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June 28, 2018

By Mark Miller, VP, Account Director, RAPP Dallas

In our world of hard data, theories might seem too abstract and vague to be useful in business. After all, what can a theory tell us that data can’t?

The answer depends on your focus. Data gives us precise detail, but for zooming out and seeing the whole picture, the right theory might prove more useful. Applying a theory can help companies identify product innovations, maintain competitive advantages, and understand what matters to their customers. These are the points Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen outlines in his “Jobs to be Done” theory, refined and defined in his book “Competing Against Luck.”

What Is ‘Jobs to be Done?’
Christensen’s theory proposes that customers choose, or “hire,” products and services to complete a specific job and not just a need. The theory articulates a simple premise: Why is the customer hiring my company to complete a specific task? This approach can become a unifying mission that all aspects of the business can reference to ensure alignment.

The customers aren’t loyal to the exact product or service, but rather want whatever will accomplish their job requirements in the best way possible. When deciding on a product or service, customers assess the options through three foundational filters — how does the offering addresses their social, emotional, and functional needs for that particular job? If the company focuses on just one of these filters, it won’t produce the right results.

For example, consider how customers often “hire” cafes for their ideal work or study environments, rather than for coffee quality. If a cafe focuses on a great brew rather than providing Wi-Fi or a nice atmosphere, the job isn’t done sufficiently because customers don’t visit for the coffee alone. This is why it’s so important to understand what job your customers are hiring you to do.

When the “job to be done” is clear, alignment also becomes clear. If the coffeehouse owners realize the job to be done is an environment that helps customers think and work efficiently, they need to make sure they build a space to accomplish that. The customer expects caffeine, a crisp Wi-Fi connection, and a comfortable place to set up shop and work remotely. To meet these needs, the coffee shop should be investing in appropriate furniture and great internet (along with the coffee).

The ‘Jobs’ Theory and Innovation
The “Jobs to be Done” theory can also apply to innovation. Many of the modern “disruptors” achieved that status by finding better ways to do the jobs that customers were hiring other companies to do.

Think about how we watch movies. Movie theaters, TV channels, and DVD vendors all offered their own ways to get the job done, but then Netflix accomplished the same job in a better way by offering a library of streamable movies for a monthly fee. The customer’s job to be done was a hassle-free way to consume entertainment on their terms. It turned out that more than 100 million people preferred this method of movie watching, and Netflix became a huge success.

Uber identified a specific job to done: Make travel easier. The two options travelers had before were to rent a car or take a cab. Taxis had a monopoly on this job for years but built a reputation for poor service and an undesirable experience. Rentals were expensive and time-consuming. When Uber offered a specific solution to the identified job — using technology to meet demand and charging rates that were comparable to taxis, all through its convenient app — customers began hiring it in droves.

What ‘Jobs to be Done’ Means for Marketing
So far, we’ve seen examples of functional jobs, or tasks. But the “Jobs to be Done” theory also includes emotional and social jobs. A song, for example, might serve the emotional job of providing catharsis, and an expensive watch accomplishes the functional job of telling time, but they also do the social jobs of announcing the listener’s style or the wearer’s status, respectively.

Good marketers have always known how to articulate the functional, emotional, and social aspects of their products, but the problems occur when the focus of marketing shifts in the wrong direction. A company might advertise a job different from the one customers usually hire it to do — or, more likely in the age of big data, marketers will build campaigns based solely on demographic trends. Both problems arise when companies don’t clearly articulate their jobs to be done.

Christensen advocates a more qualitative approach, and his theory leaves numbers out of the equation. However, that doesn’t mean data is useless. At RAPP, we’ve found that a combination of the qualitative and quantitative works best. Qualitative insights gleaned from Christensen’s theory help to define what we should communicate to motivate behavior, and quantitative metrics allow us to identify customers more precisely.

Striking a balance is key. Companies that don’t effectively utilize data will be left behind, but companies without taking into account the emotional quotient will also start off in the wrong direction.

Applying the Theory to Reality
All marketing brands can benefit from the insights Christensen’s theory provides. Here are five universal ways to apply the concept to your business:

1. Identify the job.
Start by observing and researching customer behavior, then define and pressure-test the specific job you’ve identified. The job to be done is not a set of product specifications. Rather, it represents a customer need that may currently be solved by alternative solutions.

2. Build the customer story.
Once you define the job, identify how customers will arrive at your solution. What are the different customer journeys? Different people will need to do the same job, so the key is to cluster these journeys and define an appropriate marketing strategy for each.

3. Focus on insights rather than data.
Along with data analysis, invest in a deep analysis of customer motivations through research, ethnographic studies, and your own experiences. A small but deeper understanding of customer behavior may tell you more than a large sample size.

4. Move beyond the functional benefits.
Your company’s “job to be done” doesn’t have to be purely functional. People hire products and services for emotional and social reasons just as often, so give all three filters the same consideration, and recognize opportunities to satisfy more than one at a time.

5. Emphasize the right metrics.
Performance metrics are necessary for efficiencies and profit and loss accountability, but they shouldn’t cloud overall judgment. In the bigger picture, a company that can deliver well on the consumer’s job will do fine financially. Ensure that the primary metrics also include how the brand has delivered on the job to be done.

Working to understand what jobs are most important to your customer — and what induces him to hire you — is essential to mastering the customer journey. If you view the customer’s needs through all three filters, you can get the job done with both precision and empathy.

Mark Miller is a proven marketing leader with more than 20 years of experience managing data-driven digital, direct and 1:1 marketing programs. His client industry experiences include telcommunications, entertainment, automotive, casual dining, utilities, and health and beauty. Mark currently serves as the VP, Group Account Director at RAPP Dallas.

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