Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen’s Jobs to Be Done framework reorients how we think about products and services[1]. He moves us away from marketing whizbang features —“Hey, look what we can do!” — and toward a deeper understanding of how and why customers use our products.

Jobs-to-Be-Done theory teases out why a customer “hires” a product or service in the first place. While a more in-depth discussion around the Jobs to Be Done framework can be found here, below are a few questions that can help you get into the “JTBD” mindset:

  • What does your product or service actually do for the customer? While not intended to be a literal question, it can be helpful to start by listing out product benefits while throttling any discussion of features.
  • Consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — how does the product fill these needs? Start broadly and then get more specific. The best products will satisfy more levels of the hierarchy. Christensen has written that, “With few exceptions, every job people need or want to do has a social, a functional, and an emotional dimension.”
  • What product or service was “fired” and replaced by the current product? You can tease out why new customers choose your product or service by reflecting on what the customer used before they switched to your product. From there, look at the why.

Apply the Jobs to Be Done framework and cut through the fictional stories spun about products and services. Get closer to the reality of your customer’s experience.

If you’re hip to Christensen’s ideas or just want another way to think about marketing, today we’ll be diving into how Jobs to Be Done can be applied to marketing.

The Jobs to Be Done framework and marketing.

Marketing is about how products and services are presented and sold:

The Jobs to Be Done framework is useful for not only how products are designed and improved, but also how they are marketed. In the 2005 article The Cause and the Cure of Marketing Malpractice, Clayton Christensen wrote:

The marketer’s task is to understand what jobs periodically arise in customers’ lives for which they might hire products the company could make. If a marketer can understand the job, design a product and associated experiences in purchase and use to do that job, and deliver it in a way that reinforces its intended use, then when new customers find themselves needing to get that job done, they will hire that product.

Clayton Christensen, photo by Betsy Webber, shared via CC2.0

The better a brand or product associates itself with solving specific needs, the more likely a person will look to “hire” that brand or product the next time they have that need.

Brands that do Jobs to Be Done marketing well.

Identify brands that have strong associations with doing specific jobs and you’ll inevitably find successful businesses. Below are listed a few jobs you might find you need doing. Fill in the blank with the first brand you’d hire to do them:

  • You need to furnish a dorm room: ______
  • You need to answer a question: ______
  • You need an energy boost: ______
  • You need a gift for an upcoming party but have no time to shop: ______
  • You need to blow your nose: ______

Very likely, IKEA, Google, Red Bull, Amazon, and Kleenex came to mind. And if you had to think too hard about any of the above, that’s an opportunity for a brand to better align their marketing.

Alignment of a job with a brand reduces a customer’s need to think, and the stronger the association between a brand and a job, the harder it is for competitors to move in on your business.

Great marketing tells stories about product jobs (not features).

Marketing needs to tell the story of the product being sold. Marketers know consumers buy the story as much as they buy the product. How does that fit with Jobs to Be Done? Simply, marketers need to understand and tell the story of how their product does a particular job.

Below are a couple questions that should get the ball rolling.

What are existing customers actually using our product to do?

Understanding how customers are actually using your product takes research. You can ask customers directly, but as Christensen’s “milkshakes” story reveals, customers aren’t always great at understanding the reasons for their decisions.

Become a collector of customer use-cases. For example, ask your customers to tell you a story about how they use the product — that’s what we do with our FullStory customer use-cases and it does double-duty of informing our marketing *and *product teams. Twitter can also be useful for listening to customers — Joseph Todardo shared in our Marketer’s Guide to Customer Experience:

The design community is very lively on Twitter. That just gives us another opportunity to back up the general consensus, to see if something is just what a couple people are talking about, or if it’s part of the broader dialogue.

If you’re a SaaS company or a large portion of your product is experienced online, use FullStory to search your customers based on how they interact with your product — e.g. what features are they using? Based on these behavior-based customer segments, you can then watch session replay and tease out insights.

How do we reinforce the association of our product with the job being done?

If your customers are happily using the product in a way that is different from how your product team intended or how your marketing team presented it, guess what? You got hired to do a job you didn’t even interview for.

Rather than doubling-down and attempting to convince your customers that they are using your product wrong, reinforce the association they already have.

Arm & Hammer baking soda — Case study. In Christensen’s 2005 paper he shares the story of how after 100 years in existence Arm & Hammer began paying attention to how customers were using their product — that is, baking soda — and proceeded to reinforce the association:

In the late 1960s [Arm & Hammer] began observational research to understand the diverse circumstances in which consumers found themselves with a job to do where Arm & Hammer could be hired to help customers. They found a few consumers adding the product to laundry detergent, a few others mixing it into toothpaste, some sprinkling it on the carpet, and still others placing open boxes in the refrigerator. There was a plethora of jobs out there needing to get done, but most customers did not know that they could hire Arm & Hammer baking soda for these cleaning and freshening jobs.

Arm & Hammer markets the jobs baking soda can do right on the box.

Using this observational research, Arm & Hammer developed new products explicitly for the “jobs” their customers were already tackling with baking soda and adopted “a communication strategy that [helped consumers] realize that when they find themselves needing to get one of these jobs done, here is a product that they can trust to do it well.”

Arm & Hammer’s pure baking soda business now accounts for only 10% of their revenue — the rest is toothpaste, deodorant, laundry detergent, and countless other baking soda-powered products.

To this day, Arm & Hammer uses their website to share product uses while asking what “secret solutions” their customers have for their product.

Snickers — Case study. If you’ve followed Snickers candy bars through the ages, they have frequently taken a Jobs to be Done approach to their marketing. If you happened to watch the 1992 Olympics, you likely caught Snickers commercials on the television and can hear that husky voice sing, “There’s a hunger inside you … Snickers satisfies.”

Also see this classic or jump back to the 1980s with this Snickers TV ad that nails JTBD:

I got deadlines to meet. I can’t let something like hunger get in the way. Snickers fills me up until I can grab a meal. It cuts the hunger. Let’s me take care of business.

Snickers has aligned itself with meal replacement bars (or staving off “hanger”) as much as it has with candy bars. Snickers satisfies.

Snickers re-uses their highly recognizable brand but with a twist — putting the job being done right on the wrapper.

Assessing marketing campaigns with Jobs to Be Done.

Marketers are often swayed to chasing the next big thing — “Look, squirrel!” Gut-checking marketing campaign ideas by looking for clear ties back to customer needs helps prevent these fleeting flights of fancy.

To assess the merits of a particular marketing campaign, ask the following Jobs to Be Done-related questions:

  • How well does the marketing campaign clarify how the nature of the product aligns with the need the product is being hired for?
  • What are the objectives of the marketing campaign (e.g. awareness, consideration, purchase)? How do those objectives support the alignment of the product with the job it’s being hired to do?
  • How well is the campaign targeted to a specific audience — that is, an audience that is likely to need the product? (Note: if you’re segmenting by demographics, there’s a good chance you need to do more precise targeting.)

Troubleshooting: We’ve built a great product but no one is buying. What’s wrong?

When marketing efforts are falling flat on their face, something is likely broken. The most likely explanations usually involve one of two things:

  • Audience mismatch. That is, the audience your marketing is running against doesn’t have the need you’ve articulated, or
  • Unclear marketing message. If you’re certain you’ve targeted the right audience, there’s an excellent chance your marketing efforts are failing to articulate the nature of your product and it does a specific job.

In either of the above cases (or both), it’s necessary to step back and reassess.

For online businesses, metrics like bounce rate and feature adoption are both indicators that something is broken. If you’re offering free trials of your product, measure sign-ups by the marketing channels driving them. If certain channels are working poorly, there’s a good chance it’s either an audience or messaging mismatch — or both.

Don’t believe the hype.

It’s easy for marketers to buy into the hype — salespeople have this same problem. It’s next to impossible for marketers not to excited about the product, the latest features, etc. It’s also easy to get excited about the future of a product — a vision for how the product will be in lieu of paying attention to how the product is seen by customers today.

Hype Town is a dangerous place to live. For one, while your most enthusiastic consumers might buy into the excitement you’re spreading, when the product doesn’t live up to expectations, customers are going to wind up being let down. Secondly, the more disconnected marketers become from the product reality experienced by customers — that is, the jobs customers use your product to do — the more the marketing messaging will under-perform.

Returning to and reapplying the Jobs to Be Done framework can serve as an important gut-check for marketers. The two-pronged approach of listening to customer use-cases and observing how customers actually use your product can go a long way to grounding marketers in reality. (Online businesses and SaaS companies should make use of customer experience tools like session replay.)

A product that gets the job done is the best form of marketing.

The most effective marketing is the product, itself. But if the job the product does for consumers fails to be articulated in such a way that it triggers people to make the association, the marketing will fall flat.

Great marketing tells the story of the product in such a way that it’s grounded in the needs of the consumer. The application of Clayton Christensen’s Jobs to Be Done framework can go a long way to helping marketers stay grounded and tell better product (and services) stories — and by extension, find and sell to more customers.


  1. You might be familiar with Clay Christensen from his works on disruptive innovation as explained in the book The Innovator's Dilemma. ↩︎