Apr 29, 2022

Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) - A new look at customer needs.

Business Model Innovation
by Stefan Lemmerer

Introduction to jobs-to-be-done

Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) is one of the most important customer-centric tools and (business model) innovation methods.

The most important and special features of jobs-to-be-done in a nutshell:

  • Customers buy a product or service to complete a task (a job).

  • Customer needs are functional, emotional or social in nature.

  • To understand the success/failure of products, it is imperative to look at all of these dimensions.

  • The insights from JTBD range from product marketing to strategic management.

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The origins of jobs-to-be-done

The pioneers of the jobs-to-be-done framework are American innovation consultant Anthony W. Ulwick and Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen.

While Anthony Ulwick developed the "Outcome Driven Innovation (ODI)" method in the 1990s, Clayton Christensen coined the term disruptive innovation in his book "Innovators Dilemma" in the 1990s. Christensen was able to use it to explain how established companies are forced out of the market by innovators. However, he still did not find a satisfactory answer to the question of what exactly the innovative companies do differently. Ulwick provided a plausible answer with the OID method and after a meeting of the two in 1999, the "Jobs Theory" was born.

Both Ulwick and Christensen have played a significant role in the development and current understanding of the jobs-to-be-done method. While Jobs-to-be-done outlines the underlying framework, the OID method provides a concrete process for implementing Jobs Theory. At the end of the article you will find links to books and articles by the two, in which they detail their understanding of the jobs-to-be-done method.

Jobs-to-be-done at a glance - Why your customer buys a product or leaves it alone

At the core of jobs-to-be-done is the simple question of why the customer buys your product and what task they want to accomplish with your service. At this point it becomes clear where the name "Jobs-to-be-done" comes from.

Jobs-to-be-done Method ©www.businessmodelideas.com

Direct and Indirect Goals of the Customer

From the point of view of the JTBD method, the fulfillment of a task is associated with direct and indirect goals. The direct goal is the superficial and obvious task. The indirect goals, on the other hand, are often hidden and become obvious only through close scrutiny. To capture the indirect goals, for example, the 5-Why or the 'Why, How, What?' method is suitable. This method assumes that the one cause becomes obvious after five consecutive "why" questions at the latest.

Functional, emotional and social dimensions

Jobs-to-be-done also assumes that there are functional, social or emotional aspects to completing a task. This does not mean that all three aspects are always addressed or that all aspects are always equally important. Rather, the jobs-to-be-done framework sensitizes people to the fact that there are often hidden needs to use your service that go beyond purely functional benefits.

Contrary to this theory, many customer approaches focus on the functional benefits of a service. The "advantage communication" shows the customer which functions the own product has in comparison to its competitors. The functional benefit of a product pays off in terms of the customer's direct goal. In contrast, emotional and social goals are often hidden in indirect goals, i.e., they elude superficial consideration. The question of indirect goals, or the social and emotional aspects of a service, is the way to think outside the box. It is precisely this perspective that helps teams working with JTBD to achieve their "aha moments".

The "non consumption" - workarounds and improvised solutions

If you consistently ask yourself the question "why", you also ask yourself why the customer does not buy a product. At this point, the jobs-to-be-done method is very similar to a design thinking process in its approach. Almost always, "non consumption" offers insights into which indirect goals or aspects your product does not address or serve so far.

Workarounds and improvised solutions from the customer are particularly revealing. In other words, solutions in which the customer has invested time and money to solve their problem. This is a strong indicator that the customer has a very urgent task to solve for which they can't seem to find a satisfactory solution. If you identify jobs like this, you are definitely on a hot track.

The Milkshake Experiment

Let's move on to what is certainly the best-known example of the jobs-to-be-done method - the Milkshake Experiment.

A fast-food chain wants to further boost sales of milkshakes. First, normal marketing strategies and tactics are tested. For example, variations of the offer, price adjustments, expansion of the product range, etcetera. In other words, rather functional adjustments that pay off on the customer's immediate goal. None of the measures was able to achieve a significant effect. Sales continued to stagnate.

Equipped with the theory of jobs-to-be-done. the team led by Clayton Christensen set up in the stores to interview customers personally and address the question of why customers buy milkshakes.

After only a short time, it became apparent that commuters in particular reach for the drink in the morning hours. The team was able to identify the following needs and "jobs" of the milkshake from the commuters' point of view.


Insights from the Milkshake Experiment

From this perspective on the customer and the "job" of the milkshake for the commuter target group, several operational and strategic implications emerge.

Relevant market and competition

With the realization and job of a "second breakfast," new perspectives on the relevant market and competitors emerge.

  • Thus, the relevant market is not dairy-based beverages, but the market for "on the go" breakfast.

  • The milkshake competes with bananas, sandwiches, candy bars, and anything that can be consumed "on the go."

Obviously, the milkshake does the job much better than its competitors. The customer gets something out of it for longer, the hands aren't sticky, there are no unloved crumbs, and the question of where to put the banana peel in my car doesn't arise either.

Customer segmentation and marketing

In their research, Clayton Christensen's team naturally discovered other relevant target groups. It turns out that for the target group of commuters, the milkshake does a completely different job in a different context. Namely, at the weekend, it satisfies the children's desire for a "sweet snack in between". The milkshake then offers a good compromise, so that the wish for ice cream does not have to be granted, but at the same time does not look like a bad father or mother. Thus, the same product can do a completely different job for the same persona, depending on the context.

While classic customer segmentations are often based on socio-demographic or static aspects, the jobs-to-be-done framework offers the possibility to segment customers according to their application scenario or their "job".

The customer of a morning commuter is then represented twice. Namely, as a commuter fighting a long car ride and as a loving parent who wants to please their kids on a weekend outing.

Product innovation in the milkshake business

How can the insights gained be used to improve the product to better address the direct and indirect goals but also the needs of the customer (functional, social, emotional)?

  • More fruit or other solid ingredients are added to milkshakes to make it take longer to drink. The "sucking" becomes more elaborate, so the milkshake lasts even longer during the car ride and the important job of "bored driving" is done even better.

  • The straws are getting tighter

  • A self-service lane will be set up for morning commuters

  • The size of the cups will be maximized so they still fit in the cup holder in the car, but provide maximum pleasure

In fact, Clayton Christensen's team was able to significantly increase milkshake sales with some of these measures. The Milkshake Experiment thus confirmed for the first time the innovative power and impact of the jobs-to-be-done theory in practice.

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