The crucial 4th lens of innovation you're missing

May the 4th lens of innovation be with you

If you’re a marketer, you know that there’s power in threes. Just look at Snap, Crackle, and Pop.

Unsurprisingly, the same rule made its way into the innovation space with the rise of design thinking. Viewing innovation challenges through 3 intersecting lenses – desirability, feasibility, and viability – allows you to find a magic middle that solves the needs of each party, from customer to business. Right?

Well… not quite.

We love threes as much as anyone, but we’ve realized something over the years: When you introduce a 4th lens, true success follows.

Not sure what lens is missing in your innovation process? Read on.

Let’s start with the first 3 lenses of innovation

When companies think about innovation, especially in the CPG category, the modern way to ideate is through these lenses:

  • Is it desirable for our consumers?
    Is this what our consumers want? Is it fulfilling unmet needs or further delighting desires?
  • Is it feasible for our R&D team to deliver?
    Can we technically make this?
  • Is it a commercially viable idea?
    Will we make the money we expect to make from this innovation? Will it be sellable to retailers and consumers at the price point our margin expectations demand?

Here’s the thing: a new product (or service) might be desirable, feasible, and viable, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right move for your brand.

What you’re not seeing with 3 lenses

Maybe you’re a smaller brand that’s just put out an exciting new product that consumers want right now…

…and while demand is high, it’s taking you in a different direction to your brand’s North Star.

Maybe you’re a bigger company with multiple brands in your portfolio, and this latest innovation muddies the lanes between them…

…so you’ve gained a seat at the trend table, but you’ve lost the differentiation between brands that will protect their future salience.

Whatever the case, maybe you just need to be clear about your missing 4th lens: brand experience vision.

What exactly is brand experience vision?

Exactly what it says on the tin. It’s the guiding light of what you want your brand to look and feel like, over time and across every product and experience.

Your brand experience vision should connect each brand touchpoint to your brand strategy, purpose, and positioning. It’s the throughline that holds it all together. And it makes sure that each part of the whole – from product to activation – is telling your consumers the same brand story.

Without considering brand experience vision, you risk winning in the short term and losing in the long term. Why? You can end up with a diluted brand and innovations that don’t clearly fit into your portfolio. Even worse, you can denigrate the value of your biggest asset by losing clarity around your brand’s role in consumers’ lives. Given the global cost-of-living crisis, this last point is essential. If a consumer doesn’t understand exactly how your brand fits into their day-to-day, it’s unlikely to make the cut when they’re cutting back.

Why brand experience vision is so important for innovation

Strong brands are naturally thinking about the connection between brand and successful innovation. On the surface, it looks like using the desirability lens ticks that box.

But there are 2 important and distinct elements sitting behind that lens: brand and a consumer-first mindset. By lumping them together, “brand” doesn’t get the space it deserves – so you could be under-leveraging your strongest competitive advantage.

Say you’re an established company trying to innovate in a space with lots of startups. Well-funded startups have multiple innovation advantages, from agile testing methodologies to less internal and external regulation holding up implementation.

However, established companies have a secret weapon: powerful, battle-tested brands.

Brands with staying power aren’t built overnight, but they can be diluted almost as quickly. Just look at Cadbury’s foray into instant mashed potatoes (if you don’t remember those, ask yourself why). Unless you’re creating a new-to-world brand, everything you do as an established company should be about protecting the individual brands in your portfolio and adding to the brand equity you’ve already built.

Your end goal is to balance consumer desirability with brand ambition and find the unmet needs that push your brand closer to your experience vision. As a long-term innovation lens, desirability can’t (and shouldn’t) cover both.

You need a separate view.

Brand experience vision done right: A quick case study

Sock and apparel brand Bombas knew what they wanted to solve when they identified pain points with socks. They built a niche with product innovation like a seamless toe and a design tackling arch support. They also created an innovative, socially conscious business model – one pair purchased, one donated – after realizing that socks were the most requested clothing item at homeless shelters.

Their entire brand, from purpose to product, is laser-focused on providing comfort, support, and protection.

As Bombas expanded into apparel, the delineation between their products could have blurred with other category players. The reason it hasn’t? Look closely at Bombas’ website and you’ll see that they only make products that touch the skin. Every item has a clear link to being the protective layer of comfort between your body and what’s outside it – whether that’s a shoe, a jacket, or the elements.

They’ve created distinctiveness by staying as close to their brand experience vision as their products do to consumers.

Using brand experience vision as a 4th lens

Regardless of your starting point or objectives, brand experience vision needs to play a role. Here are 3 ways to use it:

1. You’re leveraging a new technical capability across your portfolio

Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean that you should – or that consumers will care later. First and foremost, be clear on how a new feature or development will:

  • Better serve the needs of your consumers
  • Build stronger perceptions around your brand in a way that you’re aiming for

Look through the lens: Does this innovation bring us closer to our brand vision, or is it noise distracting from the single-minded story we want to tell? 

2. You’re considering how to fill your long-term pipeline

Think about where you want your brand to be and what innovations will reinforce the brand equities you want to be known for. Then consider how to use your brand equities as an enabler to get there. If you want to grow your brand into a different space, what gradual steps can you take to build credibility – and how could your brand equities stretch into additional areas? Think about where you want to end up, then map out the path to get there.

Look through the lens: Am I telling a brand story that’s clear, cohesive, and coherent over time?  

3. You’re breaking into a new category

Think about your brand’s architecture and whether the same equities are relevant to the new category. It’s also critical to ask whether you’re pursuing breakthrough innovation to get closer to your innovation vision (and whether this approach may be better suited to another brand).

Look through the lens: Do I have a full understanding of what’s in and out of scope for my brand?  

The bottom line

No matter where you are as a business or what your innovation challenge is, you need to filter your actions through your brand experience vision to fully understand what will help or harm your brand in the long term. This 4th lens brings truth and structure to your innovation strategy and process. Without it, you might just be seeing what you want to see.

When it comes to innovation, as counterintuitive as it sounds, you need to go slow to go fast. Taking time to consider your brand experience vision is an up-front investment in your future. Not only does it allow you to better identify unmet needs worth solving, but it also protects what makes your brand sellable – so you can live to innovate again.



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