How working with creative partners helps companies to gain a competitive advantage

“I am encouraged by the potential that artists and designers have to make real changes in the world. Artists and designers have a powerful role in this expansive universe – to take all of the complexity and make sense of it on a human scale”

John Maeda in The Design of Business

Between 2009 and 2012, Danish organisation, the Centre for Cultural and Experience Economy (CKO) provided grants to a range of companies to enable them to work with creative partners. They have now published a review of the funded projects – Creative Competitive Advantage (.pdf) – which demonstrates brilliantly how businesses can explore new potential when bringing in external creative expertise.

Sensoral shopping by TEKO. The photos are for free editorial use.
Image courtesy CKO


CKO works to help companies develop high-growth potential by using experiences as part of their business – that is, integrating the intangible elements that are often developed through creative activities, which enable a company to add value and offer a competitive advantage (e.g. design, branding, storytelling, conversations and eliciting emotions). In turn, CKO helps those operating in the creative industries increase their understanding of business by providing access to strategic partnerships with more traditional companies.

The publication Creative Competitive Advantage showcases 20 projects supported through the Growth Fund covering product and service innovation, communication and marketing and organisational development.  It’s a hefty read, but well worth it if you want to be inspired by the potential for creative collaboration.

What is interesting is that CKO not only present the outcome of the project (each case study finishes with a detailed guide of how businesses can employ similar techniques), but also take time to describe the nature of the collaboration, the processes used and how the ideas that were developed came to fruition.  It’s clear that the projects went further than a basic commissioning model, and were true collaborations with time allocated for research, exploration and experimentation to produce real ground-breaking outcomes.

There were three main types of partnerships:

1)     Similar companies working together to address a common industry problem – for example, the first project shown, “Retro Concepts”, outlines how a group of furniture and textile companies came together to explore how storytelling can rejuvenate the sector. Or “Game Changers” on page 116, demonstrating how retail companies developed games to motivate their shop floor staff and increase job satisfaction.

2)     A joint venture between companies to create a new market offering – for example, “The Digital Painting/Chromalex” on page 20, a collaboration between a technology company, a manufacturing company and colour consultancy developing interactive screens which they now supply to hospitals.

3)     Forming a diverse team of specialists to develop solutions for a company – for example (and one of our favourites), Sv. Michelsen on page 62, a chocolate company bringing together a musician, chef,  artist, graphic designer, marketing and PR experts, architect and social media specialists into an innovation department to improve their communications and marketing.

The Growth Fund seems to have been a huge success creating real impact for the companies involved. More than 80% of the companies experienced a good or very good return on investment from their involvement. In most cases, the collaborations met expectations or provided new insight into market and innovation opportunities, providing a strong case for collaborating with creative companies.

Download Creative Competitive Advantage (.pdf)

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