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Solve your customer’s real problem with JTBD

We don’t know a single marketer who wouldn’t love the information served up at the top of this article. 

We humbly suggest, however, that the majority of our peers in marketing and marketing communications are spending far too much time learning about the customer rather than learning about the customer’s problem and context.

That’s where your answers lie, and Jobs To Be Done (or “JTBD,” sometimes called “Job Theory” or even “Timeline theory”) is the lens you need to get these answers.

One of the reasons JTBD is sometimes called “Timeline Theory” is because it takes a linear view of the customer’s process to solve a problem (or “hire” a solution.) 

Clear your mind. Be “solution agnostic.”

You may ask, “What’s the difference between this approach and the classic “Customer Journey?” That’s a great question, and there’s a clear difference: 

JTBD is solution agnostic, meaning it isn’t tracking a customer’s path to a product; it’s following the customer’s path to a solution — which could be any number of competing products, products from another industry altogether, or a seemingly random DIY approach.

Why is this revolutionary? Because by learning how the customer arrives at what they call a solution (rather than what you or your competitors call a solution) your customer tells you what they’ll “hire” (or spend money on), and what information — or marketing messages — they’ll respond to.

STEP ONE: Identified needs

Identifying the actual need is critical, otherwise, you’re chasing red herrings. 

Clayton Christensen’s famous example of one of his associates working with McDonald’s to increase sales of milkshakes captures the “need” question beautifully. He shares that they’d spent quite a bit of time and money attempting to increase sales by reformulating milkshakes after segmenting customers demographically (a classic faux pas,) and surveying them around ways to make a more tasty shake. Despite faithfully responding to this crowd-sourced info, they didn’t sell more milkshakes.

Taking several steps back and asking “what problem is hiring a milkshake solving,” they started looking at different data. When they realized that 40% of milkshake sales occurred during morning drive time, often with kids in the car, they realized that shakes were “hired” instead of other foods for very interesting reasons: convenience, amount of time to consume, cleanliness, and even boredom were all factors. 

McDonalds ended up reformulating 2 shakes: a thicker, longer-lasting shake with “interesting” bits of fruit for adults, and a thinner, easy to consume shake for kids, all targeted around morning. Whaddya know… they sold more shakes.

“That’s well and good,” you say, “but I’m not trying to increase sales of a product. I’m seeking to launch one.”

JTBD is especially good at innovation. But — you need to be brave. Are you sure you’ve identified an unmet need? 

JTBD will ask you to consider the problem your solution is designed to solve and then take your solution completely out of the equation. Look holistically at the non-demographically segmented group of people who live with, wrestle with, and often ingeniously solve (often through workarounds) your problem. Prepare to be surprised. 

Taking this approach seriously will set you up for our next installment, understanding the customer scenario.

About the Author:

Sam Lowe conducts research to help build full-featured road maps and strategies for BS LLC clients ranging from hospitality to health care and manufacturing to high tech. He’s also delightfully addicted to 2-wheeled vehicles, classical music, and fine teas.