Help! What is Jobs to be Done?

Here are the 5 things you need to know.
By
Adelynne Chao

The theory of Jobs to be Done (JTBD) is a framework for understanding what motivates customers to make buying decisions. The phrase ‘Jobs to be Done’ as we now use it was first coined by Clayton Christensen in 2005. The central tenet of this theory: customers don’t buy products, they pull them into their lives because they are trying to make progress. The progress they are trying to make is the Job to be Done. 


Jobs theory helps us to stop thinking in terms of our own products and services; how we pull customers into our world, how we get them to buy into us, how we convince them we’re better than competitors. Instead, it guides us to think about what customers are trying to do in their lives; why they might pull your product into their world to help them do it, and why they might drop your product for something that helps them do the job better. 


Essentially, it challenges us to think not in terms of how to pull customers into our world, but how customers pull us into their world. 

As you get more familiar with the Jobs way of thinking you realise we’re not really competing for customers, we’re competing to be chosen for at least one of their Jobs to be Done.

1. Jobs are the progress a customer is trying to make 

People don’t buy products or change their behaviour for no reason. The saying “a force of habit” aptly encapsulates the power of automatic and routine decision-making. We humans don’t have the mental capacity to make considered, informed, rational choices about everything all of the time. A customer has to be motivated enough to take action to either investigate, buy or switch. That motivation is driven by the progress a customer wants to make. 

Adapted from Alan Klement


Googling Jobs to be Done can get confusing, because it’s broadly applied in two different ways, outlined simply below:

  1. Jobs as activities - a tactical approach to applying Jobs theory to thinking about product features and UX design
  2. Jobs as progress - a strategic lens that helps us understand why people buy and why people switch

We are proponents of (2) the ‘jobs as progress’ model. There have been several books which have been published which explore this theory and its successful application from innovation to sales.

An example of a Job to be Done: 

This is an example of a high level Job to be Done that a person might have. To help them with this job, this person could pull in a number of different products or services. 


Adapted from Alan Klement


2. Jobs can create a web of other jobs

An interesting characteristic of Jobs to be Done is the ability for it to ladder up from micro jobs to macro jobs and ultimately to high level core jobs that someone has for their life. Applying Jobs to be Done effectively in marketing relies on a clear understanding of the jobs your brand is serving. Customers must be able to make the link between their job and your product. 

Keeping to the same example as above of ‘losing weight healthily and sustainably’, there are many micro jobs that could sit underneath this. Here are some examples (not an exhaustive list).

3. Jobs focus on buying and switching moments

The reason we, as marketing strategists, love Jobs to be Done is because it examines the psychology of customers at the most critical moments: deciding to buy or deciding to switch. From the first thought (the trigger) all the way through to the actual purchase. And crucially, it provides us with insights that will allow us to optimise our marketing strategies to better influence and convert customers in these moments. 

To date, marketers have typically relied on an understanding of customer needs, rather than customer jobs. There is some overlap, but overall we prefer jobs because ‘jobs’ are about the customer whereas ‘needs’ are actually about the product. 


Typically customer needs for a gym could include things like: 

These are functional attributes that break down the gym into its component parts; the technical details of what the gym does. What is missed completely is why the customer is coming to the gym. 

In contrast, customer jobs which could be served by gyms include: 

You can probably already see that jobs are much richer, nuanced and grounded in customer motivations. Understanding whether someone cares about quality of equipment or associates your brand with cleanliness is a bit of a misleading exercise. Understanding that some customers are primarily looking for rejuvenation (not fitness) or recuperation (not high intensity cardio) can enable you to design end-to-end experiences that serve those customers’ jobs really well. The outcome of focusing your attention, resources and investment on serving jobs means that customers are more likely to take notice, be attracted to your offer, clearly see how it helps them make progress and ultimately sign up. Now, that’s a result!


4. Jobs help us compete better 

As you get more familiar with the Jobs way of thinking you realise we’re not really competing for customers, we’re competing to be chosen for at least one of their Jobs to be Done. This concept is powerful because it focuses us on designing products, innovations, marketing materials or experiences that are focused on helping customers make progress. 


Going back to the gym example, instead of investing in better equipment (to move the needle on quality) or undercut competitors (to move the needle on price / value perception) you might realise that competing with other gyms is not really the focus at all. Non-gym innovations like the Apple Watch with Fitness+ or Peloton or influencer YouTube videos are serving some customer’s jobs better. This is an entirely different way to define your competitors, and it makes sure that you have fewer blind spots.  

This shows how a set of seemingly disparate products or services could be adopted by a customer in an effort to make progress on their job to ‘lose weight healthily and sustainably’.

Within each of the micro-jobs there could be a host of other solutions a customer could use, here we’ve only highlighted some examples.

If you haven’t seen this 7 minute video of Clayton Christensen talking about how Jobs thinking helped McDonald’s sell milkshakes, we'd highly recommend it:


5. Jobs help us identify opportunities 

Thinking about competition in terms of customer jobs also reveals new avenues for growth, revenue-generating adjacencies or positioning territories. The key to unlocking these avenues: identify the under-served customer jobs. The ones that the current market and competition are not serving well. And it turns out, there are a lot of these out there. This is an energising realisation.


In my work advising startups and challenger brands, we often hit the same walls with customer and market insights. Marketers would end up feeling disheartened: compared with the legacy brands no one recalls their brand, <15% remember seeing it before, customers are mostly oblivious and return to the same brands over and over in a seemingly unbreakable habit. Seeing your brand at the bottom of all the rankings makes growth feel impossibly difficult. 


Start to examine the market in terms of customer jobs, however, and the gaps soon reveal themselves. You just need to know how and where to look for them. 

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Untold is a marketing & growth consultancy specialising in customer-led growth strategies. 

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