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Putting Jobs-to-be-Done Theory into Practice

Jobs-to-be-done is a framework for better understanding customer behavior. While conventional marketing focuses on market demographics or product attributes, Jobs Theory gets to the root cause of behavior to expose the functional, social and emotional dimensions that explain why customers make the choices they do. People don’t simply buy products or services – they pull them into their lives to make progress. We call this progress the “job” they are trying to get done, and understanding this opens a world of innovation possibilities.

Many CEOs feel that innovation is critical for industry and growth but are really dissatisfied with the success of innovation in their organization. A McKinsey & Company poll showed that 84% of global executives reported that innovation was extremely important to their growth strategies, but 94% were dissatisfied with their organizations’ innovation performance. In order to innovate effectively, companies should go beyond big data and social listening by qualitatively engaging with consumers to better understand these jobs-to-be-done.

Jobs-to-be-Done Example: The McDonald's Milkshake

McDonald's had a boatload of data on milkshake consumption. They conducted research to figure out how to improve the taste and how to make more varieties, but sales didn’t seem to improve. They needed to focus on the job that the milkshake performed, rather than simply the taste or the time of day that milkshakes were consumed.

So what Clayton Christensen, academic and business consultant who developed the theory of "disruptive innovation," and his team did is observe people to learn more about what job the milkshake played in their day.

What he found out was that many people consumed milkshakes in the morning as a way to either fight off boredom during a long morning commute or to satisfy their hunger for a longer period of time than other breakfast items. Given how viscous the milkshake was, it took the consumer about 25 minutes to finish it and no other fast-food solution took nearly as long to consume. And that “job” was one the company had never focused on. It opened up new possibilities for milkshakes across day parts, and pitted milkshakes against a different competitive set.


A New Framework

A lot of the big data and information that organizations are using to identify opportunities in the market has to do with correlation data. Using analytics like social media or purchase data can be very useful, but won’t get to the root cause of the behavior. Christensen created his jobs-to-be-done theory to understand consumer choice in a way that no correlation data could do because it actually focused on the “why.”

Jobs-to-be-done has become a very successful framework because it's easy to understand and has proven to be an effective model in implementing innovation. Plus, it doesn’t require a large segmentation study to get there. In today’s rapidly changing market, we need to refresh our thinking on jobs more often to shorten the shelf life of any given study.


The Components of the Job

A job has four components: the person you want to help, the progress they want to make, the circumstances they’re in and the obstacles they need to overcome.

Job components

When you think about consumer choice in the jobs framework, rather than looking independently at what the need is, you need to holistically look at the person's behavior or experience. Look at the process the consumer is going through and the Job that the product does in that context.

In other words, a person is making some kind of progress in their day. Within the circumstances of that specific moment, they typically have to overcome some kind of obstacle to achieve that goal or meet that need. The magic in jobs-to-be-done is using human interaction to understand functional, emotional and social attributes.
job example

  • The person: A busy parent on weeknights.

  • The progress: They really want to make a real dinner that everyone will love.

  • The circumstance: They're shopping on a budget, perhaps a week or two away from payday or they’ve been eating out a lot and want to pull back on spending.

  • The obstacles: They've got picky kids and they're exhausted from work, or maybe they’re not excited to come home and cook. Perhaps they have limited time in their day from when they get off work to when they want to have dinner on the table.


In this example, we can look at how people hire and fire different brands from different categories from their “jobs.” They could “hire” frozen lasagna, Hamburger Helper, a delivery service like Freshly or take and bake pizza. People also fire brands from jobs. For example, if traffic is bad and Papa John's pizza is out of the way, that brand could get fired for being in the wrong location.

You can use the jobs-to-be-done framework to identify gaps in the market and evaluate your competitive set, but if you define your competitive set too narrowly, you may miss the job that your brand is actually good at. A useful starting point is to identify what jobs people have based on the products they use and the features those products have.


The Steps to Get There

So where might the jobs-to-be-done framework fit in your process of developing innovation for your organization? What are the steps to take?

Step 1: Hypothesis

  • This step is typically where you review existing data. You may try to reverse engineer from the competition or narrow down on a set of target consumers. In this stage, some researchers conduct a series of short, one-on-one interviews with consumers. Once they’ve built a community of 50 to 100 people, they collect data to build interesting patterns.

Step 2: Discovery

  • In this step, you’ll start the process of figuring out what those jobs might be by looking for themes within the data. You're looking to find big enough jobs that are worth solving and identifying the tension between what is ideal and what is perceived. If a job isn’t being satisfied, you want to dig for those emotional and social triggers.
  • An important part of this process is moving between that hypothesis and discovery step until you land on what you feel is the right set of jobs. This isn’t a linear process and agile methodologies encourage iteration.
  • For example, with Digsite Sprints, you get to choose how you want to interact with your participants. Our unique and engaging online activities can help you collect artifacts like quotes and those essential video experiences to get more accurate in-context information. Plus, you have multiple touchpoints with consumers that allow you to change direction and explore new questions as you learn.

Step 3: Mapping

  • Once you’ve determined the jobs your organization wants to focus on, take those jobs and try to map them. Think about the jobs-to-be-done from the standpoint of the heart and the standpoint of the head. Map those emotions to the consumer’s needs and build a story. Grab onto the story that shows somebody's situation and the tension of the decision they're trying to make.
  • What’s the person, the progress, the circumstance and the obstacles? What are the products they’re considering? Having these pieces broken out will help determine the size and potential growth of each of those jobs, as well as how you might solve them. Video analysis tools are also helpful to have at this stage, so you can capture and share stories specific to each job.
  • For example, with Digsite you can pull all of your videos into a single library you can search by keyword and theme. Plus, you can highlight transcript text to build instant clip reels without the work of a traditional video editor.

Step 4: Solutions

  • In this final step, you start the process of ideation to come up with products, packaging, communication or positioning. This kind of creation often benefits from a group of external catalysts, creative people from outside of the organization or even inside who might help spark ideas.
  • Then comes the optimization phase and more testing with consumers to validate solutions. If you believe that that job is an important job, then you build a solution to do an outstanding job at that. Be wary of watering it down to solve lots of different jobs.


How Organizations Get It Done

Some people use in-house teams to explore jobs-to-be-done and some hire outside consultants and agencies to assist. The benefit of going in-house is that it’s typically done faster than going outside your organization. It’s fairly scalable, where you can repeat the process over and over again for different aspects of the business. It's also less costly and gets the team engaged and bought into the process.

When going outside the organization, consultants can be very helpful from a time and convenience perspective. They can take on some of the hypothesizing and discovering efforts and lend their expertise and training to the process. Most importantly, having an outside perspective can make all the difference.

At Digsite, our role falls somewhere in the middle. We have a platform that allows in-house teams to do this kind of work themselves, but we also offer expert consultants and logistical support to set up studies, build hypothesis and create research reports. We also partner with outside agencies that can help with team facilitation and concept ideation.


Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Some of the challenges that we've seen in agile jobs-to-be-done work relate to certain choices made by organizations.


The Obstacle: Using a convenient sample.

  • Say you’re developing a hypothesis and you need to talk to a small group of people. Participation is low, so you ask friends or coworkers for their thoughts. The issue is that you’re speaking with people who are like-minded, which means that there’s limited diversity among your participants.


The Solution: Find the right sample to dig deeper.

  • Look for diversity in where your participants live, their life stage, gender or ethnicity. Make sure that they’re relevant to the kinds of problems and opportunities that you’re interested in. If you start with too broad of a population, it will be much harder to untangle and uncover those jobs.
  • You also need to pick participants who are articulate and can share information that’s helpful in the process. Need some help? Digsite has a pre-built panel of consumers that you can access in as little as 24 hours.


The Obstacle: Non-researcher questions.

  • Having non-researchers involved in the process is critical, but having them guide research interviews can bias your findings. You may find that they’re too focused on validating something that they already believe. If you’re utilizing live interviews, they also might not have the skills to ask questions that dig into emotional needs.


The Solution: Use semi-structured activities.

  • Instead of relying 100% on live video interviews, use a technology platform that enables unbiased discussion. It can capture photos and videos of consumer behaviors to build accurate “circumstances” for each job. And you can create activities like fill-in-the-blanks that guide consumers to share experiences while still enabling your team to see responses and ask follow-ups.

The Obstacle: Being too functional.

  • It’s easy to not get deep enough by focusing on the circumstances and functional obstacles. Sometimes, people looking for those emotional needs get too focused on trying to find an extreme pain or disruption and end up with opportunities that are just too small.


The Solution: Create implicit activities to understand emotions.

  • Using more implicit methods will help you peel back the onion to find emotions in everyday problems. For example, you can ask consumers to write a “breakup letter” that explains how a certain brand isn’t doing the job that they needed it to do. This can assist you in finding disconnects.
  • Another activity that can better get at the emotional component revolves around a future visualization exercise. Ask the consumer to imagine that the job has been solved perfectly and what the steps were to get to that place. Using a mix of online discussion, video/photo sharing and live interviews will help you uncover those unarticulated needs.


Special Consideration: Validation in Your Work

Investing in jobs-to-be-done solutions will require buy-in. One way to help secure that buy-in is validation. It’s important to understand the relevance, frequency and level of disruption that the obstacles related to that job you have. Historically, this has been done by going back to correlational data (like social listening and transactional data) to find evidence of your jobs. But there are also quick, quantitative research methods that can help validate and prioritize your focus.

For example, with Digsite Pulse, you can test up to 20 jobs in a single study, drilling down to confirm your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses among consumers with the highest relevance and frequency.

Fact Sheet

Want to learn how the Digsite platform can help you uncover and validate jobs more effectively without the guesswork?

Check out our fact sheet to learn more about Digsite's capabilities.

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Topics: Market Research, Iterative Insights

Monika Rogers

Monika Rogers

Monika Rogers is the CEO and Co-founder of Digsite. She has more than 20 years of marketing, innovation and market research experience, including positions at General Mills, Pillsbury and the A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.