Innovating with the “jobs to be done” framework

If you would like to create a new chocolate bar, how would you approach this task? Depending on your skills and experience, you would start with an analysis of existing chocolate bars in the market, then track their prices and positioning to identify areas for new brand differentiation.

Another way to look at this problem is to reframe the question and ask yourself: “What is the job these chocolate bars are hired to do?” This is the leading question behind the jobs-to-be-done framework developed by Clayton Christensen and Bob Moesta at Harvard Business School. Clayton Christensen is the author who introduced one of the fundamental books about innovation in large corporations: The Innovators Dilemma as well as The Innovators Solution.

Bounty vs. Snickers and The Behavior of Milkshake Buyers

It turns out that if you apply this framework to chocolate bars you discover that customers “hire” chocolate bars for completely different reasons. While Bounty is hired as a sweet delight that melts in your mouth, Snickers is hired by customers as a substitute for a real meal. Therefore, the experience of eating a Snickers is different and consists of biting and chewing, which gives you the impression you are eating a real meal.

Another example is the job a milkshake is hired to do. Christensen’s team was hired by a fast-food company to understand why the sales of milkshakes were below expectations. Instead of directing focus on different flavors, pricing or promotion, the team interviewed the buyers of the milkshakes to grasp their individual motivations. These interviews revealed that most milkshake customers were purchasing them for unexpected reasons:
  • As a breakfast replacement for customers with a long commute
  • Because they could be consumed using only one hand
  • It partially relieved the boredom of the commute
  • The milkshake provided enough calories to stave off hunger until later in the day
With these insights, the company was able to develop a new kind of milkshake that was thicker and included chunks of fruits, which enhanced its value as a meal replacement.

Reframing The Marketing Positioning Challenge

The insights uncovered with this approach are certainly not groundbreaking in themselves. Via traditional user research, interviews and observations the same conclusions could have been uncovered. The value of such an approach, however, is from my perspective that it reframes the approach to developing products that customers want. Instead of focusing solely on customers and demographic segmentations, the jobs-to-be-done framework focuses solely on customer intentions, motives and usage.
If you would like to know more about the jobs to be done framework, I highly recommend Episode 19 of the Asymco Podcast “The Critical Path” with an interview with Bob Moesta, one of the researchers behind this idea. If you don’t have time to listen to this podcast these articles should help you to further understand the ideas behind this approach.



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