, from Falmouth to Edinburgh, ideas and opinions were generated through group workshops, diary studies and surveys.
This project engaged hundreds of employees across the company, and the findings significantly impacted the shape of Majestic’s business plan.
'Working with Sword & Stone on the Majestic "Have your say" plan was a fantastic experience, great facilitation and running of a step-change program that looks, feels and has been received by the organisation in a very positive way. Look forward to the results.'
John Colley, Managing Director, Majestic Wines
Life insurance is a bloody grim category that reinforces our ‘don’t think about it’ relationship with death. We helped InsureTech start-up DeadHappy (DH) build its brand around challenging society’s (unhealthy) attitudes to death and create a launch proposition for a younger demographic.
The life insurance market is incredibly staid. It’s operated the same business model for hundreds of years and is filled with grim brands talking about widows and abandoned children. It’s also a category plagued by incredibly low conversion rates due to products requiring hours and hours of form filling, and extremely high monthly payments.
All BIG barriers to younger consumers – a big target audience Sword & Stone defined for DeadHappy as people who ‘know they should have life insurance’.
DH takes a very, very different approach to appeal to this audience:
Over the period of a month we worked with the company’s founders to focus their audience, brand purpose and product’s launch proposition in order to appeal to consumers (and convince 2nd round investors).
Thanks to our work, they’re now on a journey to challenge society’s (unhealthy) attitudes to death, with policies targeted at a younger demographic that make it easy, and bizarrely entertaining, to plan for your own demise.
Having to turn around quality pitch thinking that answers a brief in a creative and effective way is pretty hard. To repeatedly have to do it in 1 or 2 days, is incredibly tough. So we gave CNN training, tips and cognitive tools to get to better insights and ideas, in the space of a few hours.
The 24hr pitch response. This is a common reality for many media companies. It’s certainly the situation for the content teams at CNN, who have to respond to briefs for branded content from a variety of different clients in a very short time-frame.
We worked with the teams to introduce new methods of working and ways of thinking which would deliver great insights and ideas at speed. A core deliverable was a framework that allowed teams to deconstruct client briefs and hunt for answers in new and unexpected places.
Not only did the team get a new sense of what is possible, but they found that the experience helped them collaborate better too. Our work has been so influential that we continue to be engaged by CNN to upskill teams in rapidly delivering insight and creativity in the US.
Who said creativity and efficiency don’t work together?
Bacardi Limited is the largest privately held, family-owned spirits company in the world.
Brand Ambassadors for Bacardi spend their days and nights out and about in bars, talking to the trade about the brands they represent. For them, presentation skills are a must.
So over six weeks, Sword & Stone ran a comprehensive presentation training programme for these ambassadors. Covering topics from performance skills, presentation construction, storytelling and media training, the course took a practical, collaborative approach which made huge improvements to the skills of the group.
'The programme was life changing. Initially I wasn’t convinced that a course like this could dramatically change my confidence, skills and my understanding of how I can apply this to what I do.'
Bacardi Brand Ambassador/Programme Participant
Innovative new fundraising models
WaterAid, the UK's dedicated water charity, had optimized its fundraising model to the limit, which left a £5m gap. We were asked to fill that gap.
We lead a WaterAid and agency working team to generate new giving models. We did this by looking at ‘levers’ of giving models, not just brainstorming ideas.
As a result of our thinking, WaterAid rejuvenated its fundraising efforts and were able to present strong business cases to the board.
We developed the name and identity for ‘Tonova’ – a new company that’s making ‘getting a new roof’ as easy as calling a cab.
Buying a roof is a huge, complicated purchase typically associated with lots of stress and worry, and rightly so… after all, having a roof over your head is pretty fundamental to wellbeing. It’s something you definitely don’t want to mess up.
Yet roofing had seen very little innovation, with most people left relying on word of mouth recommendations to find local roofers, who – more often than not – shirked off once the tea was finished.
Experiences like these put a ceiling on people’s expectations, leaving them feeling like they were unable to make informed, confident decisions on what was literally being built above their heads.
Thankfully, all this is changing – with a new online platform that’s made changing a roof (almost) as easy as calling a cab or a takeaway.
But this new platform needed a name and an identity...
This is where Sword & Stone came in, running workshops to come up with a name and designing a fresh, modern identity for the service: ‘Tonova’. Formed from the Latin word for ‘new’ and the Welsh word for ‘roof’, the name refers to the product that the happy customer receives, as well as the disruptive step forward that this platform has created in the roofing industry itself.
Columbia University, an Ivy League, in New York City is one of the finest universities in the world.
Our relationship with the university spans a number of years and a variety of projects. From developing the university’s fundraising campaign in 2012, to renaming and positioning The Data Science Institute. It allowed Columbia University to secure real world big data contracts, to developing the vision for Columbia Magazine which reaches some of the most powerful people on the planet.
"Sword & Stone can align senior clients who have different perspectives/agendas by providing actionable, insight driven strategies. If I had one strategic initiative that I absolutely had to get right, Sword & Stone would be my pick!”
Tim McGowan, Deputy Vice President, Alumni and Development, Columbia University
Insight, Business Strategy and Brand Positioning
Which? is one of the great British brands.
We have worked with Which? consistently over the last two years on projects ranging from helping to develop future business strategy to positioning the Which? legal services offer, from bringing the mortgage consumer to life, to helping to recruit new members.
We’re really proud of our association with Which? and the work we continue to do for them.
'Everybody promises fresh thinking but in my experience Sword & Stone really deliver on that promise.'
Chris Gardner, Managing Director, Which? Publishing
Strategic Skills Audit
Pharmaceutical company GSK wanted to identify the skills gaps across their marketing department in order to implement a training programme. By looking beyond specific skills gaps to consider what was needed for development in the long term, we turned a department audit into a broader strategic plan intended to transform GSK’s marketing into a high performance team capable of leading the industry.
“John Howkins delivered everything that we hoped for on this project and a lot more too. He brought real insight into our opportunity as a marketing organisation and a highly strategic recommendation on where we should focus to not just improve but to transform from good to industry leading.”
Anna Hale, Area Marketing Director Northern Europe, GSK Consumer Healthcare
General Assembly is a pioneer in education and career transformation, specializing in today’s most in-demand digital skills.
We were asked to help coach students pitching to clients on a live brief, in two specific areas: firstly, how to think when answering the brief and, secondly, when formulating and presenting their final presentation back to the clients.
“The pitches went so well that two teams were offered full-time roles almost immediately after presenting. They all reframed the original briefs and got some good storytelling in there too. Clients were all blown away. The feedback from the students from your session was awesome. You guys made a massive difference.”
Andrew Godfrey, UX Design Lead Instructor, General Assembly
We worked with New York agency Hudson Rouge to develop a brand strategy for Sprout baby food. Running focus groups, we heard about the judgment and dishonesty moms receive daily from the media, their peers and even themselves. Sprout prides itself on honesty – it uses only natural ingredients and displays them clearly on its transparent packs. So we positioned Sprout as the ‘Honestly Good’ brand, helping modern moms.
“Sword & Stone is a group of very smart people who are passionate about the power of creative strategy. I’d recommend this team highly whether you need fresh insight into a familiar problem or pointed inspiration to tackle a new challenge.”
Kris Shaffer, EVP Director Brand Planning, Hudson Rouge
By the time you finish reading this case (-2mins), a child will have gone missing in Europe. Missing Children Europe, a Brussels-based NGO, asked us for ideas to raise awareness of their helpline and influence European policy makers, the press and the public. We did just that.
When you’re an NGO, often tight budgets and big responsibilities come with the territory. And it never helps when government funding is being cut left, right and centre. Sword & Stone were engaged to rapidly develop creative ideas for Missing Children Europe that would deliver high impact for minimal cost.
Well… What could be more impactful than seeing the things that are left behind when a child goes missing?
Outside the European Parliament in the centre of Brussels, we created a large-scale installation of children’s second hand clothes, toys and books, all arranged in the shape of Missing Children Europe’s 116000 hotline number. This drew heartstrings and attention to the crucial resource (currently facing funding cuts) which provides practical, emotional and legal support to at-risk children and their families.
The stunt drew crowds of passers-by, as well as key MEPs, some of whom even helped build the installation with their own donations of clothes. The installation gained coverage in the European press and across social media, calling for greater public awareness, better funding and policy change to help solve this critical issue.
We created the global positioning for Boomerang – helping take it from a support channel for Cartoon Network, to a future-proof flagship brand for younger kids.
Through Cartoon Network, Turner Entertainment has been one of the leading voices in kids’ entertainment for over two decades. But in recent years the tide has been changing, with new media like YouTube and Netflix giving kids way less of a reason to watch linear (normal) TV.
In order to turn around declining ratings, Turner needed to raise the profile of, and capture a larger, yet more targeted audience for Cartoon Network’s sister channel Boomerang.
Boomerang had originally been an outlet for Turner’s archival content (which includes classics like Tom & Jerry and Scooby Doo), but in order to make the brand relevant we needed to find a credible reason as to why 21st century iKids would forgo Minecraft or Joe Vloggs to watch cartoons on Boomerang.
We undertook copious amounts of desk-research, watched a hell-of-a-lot-of the crazy, weird stuff kids watch these days, and fed all of this into workshop attended by 20 or so cartoon enthusiasts (aka Boomerang stakeholders), leveraging the collective creative genius in attendance to create a role for Boomerang that all-but guarantees your grandchildren’s grandchildren will be engaging with the brand in however many hundreds of years.
Breakdown cover provider and insurer The AA was planning to launch a new mortgage product, and needed a consumer-facing proposition to go to market with.
We developed a strategic proposition for the new product based on insight from customer calls and the outputs of our Idea Accelerator™ workshop run with key stakeholders.
We found that consumers generally make mortgage enquiries based on rate, not realising that lower rates often meant higher fees overall. In a market shouting about rates, rates, rates, we created a proposition based on the better long-term value that mortgages from The AA deliver for their members.
Innovation and Proposition Development
BGL is one of the UK’s largest consumer insurance groups. They own companies such as Comparethemarket in the UK, LesFurets in France and hoyhoy in the Netherlands, with the group turning over a combined revenue of £507 million in 2014.
Our work with BGL has spanned several projects and brands with different purposes: from creating reward mechanics which ensured consumers completed their purchase journey, to articulating go-to market propositions.
'I’ve been involved in a number of strategic projects, and have found that the most powerful ones are not always those with the most innovative thinking, but those where the team are most enthusiastic about it. With Christian and the team, however, we get both. Their approach creates the perfect blend of creativity and engagement, they are my go-to place for anything that’s a little bit difficult.'
Dominic Holton, Associate Director, LesFurets.com/BGL
We helped Care UK free up NHS doctor’s surgeries by creating a proposition for a new digital service which is giving patients easy access to healthcare professionals.
In partnership with communications agency Founded, we conducted qualitative research to understand the British public’s experience of the current GP system and their reactions to a potential new digital solution.
Our initial hunch was that the older the patient, the more likely they’d be to reject the new service: we thought they’d be reluctant out of a general ‘technophobia’ and also because of their nostalgia for the ‘old days’ of the NHS.
But Sword & Stone doesn’t jump to conclusions ;) so we held a dozen focus groups to gather in-depth opinions from people of all ages and life-stages. And, alas, our initial hypothesis was proven completely wrong!
We heard how patients’ varying levels of dissatisfaction with their GP service, personal relationship with their doctor and confidence in their own body and symptoms played a far greater role in their ‘readiness for’ or ‘rejection of’ the new system. This showed us that the UK’s embracing of the ‘digital revolution’ is far more nuanced than young vs old.
This crucial insight paved the way for us to create a proposition for the new service that made sure it would cater to improving the health of the whole nation, and not just ‘digital-savvy millennials’… #niceone
We spent weeks travelling the country speaking to employees across the business to ‘craft the future’ of national retailer Hobbycraft. Get ready for all of the craft puns.
Hobbycraft is a UK retailer selling supplies for painting, sewing, knitting, crocheting, baking, jewellery making, paper maché-ing… It is craft heaven to its customers, and its employees are just as passionate and knowledgeable about all things artistic.
But Hobbycraft were finding that often, a ‘stitch was dropped’ when it came to the customer experience. Instead of which being purely about creativity, passion and inspiration, staff were often tied up with unnecessary admin and process, which took them away from essential time on the shop floor.
So when the leadership team at Hobbycraft asked us to help ‘craft’ a 5 year plan to shape the next 5 years of the business, we got stuck in.
We conducted a review of the entire company, spending time in stores across the country, in the national distribution centre and in head office, speaking to both employees and customers, in order to help us ‘paint a picture’ of a typical day in the life of a Hobbycraft colleague.
With insights gathered from across the business, we ‘stitched together’ a plan for Hobbycraft, advising on everything from the company’s overarching strategic vision, down to the operational details of things such as click and collect, ensuring that customer needs are the ‘glue’ for everything Hobbycraft does.
In a world where religious differences are becoming more extreme, the LSE Faith Centre, which brings together people of different religious backgrounds in dialogue, has never been more important. Sword & Stone helped define the organisation’s vision for the future as they move beyond campus to expand their reach and impact.
Faith is at the heart of identity, community and conflict in today’s world. Pitched against Western assumptions of secularity is a world which is actually growing more, not less religious, and where religious conflict affects societies on all continents.
In the wake of this, the Faith Centre at the London School of Economics has evolved dramatically in the past few years – from a space for student prayer, to a leader in the interfaith sector that runs programmes, international field trips, training for the UK Foreign Office. With this evolution has come to opportunity to expanding its ambitions for transform interfaith dialogue (on and beyond campus).
We helped the Centre to define a vision for its future, a distinctive position within the sector, and a messaging framework to communicate with students, governments and media. At the heart of all of this work was the idea that, unlike others, the organization is unafraid to explore the difficult spaces within and between faiths.
Today the Centre continues to promote this idea across all their internal and external communications, with their long term ambition to transform interfaith relationships and attitudes across the world.
We created a communications idea and strategy to help establish Ideon as a leading global science park and centre for innovation.
Bluetooth. Sony. Ericsson. Global iconic brands with one thing in common – their home is Ideon Science Park, Sweden.
As one of the world’s leading science parks, Ideon wanted to strengthen its foothold on the international market and attract more multinational corporations – but was faced with increased competition among other innovation centres around the world.
We created a communications idea and strategy that activated the positioning and tagline (“Where sharp minds create the future”), and helped deliver the Ideon Science Park vision of increased international presence, all timed with their 35th Anniversary celebration.
Launch Strategy and Creative Development
Simplyhealth is the largest health cash plan provider in the UK, owning nearly 50% of the market. Having worked on a number of significant projects for the organisation, Sword & Stone were asked to help with the launch of its new eldercare product – Simplyhealth Care for Life.
With limited eldercare services available in a nation that has an ageing population and no organisation championing the issue, we created a thought leadership strategy that would define Simplyhealth as its champion. This in place, we assisted with the launch of the service by producing the sell-in collateral for sales teams as well as a communications plan and key messages.
Insight and Advertising Strategy
Sword & Stone was brought in by OgilvyOne Business to help develop the strategy behind a communications campaign for accreditation organisation Investors in People (IIP). The strategy used the idea of ‘Outperformance’ to create a campaign aligning IIP with high levels of business improvement. The campaign saw IIP’s Net Promoter Score increase by 8 percentage points, and it was awarded winner of Best Brand Initiative at the 2015 B2B Communications Awards.
'The insight, commitment and practical help of Christian and the rest of the Sword & Stone team played a significant role in developing the Outperformance campaign for IIP. I would wholeheartedly recommend Sword & Stone to any prospective businesses looking for creative help at any level.'
Richard Watkins, Executive Director, Ogilvy
Brand Positioning, Vision and Mission, Design Briefing
Foolproof wanted to reposition itself: to shift from a UX agency to an experience design agency, whose image better reflected the client experience and agency output they offered.
We facilitated a two day workshop that generated a vision, mission, values and goals. We also acted as strategic consultant for a new brand design, overseeing a pitch process and the creation of a bold, iconic identity that reflected the new positioning.
'Sword & Stone saved us thousands and made us millions. We’d built a thriving business over 10 years but our positioning and brand identity was lagging the reality of our capabilities. Sword&Stone helped us work through positioning strategy and arrive at a brief for brand identity so that we didn’t waste time or money with the visual identity partner they recommended to us. The resulting work transformed the public face of our business and gave us access to contracts and revenues that would previously have been out of reach.'
Tom Wood, Founding Partner, Foolproof
ISBA is Britain’s industry body for advertisers. It looks after advertisers’ interests and helps raise standards in marketing through training and consultancy.
Sword & Stone have worked with ISBA for many years and provide training courses including:
Increasingly we are helping clients take training into the heart of how they do marketing in order to create culture change within their organisations. Projects have included helping one of the leading UK supermarkets with their learning and development programme, a big pharma company with how to develop marketing skills strategically, and a food retailer with how to re-organise their approval process for creative work.
“John Howkins was brilliant. A perfectly pitched course, great at bringing people in, but also at holding the room. Very knowledgeable, engaging and personable. Would definitely recommend”
Department Head, Leading Supermarket Company
Brand Creation and Positioning
As a result of a merger, Forces Financial became Forces Mutual – one of the largest specialist insurers of the British forces. In collaboration with Foolproof we were asked to create the brand, with positioning work driving identity and web design.
Our research with personnel on base revealed that their needs were often misunderstood by ‘civi’ companies, and that the perceived unique strength of Forces Financial was its staff’s ability to really understand their needs (due to a workforce made up largely of veterans and people from military families.)
This lead to us positioning Forces Mutual as the financial ally to the armed forces, a thought which has influenced all aspects of design, communications and company culture.
Brand Creation and Naming
Braas Monier Group is a worldwide leader in roofing materials. In 2014 the company had global sales of €1.211 billion, with offices in 35 countries and over 7,300 employees.
In late 2015 the company developed an innovative technology capable of producing new strong concrete tiles that weigh 40% less. This is an innovation that allows hundreds of thousands of European homes with light sub-construction to have a real tile roof for the first time. After winning a competitive pitch, we were asked to produce a name and a story for this technology.
What we created, over a period of just 6 weeks with a process that involved and aligned key stakeholders, was the proprietary ingredient brand Aerlox. Since then the group has invested in building the brand, ensuring that it generates increasing value for Braas-Monier in each European market it is introduced to.
From day-to-day thoughts to thinking that's a bit bigger, these are the things that have come out of our heads recently.
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