They’re telling you something your competitors aren’t listening to. Not with their words.

Everyone knows the old adage, “The customer is always right.” This statement, more recently used by only customers (and really, really old marketers) still holds some truth to it to this day, but it’s not what you think.

Customers only ever use this line when something goes wrong. And it’s too late at that point. Exit marketing, enter PR and damage control. If you swap out your traditional marketer’s lens to a behavioural economics lens, all of a sudden your customers don’t shut up. They tell you everything you could need to bolster your marketing function and more.

Watch what they do.

Our brains have three main layers – the lizard layer, the mammalian layer and the higher-primate layer because we’ve evolved from lizards to mammals to primates. However, the older the layer, the stronger the control it has on your basic physiology.

The reptilian brain, the mammalian brain and the higher-primate layer

The primordial lizard in you succumbs to hunger, fear, aggression among other basic instincts but lizards aren’t social creatures – no, that bucket of piss starts with the mammalian layer of the brain.

Mammals exhibit social behaviour – that’s one of the characteristics that define mammals other than fur and tits. To evolve social behaviour, the animal needs to have a feedback mechanism to understand if what they’re doing is socially acceptable or not and that’s where it starts.

ian bremmer on Twitter: "Herd mentality (by Joe Heller)… "
Comic by Joe Heller.

They observe how other members of their social group reacts to them and then course correct to ensure they’re playing a game everyone else wants to play. These tendencies are amplified by primate brain which exhibits complex social behaviour, like caretaking, sibling bonds and even trade.

Fast forward to the modern age. While there are still those of us that pull a door that says push, that’s only because of bad design. Switching out a plate handle to a bar handle on the “pull” side of the door drastically reduces the number of people who can’t read.

The bottom line is, people’s behaviours aren’t random. They’re predictable to a degree and are generally a product of progress, circumstance and functional, social and emotional context.

That brings us to…

Jobs Theory

Now don’t take this as an excuse to creepily watch people. Instead, I’d like to introduce possibly one of the most scalable frameworks I’ve come across. Clayton Christensen (RIP), a professor of marketing at Harvard, formalized the insight generation process with Jobs theory.

If you want to learn about this in-depth, I highly recommend his book, ‘Competing Against Luck’. The framework was used by AirBnB when they were a teeny tiny startup, and by multinational behemoths like McDonalds.

The basic premise is simple – your customer isn’t a psychographic, nor a demographic, it’s not even a person. It’s a behaviour. Allow me to validate the person insertion there – when someone is rushing to the hospital because one of their friends just met with an accident, it doesn’t matter how empty their fridge is, they’ll only go shopping when they’re done with their current goal.

That isn’t to say that they’ll never go shopping either. The real “customer” there, are the set of behaviours involved in your buying process.

How Jobs theory (or some of you might know it as Job-to-be-done theory) is applied can’t really be filled out in a single blog post but we’re hoping just bringing you this information is useful.

If you want to know more, let me know and we’ll pop out a handbook or manual for that purpose but I will attempt to simplify the process as much as possible.

01. Define the goal

Sticking to old sayings that have lost meaning, “A customer isn’t looking for a quarter-inch nail, they’re looking for a quarter-inch hole. As bluntly as possibly, as critically self aware as your ego will allow, write down the goal your customer is trying to accomplish.

Let’s take a cakery as an example.

Eg: To stop feeling hungry.

A cakery would love this Job.

02. Progress

Find out how far down the process of achieving the goal your brand actually makes an impact. What does that mean? Write down the individual actions they do from being aware of the problem to completing the goal and circle the step your brand steps in.

eg: To stop feeling hungry after I get to the city

A cakery in the city would love this job.

03. Circumstance

Add the circumstances that govern the interaction.

eg: To stop feeling hungry when I get to the city, after my morning commute to work.

A cakery in the city might think they’ve found a new market! Cake for breakfast!

04. Functional, Emotional and Social Context

Add the functional, emotional and social context that influence the situation.

eg: To stop feeling hungry when I get to the city, after my morning commute to work, but also to avoid feeling embarassed if one of my friends or coworkers catches me with a slice of cake in the morning.

A cakery in the city can choose to open in the afternoon and save costs or allow people to place orders in the morning that they can open in the evening to even out cashflow.

How important is each one?

There isn’t a cookie cutter answer for that – each situation throws different weights to each of these aspects. In simple situations, use your gut and common sense, a lot of these situations are pretty intuitive. In more complex situations, apply the scientific method, have a control and 3 different treatments and observe which aspect creates the most impact.

Wait… how did I get here?

The customer IS always right. Jobs theory exploits that fact but that doesn’t mean what they SAY is right, it means what they DO is right – you just can’t argue with that.