How Job Stories Can Help You Develop a Better Product


When it comes to picking a marketing strategy, many different frameworks can be used to develop our customer acquisition strategy. Among the different theories available, Jobs to Be Done Theory is one of the most effective, and in this post, we are going to discuss why.

Spoiler alert: among the many beautiful things that Jobs to Be Done Theory can do for your business, it does happen to highlight some of the shortcomings of Personas Theory, pointing out the missing link of causality in your typical “personas story”. What this means that using Personas you might end up knowing everything about your customer except for understanding why heshe is buying your product.

To help you navigate this post, we’ve broken down the content into different sections. Enjoy!

1. What is Personas?
2. How to create better stories with Jobs to Be Done Theory

3. A quick guide to creating your Job Stories
4. How do we collect data to create a Job Story?
5. Conclusions

1. What is Personas?

Personas is a marketing approach which focuses on profiling your ideal customers with both demographic and psychographic features. In the early 80s, this approach was promising, as it assisted marketers to focus on the customer rather than the product. For as much as we give “customer-centricity” for granted, our focus on the client started becoming more widespread in the early 2000s, until then marketing was more about “selling inventory” rather than “building relationships”.

Hardliners of this approach would create personas (or person-types) imagining their fully-rounded lives, and making them as ‘real’ as possible.

Creating these imaginary personas would then assist marketers in developing their marketing mix while bearing in mind the final users.

In recent years, however, this approach has been extensively criticised. Personas can be considered a valuable thought experiment, assisting product development teams in building a common understanding of the customer.

At the same time, in order to effectively bring to market a new product you need to understand why your customer purchases it, and in this context, Personas is not helping.

Again, the main criticism against this approach revolves around the fact that Personas does not provide an actual link of causality between the Persona and the product.

The structure of the typical Persona story reflects this issue, as you can see below.

As A ____________(PersonaCustomer Type)
I Want to ____________ (Action)
So That ______________(Expected Outcome).

Example of a Personas Story

So in practice, a typical User Story would play out as follows:

As a 25-year-old guy called Jim, I want to drink something refreshing when I am thirsty so that I don’t feel thirsty anymore.”

In the first two components of this reasoning are entirely based upon unproven assumptions, and again, this provides no real insight into consumer motivation.

2. How Practitioners created better Stories with JTBD.

So how we get out of this loophole? Intercom, a California-based Digital Company, successfully developed a way to use the ‘Story’ approach but refurbishing it with the Jobs to Be Done Theory mindset.

The Job Story foresees three motivation-oriented sentences:

When ________ (Situation)
I Want to________ (Motivation)
So I Can________ (Expected Outcome)

This how a Jobs Story plays out:

When I’ve got 2 minutes to stave off hunger between meetings, I want to grab something that will be quick, easy to eat and boost my blood sugar fast so that I can stave off hunger until dinner time. (Reference, Front 2016).

As in the example above, the personal features of a consumer do not matter as the reasoning and the link of causality between motivation and behaviour is based on the situation experienced by the customer. This approach, therefore,  allows us to identify the real reasons that push a consumer to “hire” a particular type of food to get through his meetings.

So in a nutshell, as Prof. Clayton Christensen puts it:
“Personas are a collection of attributes and don’t explain causality”.

As we discussed instead, the Jobs Story approach, despite having been developed in the context of marketing research, found great application opportunities in the context of IT and software development.

3. A quick guide to creating your Job Story.

Delving a little deeper in the JTBD theory, we can focus on the elements that help us in creating Job Stories.

Alan Klement notoriously identified a simple 6-step guide to using JTBD:

1. First, start with defining a high-level job
2. Then identify a smaller job or jobs which can help resolve the higher-level job
3. Observe how people solve their problem now
4. Interview people to understand their motivations for choosing their current solution
5. Come up with Job Stories, that investigate the motivations, causality and anxieties experienced by customers
6. Create a solution (usually in the form of a feature or UI change) which resolves the job story

4. How do we collect the data which allows us to run this process?

In order to develop a Job Story, we will need to focus on customer interviews. The questions that revolve around the customer interview should look like this:

  • Why do people hire our product?
  • How can we make sure that no one switches away?
  • Do we need to iterate (make something better) or innovate (create something new)?
  • What are the customers’ motivations that push himher to purchase our product?

The goal of the customer’s interview is making sure we understand the customer’s purchasing decisions.

Motivations: Why customers buy our products.
Situations: Why customers switched from a previous product – this is especially useful information.
Anxieties: Whether customers are struggling with your product.

The ReWired Group developed a tool to understand the customer’s buying behaviour in the context of JTBD. They suggested thinking of customers interviews in the form of a timeline so that their decision-making process can be understood chronologically.

This approach starts from the concept of the first thought, defined as the moment in which a consumer realises hisher dissatisfaction with a product they are using. The first-thought moment is when customers decide to embark in a journey comprised of several stages (passive looking, actively looking, deciding, consuming, satisfaction) to find a substitute.

Another blueprint used by the ReWired Group, capable of focusing on a customer’s decision-making process is called the ‘Forces of Progress’ model.

According to this model, customers struggle between two opposing forces:

On the one hand, customers are pushed to adopt new products because of the problems experienced with the current solution (Push) and the benefits of the new solution (Pull).

At the same time, however, they are drawn to maintain their current (dissatisfactory) products because of inertia, or existing habits. Other factors that lock-in customers are switching costs and anxiety, or worries about switching to the new solution.

This is also a great explanation of the reason why acquiring a new customer is always more expensive than keeping an existing one. Acquiring a new customer entails for bringing him away from the “solution” he is currently adopting and is already familiar with.

5. Conclusions

The challenge in applying these theories to digital marketing relies on the fact that it’s much harder to identify the first-thought, aka the moment of dissatisfaction when conducting interviews. Customers don’t have a secure emotional attachment to software products as opposed to physical ones.  Purchasing furniture (by comparison) makes a much more memorable experience, which you may be willing to talk about and remember for many years.

This problem makes the digital marketer’s job more complicated, as we are forced to collect evidence of our clients’ buying behaviour via reconstructing scattered sources in order to recreate the full picture of the consumer journey.

At the same time, JTBD is a great tool to appreciate the motivations that lead our customers to purchase and build narratives out of any random set of data we may be able to collect from our audience. Here at 440 Industries we really like Jobs to Be Done, and in the section below you’ll be able to find a lot of additional sources on this subject, enjoy!

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How Job Stories Can Help You Develop a Better Product The insight that JTBD Theory provides to marketers is subtle, and to capture it, developing 'Job Stories' helps focusing your team on what matters most.
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