Innovating with Purpose
The new principles for driving innovation-led growth
Take a moment to think about the recent innovations that have been most meaningful in your life.
Is it the Peloton bike that has finally gotten you into a consistent workout routine? Or the way Oscar has eliminated that feeling of being overwhelmed when navigating your choice of health insurance? Has SpaceX rekindled your imagination and aspirations for space travel? Or is it Alexa’s ability to play whatever film or show you want without knowing or caring what platform it’s played from?
In each of these examples, companies have created products and services that are truly different in the ways they address customer needs. The companies have been able to turn entire categories on their heads. It’s what any professional with “innovation” in his or her title dreams of doing. And yet, these examples seem to be the exceptions rather than the norm. Why is innovation so rare?
Leverage the present, build for the future
It comes down to how companies think about the role of innovation. Often, the responsibility lies with a select group of people hailing from strategy, R&D, and design—each of whom are eagerly dreaming up visions of the future. Within the group, the desire to nurture and grow bold new ideas creates a dynamic that actually limits who is able to participate in early stages of innovation development. Visions of the future are threatened by the realities of the present. This is a natural tendency that we see time and again. The fear seems to be that the more people who are exposed to a nascent idea, the more chance it will be critiqued and saddled with present-day constraints that prevent it from moving forward.
While we recognize this anxiety, we see that truly game-changing ideas emerge only when innovation includes the ability to dream about what is possible while, simultaneously, being grounded by what exists today. Innovation is best when it is a team sport that includes team members who are able to use the best of where the business as a springboard for the future.
It’s essential to understand existing capabilities and assets, as we look to create what’s next. The brand and its purpose must be an essential input to innovation.
For R&D and strategy team members, that often requires a shift in mindset. When considering both the present and the future, they need to spend as much time looking to stretch and build existing assets and capabilities into something new—as they do when looking for truly new opportunities. Members of the brand team should also be an integral part of the innovation effort, ensuring that the brand purpose and vision become part of the foundation for research and ideation. Rather than waiting until an idea is formed and then asking the brand team to manage communications, we find meaningful impact comes from using a brand’s purpose as an essential input to innovation.
Approaching innovation with a solid foundation in the present, as well as a strategic vision of the future, also helps innovators avoid common pitfalls. Without a clear view of where a brand’s purpose can lead and where assets can be stretched, innovation often falls flat. It becomes a high-risk bet with no long-term differentiation or meaningful advantages in the market.
Innovation and brand, inextricably linked
Our view of innovation is a bit different. It requires consideration of where a brand exists today and where it might go in the future. We view innovation and brand as inextricably linked and find that the best results come from collaboration between the two disciplines. Innovation is as much a brand challenge as it is a challenge to drive revenue. The most successful solutions ultimately do both.
Our model of Go-to Brands helps quantify that impact. Our model says that the best brands, those that become our “go-to” partners as we conduct our lives, strike a powerful balance by offering connection and progress.
Connection occurs when we have a deep sense that a brand understands us and shares our values. Progress is about making it possible for us to do things we have never done before or, in a broader sense, making our world a better place.
While it is easy to assume that innovation teams should focus on delivering progress and that brand teams should focus on delivering connection, we argue that both teams need to deliver on both responsibilities. The separation of the two is the trap that sends innovators off to try to out feature one another and leaves brand owners thinking that their job begins and ends with marketing. Innovation needs to create connection while enabling progress.
When done well, innovation resets customer expectations. Customers have a fundamentally new view of how things should work, as well as a new understanding of a brand and why it is right for them. Anything new that we’re creating must be deeply resonant in the way in which it understands and reflects the values of the end users but also must be designed to offer a better way of doing things.
This dual ambition of creating progress along with connection leads different brands to solve the same challenge in dramatically different ways, each reflecting its individual brand purpose and the unique needs of its customers. Take for example, something as ubiquitous as the office chair. Even a straightforward piece of office furniture can become a chance for innovation to take shape in ways that represent what a brand stands for—the connection—and the types of progress that the brand wants to provide.
We can begin with an IKEA desk chair that offers clean style, an affordable price, and the flexibility to fit into spaces large and small. What the chair may lack in ergonomic comfort, it makes up in providing a range of colors to suit a broad set of decors at an inexpensive price. For a brand that’s all about accessible design, IKEA solves my desire for an affordable and attractive chair.
Shifting brands, Crate and Barrel offers a very different solution to the desk chair. Its version has a sleek, modern design that reflects Crate and Barrel’s desire to make the creative work of artisans accessible to people around the world. The company’s use of vegan leather reflects its view on animal-based materials, and the price tag is in line with its premium position in the market. Crate and Barrel’s solution makes it possible for customers to have higher-end design and ethically-sourced materials in their homes.
No discussion of desk chairs would be complete without mentioning Herman Miller. The master of ergonomics brings to market a view that desk chairs should provide comfort for people of all shapes and sizes. Available in a range of sizes and customizable to my preferred tilt, back support, and arm preferences, Herman Miller’s premium chair promises a comfortable experience for long workdays. For a brand that’s about providing a better solution, Herman Miller has shifted the focus of furniture from how it looks to how it is used—and has a premium price tag to reflect that benefit.
Using our model of progress and connection as a guide does not mean that we put any less emphasis on commercial success in market. After all, that is still the fundamental goal of innovation—and our ultimate objective as we work with our clients.
Here, the Go-to Brands model provides some powerful results. The brands that deliver on both Progress and connection, the ones that have achieved “go-to” status, outperform their peers by 5X growth. Compared to brands that are stuck in the cycle of constantly trying to provide more progress or those that are solely communicating their brand message, the brands that are providing both progress and connection win every time.
How we innovate with purpose
Innovating through both connection and progress requires a new and different kind of approach. It’s not just about speaking with customers and filling a conference room wall with Post-its. We have crafted our innovation methodology to maximize the impact of the effort that our clients put into innovation. We create the experiences, products, and businesses that will reset customer expectations and, in the process, create growth and loyalty in the process.
Our approach is unique in three ways:
- Brand as a launchpad: creating innovation from a strong understanding of a brand’s vision
- Today/Tomorrow insight: understanding today so we can accurately anticipate tomorrow
- Purposeful prototypes: using prototyping to understand the impact on both connection and progress
Brand as a launchpad
While being well-versed in the traditional methods and tools of innovation is essential, we believe that innovation efforts are always stronger when brand purpose is given deep consideration toward guiding the innovation process. Project teams need to include a blend of voices. Workstreams led by innovation should include members who can help the full team internalize the brand opportunity. Innovations that successfully create meaning come from teams that are fully immersed in the brand’s purpose, equities, and extendibility.
Throughout the engagement, our model also creates healthy and constructive tension in the areas of focus, which means that any ideas have to be as right for the brand as they are for the customer. In this way, a shift occurs from brand purpose being an afterthought to it becoming a central consideration and part of the process. Ultimately, that helps teams understand how to build greater connection in their quest for innovation.
We put this approach in place by staffing our core teams with a member of our brand team and recommend that our clients do the same. When selecting the small working group that will steer an innovation engagement, a cross-functional set of perspectives that includes the brand’s purpose makes all the difference in creating meaningful innovation.
Today / Tomorrow insight
Great innovation is built upon a strong understanding of the current reality and a vision for the yet-to-be-defined future. So it is essential to have a team that can simultaneously consider both aspects. A successful innovation process needs to get deep into understanding the current realities of the brand, the customer, and the business but also be able to accurately anticipate where each of those areas are moving into the future. It’s not enough to understand today without a healthy perspective on what tomorrow may hold. It’s also not enough to daydream about tomorrow without having a solid grounding in what has already been built today.
Our process includes a set of proprietary tools designed to help us build our Today/Tomorrow Insight in three areas: the brand, the customer, and the business. Using these tools allows us to uncover the opportunity in where the market is heading, enabling us to create new, purpose-built ideas for the emerging reality.
Today: Establish a Baseline
As a starting point, it’s essential to have an accurate read on how the brand performs today. We use Brand Aperture™, a diagnostic tool, to get a baseline read on how the brand rates on the dimensions of connection and progress. That serves as a starting point, as we set out to increase both measures and earn “go-to” status for the brand.
It is important to pair this quantitative understanding of the brand’s connection and progress with a thorough brand audit. By exploring the brand’s purpose, equities, and commitments, as well as those of the competitive set, we can understand points of distinction. The audit should include the views of internal employees, as well as the views of target customers in order to provide insight into the similarities of and differences between audiences.
Tomorrow: Quantify Advancement
The purpose of any innovation effort is to deliver meaningful impact, so it’s important to quantify innovation advancements. After developing a set of prototypical solutions, we recommend running a second battery of the Brand Aperture™ measures to track the movement created toward connection and progress. Comparing the results to the in-going baseline can quantify the impact of new ideas, helping innovation teams make the case for the investment and resources required for commercialization. In that way, we are able to show what a “tomorrow” view may look like.
Today: Identify the Jobs to be Done
without a deep and nuanced understanding of the customer. Many innovators get caught up in trying to understand how customers are engaging with a product or service in order to find ways to improve the offering. While this path may help you squeak out a point or two of growth, it does not set you up to solve the true needs and desires for advancement that customers are seeking.
We often look at consumer research through the lens of Jobs to be Done. By employing a research process that focuses on in-depth conversations with customers in order to understand the progress that they’re looking to make in their lives, innovation teams can understand customer frustrations, desires, self-crafted solutions, ambitions, and designated partners at a deeper level. Jobs to be Done enables innovators to understand customer views of connection and progress in a way that makes transformational innovation possible.
Tomorrow: Understand the Customer of the Future
The understanding of customers cannot stop with the progress that they seek today. Innovation is moving forward at a blinding pace, so innovators must be able to anticipate the Progress that will be required tomorrow.
At Lippincott, we maintain a dynamic body of research into the Customer of the Future that tracks the trends, technologies, expectations, and policies that are shifting customer behaviors across categories. By matching the insights gained through Jobs to be Done with this understanding of the Customer of the Future, we’re able to anticipate the future progress that customers will desire. Our forward-looking research enables innovators to design with a vision of the future in mind, creating ideas that are right for what will emerge rather than simply for the reality that exists today.
Today: Uncover Hidden Assets
The business is the final area that is essential to interrogate with a Today/Tomorrow perspective. In addition to reviewing business strategy, performance, financials, and the existing innovation pipeline, it is important to understand the assets and capabilities that a business uniquely brings to an innovation challenge.
To identify these capabilities, we recommend conducting a Hidden Assets workshop. During this type of session, we recommend engaging a cross-functional team to identify the broad set of current business assets. The discussions often begin by identifying the assets that are front and center within the business – the professional talent, the patents, the physical infrastructure, the working capital – but soon reach below the surface to areas that may not be widely considered. For example: What is the value of a network of gig workers? How might we consider a series of manufacturing partnerships? Or what is the potential for having a strong lobbying group? Each of these ideas may set off a conversation around what is valuable within the asset and how it might be cultivated further.
A Hidden Assets workshop wouldn’t be complete without a discussion of its less sexy counterpart, the Hidden Liabilities. Beyond the obvious liabilities on the balance sheet, hidden liabilities may be issues such as a corporate culture that’s averse to change, an industry lagging speed to market, or a sales channel that limits innovation. While these hidden liabilities may be something to endure rather than eliminate, knowing the potential pitfalls allows teams to design with them in mind. Few things are as likely to hinder innovation as these landmines left unchecked.
Tomorrow: Explore Asset Potential
Having built a lineup of the full asset base, the next step is to understand which assets can open up future opportunities. A categorization exercise can identify assets that are both differentiated and extendable, creating a focus for innovation teams to begin developing new ideas. By deeply understanding where they have competitive advantage, innovation teams can greatly reduce innovation risk.
Prototyping is the final piece in creating progress and connection through innovation. We find that prototyping is the area where many firms go astray, mistakenly viewing it as a moment to focus exclusively on features and usability. We believe in Purposeful Prototyping to understand the aspects of connection (How does the idea help someone connect with the brand?) as much as the aspects of progress (How well does this idea work?).
To allow fair consideration of both connection and progress, we recommend designing prototyping approaches that are twofold. During any prototyping exercise — whether teams are testing paper concepts, video prototypes, clickable prototypes, or in-store experiences — we recommend splitting the discussion into two separate considerations. The first discussion explores how the idea functions, whether it is desirable, and whether it fits a need. The second discussion explores whether the idea fits with the perception of the brand, whether it reflects the respondent’s values, and whether it deepens his or her desire to associate with the brand. Only by testing for both the progress that the idea provides and the way it enables new types of connection can innovators truly understand whether the idea will help move a brand toward “go-to” status.
Innovating with purpose in your organization
When embarking on your next wave of innovation, we believe our approach will lead to more enduring relationships with your customers and more significant growth for your company. We’ve seen those results with our clients who have used our view of innovation as a path to become Go-to Brands.
Meet the Author
Create impact through innovation.
We’ve guided the world’s most iconic brands in the next wave of innovation, leading to more enduring relationships with customers and more significant growth.