Julian Chow
Aug 19, 2016

Jobs to be done: A useful new methodology

Thinking of the job your customer wants your product to do is a simple but powerful methodology, writes Julian Chow of Text 100.

Julian Chow
Julian Chow

Customers don’t buy your product, they hire you to get a job done.

Sounds like a simple enough statement, doesn’t it? Yet it has profound implications for the way we solve problems in marketing and communications.

The above is the mantra of the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) methodology, which is a way of problem-solving that’s often utilised by innovation or design agencies.

Crystallised by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, JTBD posits that there has to be a reason behind why people purchase a product or a service: Behind the shine and the luster of a shiny new gadget, there is some problem—however small—that it solves. And that’s the entire driving force for a purchase decision. With an understanding of the “job” for which customers find themselves “hiring” a product or service, companies can more accurately develop and market products well-tailored to what customers are already trying to do.

According to practitioners of the methodology, there are three broad-based categories of jobs:

  1. Functional jobs: These relate to tasks on a practical level, for example, getting your work done
  2. Emotional jobs: These relate to needs and tasks that affect one’s emotions, more often than not, the job here is to feel good / better
  3. Social jobs: These relate to tasks that involve social status

More often than not, there are multiple jobs which can be done by a single product or service. For example, we could say that midrange smartphones could fulfil functional and emotional jobs such as emailing and keeping in touch with loved ones, but a premium smartphone could additionally fulfil social jobs such as signalling to others (and potential mates, perhaps) that one is a class above the average.

Application in marketing and communications

So how does JTBD help marketers and communicators? At a fundamental level, it helps us focus on the right problem to solve. It forces us to view a problem from a customer’s point of view rather than from the brand side, and that strips away a lot of the biases and perceptions that the brand may have about itself. Jobs-to-be-done takes a hard, honest look at the problems which the customer is facing today. How? A key tool in the JTBD practitioner’s arsenal is interviews.

JTBD interviews are different from focus-group interviews because they try to unearth the context around why a decision was made, in an effort to get a clearer full picture about the problem. This lies in contrast to my experience with focus-group interviews, where a lot of the questioning falls around why the product was chosen and tries to drill into the product features as the main reason for purchase. JTBD attempts to build a timeline that delineates the progress of customers on their way to the purchase, and dig out thoughts that occurred along the way, which could have acted like triggers. If you’re keen on finding out a bit more about how to conduct JTBD interviews, here’s a great resource, or you could also purchase this set of cards on Amazon.

So does this really work? Well, I for one would strongly say so. In a recent pitch that we did for a healthcare provider, we ran extensive JTBD interviews and managed to uncover a more fundamental problem—one that the client brief did not touch upon. While the client brief focused on improving patient knowledge as a way to increase sales, what we found from our JTBD interviews was that the fundamental problem patients experience in healthcare today is the uncertainty and frustration that comes as a result of the process of medication optimisation. In short, the more pressing (and possibly more lucrative) problem to be solved was making the prescription process more accurate, to decrease patient unhappiness. This opened up a whole new avenue of thinking, for which we were able to propose a “bigger picture” solution for our client.

While product design may not be in the domain of marketers or communicators, JTBD is still relevant because it tells you what you should be focusing your content on. If you know the customer problem so intimately, you become more effective at communicating and engaging with the customer. And that too, helps you reap more benefits, such as more impactful headlines, better ad copy, increased messaging relevancy, and so forth.

Further resources

Keen to find out more about Jobs-to-be-done? I’ve pulled together a starter toolkit:

Enjoy, and let me know how you find it.

Julian Chow is digital consultant and senior account manager at Text100 Singapore

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