Even better Personas using Jobs to Be Done

Combining Personas and Jobs to Be Done can enhance your customer-led toolkit for more effective product and marketing strategies.
Adelynne Chao

In the world of user experience, product development, and marketing, personas have long been the go-to tool for understanding and empathizing with target audiences. However, personas are not without their pitfalls, and many teams have started to shift their focus to a more effective approach called Jobs to Be Done (JTBD). In this blog post, we'll argue that - for now - personas and JTBD both deserve a place in the toolkit. 

The Problem with Personas

Personas are fictional characters created to represent different user types within a targeted demographic. They are meant to help designers, developers, and marketers understand the needs, goals, and behaviors of their potential users. 

It has always involved a balance between detail / accuracy and memorability. Personas become increasingly ineffective at either extreme. The most detailed and accurate personas would be far too complex or difficult for teams to use. The most memorable personas are probably too simplistic and risk misleading teams. 

Here are some of the major challenges about personas that can hinder their effectiveness:

  1. Too surface level: Often, personas are created based on superficial demographic data and assumptions which may not accurately represent the true needs and motivations of users. Sometimes the dimensions used to pull apart personas have been arbitrarily created and not derived from customer-led data sources. 
  2. Too static: Personas tend to be static and unchanging, even though people's needs and behaviors evolve over time. Particularly in a digital age, where the pace of change has accelerated. This can quickly lead to a disconnect between the product, marketing campaigns, and their intended audience.
  3. Too reliant on demographics: Personas often emphasize demographics (age, gender, occupation) over the actual tasks and goals that users are trying to achieve. This can lead to a narrow understanding of the target audience and overlook crucial insights.
  4. Prone to stereotyping: By relying on assumptions and generalizations, personas can perpetuate stereotypes and biases, which can negatively impact teams’ decision making.
  5. Not actionable: Despite the effort involved in creating Personas and associated materials to help it land well in the organization, they can often fail to gain traction with teams due to a lack of understanding on how to use or apply the information.  

The benefit of Personas done right means creating a feeling of a more personalized product experience, or a marketing campaign that is ‘talking to me’. But too often a mismatch arises based on the way the Personas have been developed, which affects how well it lands with customers.

The New Kid on the Block: Jobs to Be Done

The Jobs to Be Done (JTBD) framework is being increasingly picked up by progressive companies looking for a more effective and dynamic approach to understanding user needs and motivations. So, instead of focusing on demographics to understand the customer, JTBD emphasizes the tasks and goals users are trying to achieve – the "jobs" they need to get done. This makes sense when you realize that demographic profilers become irrelevant when considering the ‘job’ between two completely different demographic groups could be exactly the same. 

Here's how a JTBD approach addresses some of the challenges of the Persona model. 

  1. Jobs are rooted in customer motivations: instead of spending time and effort focusing the organization on arbitrary identifiers, do an exercise to focus on the underlying motivations of customers which really impact their decision-making process.  
  2. Jobs are directly related to product and marketing messaging: Building a customer-led model using JTBD means that there are direct implications and clear next steps for product and marketing teams. The ‘Jobs’ already suggest a clear business implication rather than persona profiles which can leave teams feeling lost. 
  3. Jobs apply across demographic groups: Instead of creating a campaign or product feature that is designed for a specific demographic audience, design to solve the ‘Job’ and you’ll be able to speak to customers across demographic groups. 

Thinking in terms of a customers’ Jobs to Be Done can make a big difference on the effectiveness of product and marketing strategies. By providing a clearer focus, you can create better alignment across teams and a direct route to addressing the ‘Job’. 

At a high level, the marketing messaging for an advertising campaign on public transport would do better utilizing a ‘Jobs’ approach over a Persona approach. Why? Because the viewership of the ad has the potential to reach broad demographic groups, its relevance to each individual will exist more strongly at the ‘Job’ level. 

The blended approach: Persona x JTBD

Here’s the thing. Most organizations aren’t ready to give up Personas, and nor should they. However, there are many ways to improve upon the approaches being utilized to create and develop these personas. These improvements are critical for organizations looking to keep up with the pace of change and create more effective and dynamic product and marketing strategies. 

Many opinion pieces on this topic are pitting Personas and JTBD against each other. We argue that there is a place for both in the toolkit. 

Dimension 1: Personas
Personas should hone in on the critical characteristics that separate their audiences into behaviourally or attitudinally different groups. This can come across as ‘mindset’ or ‘usage’ patterns that show a real tangible difference between groups of customers. Occasionally this includes demographics such as age or gender. Most importantly, the focus should be on understanding the key differences between groups in terms of their underlying emotional or social needs. The implication is that you will understand what they care about, and therefore how to speak to them throughout the buyer’s journey and product experience.

Dimension 2: Jobs 
Jobs need to hone in on the functional needs customers are looking to solve. It needs to identify the underserved Jobs of customers within a competitive context so the organization can prioritize key opportunity spaces to meet customers’ functional needs and fill gaps in the market. The implication of this is that you understand what Job a customer is trying to get done (from their own perspective) and communicate how your product helps them make progress towards their goals.  

Hotspots: A dynamic route to growth 
Crossing the Personas with the Jobs can create opportunity hotspots for your organization to tackle. This customer-led toolkit gives your organization a framework that is both simple to use and highly effective. 

Illustrative Example of Persona x Job hotspots:
(Green = biggest hotspots)

Persona 1: Fitness enthusiast Persona 2: Health prioritizers Persona 3: Socializers
Job 1: Improve physical fitness levels 20% 12% 10%
Job 2: Recuperate and restore after health scare 9% 15% 5%
Job 3: Improve mental health through fitness 9% 7% 14%

Sometimes teams will prioritize their focus on the Persona groups and mindsets
e.g. what Persona 1 wants or needs

Sometimes the focus will be on Jobs
e.g. building a new proposition to solve Job 1 in a new and innovative way to target many customer groups

Sometimes in hyper targeted campaigns or user journeys it can focus on both
e.g. what Persona 1 might want when they are trying to solve Job 1 


The customer-led toolkit is evolving. Fictional Personas based on arbitrary dimensions are no longer going to be enough to keep pace with the competition. Personas shouldn’t be completely retired, but updated to reflect today’s buying behavior in a digital world. To do this, organizations need to invest in customer-led research techniques that uncover data-driven Personas and Jobs to Be Done. Doing this right will make a big difference in helping provide focus for teams, enabling them to develop and prioritize product and marketing strategies for customer-led growth.    

To read more about needs-based segmentation click here

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