The Jobs to Be Done framework is a way to reframe how you think about products and services—away from features and toward outcomes. Created by Clayton Christensen, author and Harvard Business School Professor, "Jobs-to-Be-Done theory" or “JTBD" orients the team around the customer need, that is, the problem the consumer needs to solve.
Applied to marketing, Jobs-to-Be-Done theory requires you tell the story of what the product does for the consumer—not it's latest whiz-bang features.
If you're looking to apply JTBD to marketing, you can start with a brief primer on the concept below. Then, we'll get specific and hear what Professor Christensen says about JTBD and marketing. Finally, we'll share case studies and troubleshoot marketing pitfalls that can be avoided using Jobs-to-Be-Done.
Jobs-to-Be-Done framework: a primer
Before we dive into marketing with Jobs to Be Done, let's refresh on the basics of the theory.
Jobs-to-Be-Done teases out why a customer “hires” a product or service in the first place. The questions below can help tease out JTBD:
- 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. Per Christensen, “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.
If this is your first exposure to JTBD, you'll benefit from reading our overview of the Jobs to Be Done framework. You could also dive deep by picking up Intercom's book on JTBD. Otherwise, let's dive into applying JTBD to marketing.
Marketing with the Jobs to Be Done framework
Marketing is about how products and services are presented and sold. Here's how it's defined:
In the 2005 article The Cause and the Cure of Marketing Malpractice, Clayton Christensen explained the marketer's job succinctly:
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.
Marketing, in effect, is about telling the story of what a product does for the consumer. When (and if) products meet the expectations set by the marketing messaging, the person will look to “hire” that brand or product the next time they have that need. The best marketing reinforces these connections.
What brands do Jobs to Be Done marketing well?
Whereever you can identify brands that have strong associations with doing specific jobs you’ll find successful businesses. Consider a few jobs you might find you need doing below and 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 a serious 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 all came to mind.
By aligning a JTBD with a brand, the customer reduces their need to think. The stronger the association between a brand and a job, the harder it is for competitors to move in on your business.
☞ The best marketing clearly articulates the problem consumers have, and goes on to explain how the product or service solves that problem.
Jobs-to-Be-Done marketing asserts, "You have a problem. Our product solves it by doing [X] better than any other product." This basic structure orients marketing messaging to the expected outcomes of consumers.
But sometimes it's not easy to figure out the job. For that, consider the following.
What are existing customers actually using our product to do?
To understand how customers actually use your product you must conduct 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.
So consider becoming 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. Use-cases serve double-duty by 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.
Reinforce the association of product with job 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? Your product got hired to do a job it didn’t even have to interview for.
This is a marketing freebie. Simply understand their use and reinforce the association they already have. That's what Arm & Hammer did.
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.
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.”
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.
Identify and stop ineffective marketing campaigns
Marketers are often swayed to chasing the next big thing — “Look, squirrel!” Gut-checking marketing campaign ideas by looking for clear ties back to the customer problem (or job) being solved can stop these 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 the alignment of what the product does to 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 will benefit from using customer experience tools like session replay.)
How we've put the JTBD to work for FullStory
You may not be familiar with FullStory, so a brief introduction: FullStory is a session replay tool—it's like a web analytics tool that goes beyond metrics to showing you what real users are actually doing on your site (or app). It does this in a literal way, and the output is something akin to a DVR of user behavior. Still don't quite get it? That's okay. It's hard to understand something you've never used.
Which is why JTBD is a useful approach for marketing FullStory. Using JTBD we market the problems our product can help solve. For example:
- The problem of providing the best customer support, and how FullStory gives support professionals the needed context to painlessly help customers
- The problem of fixing bugs and other software errors, and how FullStory helps engineers and developers by reproducing bugs on demand
- The problem of analyzing A/B tests, assessing the effectiveness of landing pages, and other conversion-oriented efforts, and how FullStory provides the nuanced details needed to drive conversion optimizations.
- And many more.
Putting the Jobs-to-Be-Done framework to work in crafting specific messages helps us both identify the proper audiences and serve up the message most likely to resonate with those audiences.
But nothing markets better than using the product
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.
You might be familiar with Clay Christensen from his works on disruptive innovation as explained in the book The Innovator's Dilemma. ↩︎