Buyer personas can work very well, but they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. Instead of focusing on the consumer, jobs-to-be-done (JBTD) emphasizes the reason behind consumer behavior. Clay Christensen of Harvard Business School first proposed this framework in a MIT Sloan Management Review article in 2007, Finding the Right Job for Your Product.

JTBD Definition
According to Christensen, job-to-be-done “is a tool for evaluating the circumstances that arise in customers’ lives.” People buy products and services because they have a problem they need to solve, not because of who they are. This holds true for both B2B and B2C markets.

Traditional marketing uses attributes like age, ethnicity, and marital status to create a profile of a customer that can be sold a company’s products. JTBD, on the other hand, looks at the “job” for which consumers want to “hire” a product or service.

JTBD Example
Christensen provides a good example in his 2007 article about fast food chain customers “hiring” milkshakes to do a job, namely feed their stomach during a long early-morning commute. By focusing, not on the consumer, but on what they’re trying to accomplish, the company can optimize the product for that function. JTBD also helps in understanding the competition, which in this case ran from bananas to doughnuts and everything in between.

The Benefits of JTBD
Although jobs-to-be-done is popular in product design and development, found that it’s had a great impact on their marketing. You can see the strategy applied right on their homepage, with their offer of five packages each designed for a particular job.

Forty-five-year-olds males with a University education, working as CTO at a company with less than 50 employees don’t buy your widgets because of their demographics. Segmenting users solely based on personas provides far less insight than dividing them up according to motivation and triggers.

Understanding that motivation, the job and its context helps define your value proposition, writing, copy, creating content and a host of other marketing activities. The language customers use to convey their frustrations and how often they use those words makes for great copywriting. You can’t describe their struggle as eloquently as they can because you are not your customer.

As Matt Hodges at Intercom says, “Knowing the job helps you find your audience.” Understanding the jobs people hire your product for makes it easier to explain the product in their context.

How to Implement JTBD
Customer interviews are an essential part of JTBD implementation. There’s a distinct manner of interviewing clients to understand their job-to-be-done. The key to these meetings is finding the emotional energy used by customers during their search for a solution.

Question them about their actual struggles and try to cover each endeavour from all sides before moving on to the next point in their journey. Questions like “Think about the last time…” is especially effective at getting participants to recall the emotional impact. Above all, never assume because assume makes an… well, you get the picture.

On the surface, JTBD seems to be less about people and more about the job they’re trying to accomplish. However, the focus remains on the consumer, albeit in a different manner than that of traditional marketing and demographics.