Why Jobs to Be Done Theory Matters for Your Business


The first question a CEO or Founder needs to answer convincingly is:
How am I going to acquire my customers? 

Marketing frameworks can help you understand what type of approach you need to adopt in order to create a product which is both exciting and useful for your audience.

Jobs to Be Done Theory provides a fresh and compelling new perspective on how companies should think about their products and services. This theory was pre-empted by Peter Drucker who famously said: “The customer rarely buys what the company thinks it is selling him“.

Harvard Business School Prof. Clayton Christensen provided this theory’s academic grounding in the 1990s. Since then, “Jobs to Be Done Theory” has been applied by marketing practitioners to a wide variety of business problems, ranging from consumer behaviour to innovation management and entrepreneurship. In simple terms, this theory looks at consumer motivations instead of limiting its perspective on consumer’s attributes.

This approach leverages on the marketing philosophy initiated by Theodore Levitt who famously said: “people don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole”.

The theory, therefore, approaches customers on the grounds of the core goal that they are trying to accomplish. In a nutshell, Jobs to Be Done (or JTBD in short) tells us that in order to develop new products, we have to understand what are the ‘jobs’ that our audience needs to get done, and what (unsatisfactory) products or services they are currently ‘hiring’ to get them done.

To understand the innovation potential of this mindset we can look at how this approach is fundamentally different to other marketing strategies.
Let’s delve into the topic and find out more. To help you navigate this post, here’s a brief index of contents.

1. The market orientation approach
2. The product orientation approach
3. The “listen to your customer” approach
4. How Jobs to Be Done changes the game
5. Conclusions: The benefits of applying JTBD theory

1. The “market-orientation” approach, or “know your market”.

When developing a marketing strategy, the first question one is supposed to answer is – who is your customer? This question is grounded on the idea that if you can identify a particular segment of your target market, you can then improve your products to satisfy the specific taste and preferences of that particular audience. This, however, may lead only to very superficial improvements (for instance in packaging or colour schemes) without actually bettering existing products in any other way, let alone creating new ones.

There are several issues with this approach; here is why:

  •  The Market is moody and unpredictable. The marketplace can let you know about the latest trends and interests, but these trends are nothing more than ‘bumps‘ in the long term strategy of a company. All in all, if you are going to invest your own time and money into a product, or in a marketing strategy, “following the crowd” can help, but will only take you so far.
  • Markets are useful to learn about the past, but won’t tell you much about the future. Sales reports are going to tell you what has been successful in the past, but they will not give you conclusive evidence regarding future opportunities. Moreover, the more a market proves profitable, the more competition it will attract, making it harder to stay profitable in the long run.

2. The “product-orientation” approach, aka “build the best product you can possibly build”.

According to this approach product, research and development starts with an engineering or development team, focused on developing an item with the most advanced technical specifications possible. This approach is costly and time-consuming. Moreover, it can lead to unnecessary complexity as users may not be able to grasp the value of the features you are providing. Some of your product’s functions can be too advanced for the average user to understand and end up not adding any real value to your final product.

This second type of approach may seem to be more fruitful, but in business, you cannot isolate yourself into an ivory tower. To develop a successful product you need to connect to your customers and make them willing to pay for your help, hence the famous expression: create painkillers and not vitamins. 

3. The “market research orientation”, or “listen to your customers”.

This approach revolves around ‘lead users’ or users who are early adopters in the product life cycle. Early adopters are ahead of the game when it comes to new ideas or to the new features you should add to your product. Market research orientation is not a bad approach, but it’s often limiting, as we’re not always asking questions which lead to real innovation, we are mostly taking a snapshot at the current market situation with the intent of making future predictions.

Another aspect not to be taken lightly is that creating a product relying entirely on customer opinions can be very challenging as customers don’t always know what they want.  Henry Ford famously said: ‘If I asked people what they wanted they would have replied faster horses’. So all in all, these approaches can help but don’t solve any marketer’s dilemmas.

This is because in reality your customers will know very well what the problem is, but they are unlikely to know how to fix it. 

4. This is how Jobs to Be Done changes the game.

According to JTBD we still need to maintain our focus on the customers, but we need to start asking the right questions. According to the Jobs to Be Done Theory, a business should engage with its customers by asking a simple question:

“What is the job you need to get done that pushes you to hire my product?”

This question can be a little confusing at first, but in fact, we all hire products to get our jobs done.

By speaking with our customers, we may realise that our products are used to fulfil jobs we can’t even imagine. It’s the process of matching our products with the tasks that our clients need to get done that provides us with valuable insight on how to design better products and enhance our customer’s experience.

As professor Christensen explains in his books, The Innovator’s Dilemma or The Innovator’s Solution the jobs to be done can either be:

  • Functional jobs, as in solving a material problem.
  • Social jobs, as in owning goods which are indicative of social status.
  • Emotional jobs, which provide us with particular emotional feedback, such as entertainment, excitement or thrill.

5. Conclusions: benefits of applying the Jobs to Be Done theory.

The jobs that our customers need to get done is what provides us with valuable information. Through JTBD we can understand:

  • How to add new features and additions for our products, and what is unnecessary to include in future developments of our product.
  • How to better communicate the benefits provided by our products, creating more compelling messages which would emphasise our products distinctive functions.
  • How to better distribute our products,  so that our customers can acquire them effortlessly, in the best location possible.

In simple terms, we’ve seen how Jobs to Be Done helps us to understand the real jobs that our customers are using our products for, and this will allow us to better focus our communication and marketing efforts.

This approach, which was initially created in the field of marketing research, is now being more extensively adopted in the context of software development and IT. Here at 440 Industries, we are big fans of this theory, and as you can see from the section below we have a lot more content that discusses the wonders of this theory. Enjoy!

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