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Giving Your Brand an Edge: Innovation with a Higher Purpose

July 17, 2020


Giving Your Brand an Edge: Innovation with a Higher Purpose

A lot of us have been asking hard-hitting questions lately. With the world turned upside-down, we’ve had quite a bit of time to think about things. Why do we do the things we do? Why do we buy the things we buy, why do we work where we work?

These are all great questions! They can lead us to places of inspiration and motivation. The same is true for our brands: We can ask why our customers buy from us or why we use certain marketing tactics. We might ask how our customers perceive us, and what our brand’s purpose actually is.

These questions prepare us for open-ended research and digging into the essence of our brands.

Once we’ve discovered the essence of our brands, why our customers turn to us, we’re in a much stronger position to start rethinking, rebuilding, and restructuring. This can lead us to a point where we’re ready to experiment with new things, to start innovating. Maybe we’re ready to try out a new marketing technique. Or we’re ready to invent our very own brand of marketing. This kind of innovative spirit can spread to all parts of our business, from the products and services we offer to the people we hire and how we hire them.

In some ways, this kind of innovation—innovation with a higher purpose—is what you need to give your brand an edge in the market.

How a Higher Purpose Informs Innovation

Sometimes, brands “innovate” for the sake of innovation. They’re trying to “disrupt” the market, to shake things up. They might be willing to go out on a limb because what they’re doing isn’t working any more. They feel they have nothing left to lose.

When we innovate just to do something different or because we feel like we need a change, we’re making a misstep.

Coca-Cola’s New Coke fiasco is the poster child for this kind of thing. Coke saw sales falling and thought they’d “invigorate” them by revamping its core product. New Coke arrived and … people hated it.

It wasn’t long before Coke had returned to its “Classic” formula. New Coke became nothing more than a cautionary tale for brands everywhere.

What was the problem with New Coke? Nobody asked for it! Everyone was quite happy with “old” Coke. But the company saw falling sales numbers and thought they needed to do something. So they did—without truly understanding why their customers were buying less or why their customers bought from them anyway.

Coke went back to the drawing board and found new ways to innovate. Cherry Coke and Vanilla Coke are “twists” on the classic formula. Diet Coke and Coke Zero speak to more health-conscious consumers, but they still follow the classic formula.

That’s why people buy Coca-Cola and not Pepsi or the white-label grocery store brand. They want the taste of Coke itself, so presenting “twists” on the classic can breathe new life into it—while still delivering what customers want. Coke Zero was even marketed as being everything you want from Coca-Cola, with none of the calories.

New Coke was the kind of solution we get when we innovate without a higher purpose. The products that have come after it all have that purpose in mind. Coca-Cola knows that every new product it introduces needs to meet a certain benchmark, to meet the desires of its customers.

Innovation with Purpose: Google

One of the best examples of a brand that’s always innovating in ways that speak to its higher purpose is tech giant Google. Google started up back in the late 1990s. There were dozens of other search engines out there at the time.

Google was different. The algorithm they used hauled in better results. Since then, Google’s revised their algorithm in line with what users want from their web experiences. If users say they want websites to load super-fast, Google tweaks the algorithm to reflect that.

The result? Google’s search results are always evolving to meet user expectations. People know and trust that they can rely on Google to deliver what they’re looking for. In fact, it’s easy to think that if you can’t find it via Google search, it might not even exist.

Google’s other products work on a similar principle. They took a common theme and found a way to do it “better.” Gmail was designed to be a better email service than other free services of the time, like Hotmail. Google Drive is the tech giant’s cloud service, like Dropbox. Docs and Sheets are its answer to Microsoft Word and Excel.

Google has made missteps—think of Google Glass and Google+, its failed social network. Yet even in its failures, we can see Google’s forward-thinking innovation. Google Glassdidn’t take off because it looked pretty goofy and people weren’t quite sure what it did, but it was supposed to make searching on the go even easier. Google+ was probably better than Facebook, but it can be tough to get people to turn away from old habits. Even if Facebook isn’t perfect, people were already used to it. Getting them to jump ship was more difficultthan Google anticipated.

So, what can we see here? Google is always innovating in line with its higher purpose: to make it easier to do the things we do every single day. Google’s search engine makes it easier to find the information we’re looking for. Google Glass is a logical extension of that. Google Home smart speakers have the same goal—making it easier for us to look things up on the Internet, play our music, and even turn our lights on and off.

That’s innovation with higher purpose.

How Do You Get to Innovation with Higher Purpose?

The first step is to discover your higher purpose. Google’s purpose is innovation itself, in a way. But they’re also always aiming to improve on the tools we use to complete everyday tasks, to make things a little bit simpler, a little bit better. Coca-Cola sells a particular set of feelings along with its drink. People know they can rely on Coca-Cola for a refreshing beverage and taste they know and love—one that’s probably associated with good times, beach trips, or even holiday memories.

These “higher purposes” have to inform your innovation. If Google is forward-thinking, looking to make our everyday lives simpler, then this has to inform their hiring too. They want to hire people not just with particular skills, but with a particular mindset. If Coke brings us together, then they’re going to want to hire people who are community-minded. Their ad campaigns and community initiatives, as well as brand values, have to reflect that.

In this way, we get to innovation with higher purpose. Knowing what our higher purpose is allows us to adopt bolder mindsets, to ask some of those hard-hitting questions and come up with new answers. It lets us discover new partnerships we might not have considered before. And it lets us think about individual talents and what each member of our team brings to the table. It encourages us to let people discover those strengths, their gifts, and develop them.

When we can do that, our brands will grow in new and exciting ways. But that growth is also organic—it’s not the artificial, forced growth of something like New Coke, innovation for innovation’s sake. It’s not trying to fix a problem with a solution we’ve grafted on from another tree.

When innovation is natural, it resonates with our customers. It makes sense to them; it meets their needs and wants. And that opens up the door for further growth and exploration!

Discovering Your Higher Purpose

So, before we start innovating, we need to understand our brands. Our higher purposes have to inform everything we do, and that includes innovation. No brand’s “true” purpose is just to make money. We all exist for another reason—to deliver something more to the people who buy from us.

Once we know what that is, we have the insight into how to innovate in a way that speaks to that core purpose. So ask those hard-hitting questions: Why does your brand do what it does? Why do your customers buy from you?

When you start with the why, innovation—and everything that goes with it—is sure to follow!


Meet Margo…brand visioning & marketing

Margo Jay is a Master Brand Strategist with a career leading globally recognized brands; developing and launching a proven model that maximizes competitive sales potential and consumer appeal. She has built the model to help companies of all sizes. Her Client roster includes entrepreneurs through to Fortune 100 brands: NHL teams, Global QSR brands, CPG brands, Broadcast brands, Agencies, Non Profit brands, Hard goods…this model and process provides competitive advantage in any category.

Complete clarity. Ownable distinct selling proposition. Shared values. Brand Clarity. Brand Focus. Brand Inspiration. Brand Obsession. Unlocking brand potential is what she does.

And it all starts with why!

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