‘Jobs to Be Done’ and Narrative Analytics

Wednesday, November 17 2021 Jeff Marshall EVP, Customer Solutions Categories:

In this post we’ll explore one of the hottest trends in market research–the Jobs to Be Done approach–and how it can be integrated with Narrative Analytics.

What is “Jobs to Be Done?”

Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, an expert in innovation (he coined the idea of the “innovator’s dilemma”), introduced Jobs to Be Done in 2016, and the approach has since become popular among marketers and researchers. Christensen opened the article noting that 84% of global executives believe innovation is critical, but 94% are dissatisfied with their organizations’ ability to innovate. Something is going wrong.

As Christensen dug into this problem, he realized that companies were failing to understand their customers’ needs, so of course they were building new products that didn’t satisfy those needs. Researchers were too caught up, Christensen argued, in habitual approaches that fail to capture true customer needs. Specifically, they were too focused on:

  • Traditional Customer Segmentation: grouping customers by demographic or psychographic characteristics that may not accurately reflect the potential customer base
  • Product Attributes: asking people from those target segments what specific product features they do or do not like
  • Target segments and product attributes are important considerations, but thinking only in those terms limits innovators’ ability to see the complete customer picture. When companies use this limited thinking, they change product attributes as their target segments suggest, but products continue to fail. Companies needed a way to break out of this traditional model.

    Christensen suggested thinking about the problem in an entirely different way. Instead of asking target segments about product attributes, try to understand the “job” that customers “hire” a product to perform. Asking questions about the “job to be done” enables companies to understand how a product actually fits into people’s lives, and how they decide whether to adopt (“hire” or “fire”) that product.

    The Milkshake Example

    The classic Jobs to Be Done example, explained in this video featuring Christensen, focuses on milkshakes. Christensen and his team were consulting with one of the world’s largest fast food companies to help them understand how to increase milkshake sales.

    The company had loads of data about product attributes and what their target segments said they preferred, but acting on those ideas wasn’t delivering the results they wanted. They needed a different approach.

    To help the company, Christensen and his team used Jobs to Be Done. Instead of gathering a representative sample of the target segment in a room to ask them about product characteristics, they went right to the customers themselves at the restaurants and asked them what probably seemed like counterintuitive questions:

  • What is the job you’re asking this milkshake to do?
  • What causes you to hire the milkshake to do this job, instead of hiring a different product?
  • What other products have you tried hiring for this job, and why did you fire them?
  • The customers’ answers were eye-opening. It turns out that many customers were hiring milkshakes as the perfect product to get them through their morning commute. They needed a product that would last their entire ride, occupy their free hand during a boring drive, and make them feel full until lunchtime.

    The milkshake was the perfect product to hire for this job. Milkshakes are thick, so they last through the entire commute.  They fit well into a cupholder, so they can be picked up and set down easily, to keep the driver occupied.  And they kept customers from getting hungry before lunch.

    Customers described hiring–and then firing–other products that just didn’t perform the job to be done.  Bagels and doughnuts are too messy, with no place to put them.  A banana doesn’t last long enough.  Snickers bars are too guilt-inducing.  Customers fired them all, and hired the milkshakes instead.

    Using Narrative Analytics with Jobs to Be Done

    The essence of the Jobs to Be Done idea is to listen to customers in a way that allows you to understand how products actually fit into their lives.  That means you can’t go in with too many assumptions–about segment definitions or product attributes or anything else.  Instead, be ready to listen and open to new ways of thinking.

    Narrative Analytics is also about listening and being open to new kinds of understanding. Your customers are describing their Jobs to Be Done every day–on social media, in forums, in product reviews, in responses to open-ended survey questions like NPS, and in other places. We’ve developed the capability to listen to these digital expressions and interpret them with machine learning and natural language processing, which allows us to detect both Narratives and Jobs to Be Done.

    Other methods of identifying Jobs to Be Done, such as parking a team of researchers in front of a fast food restaurant, can be expensive and only poll a small sample of customers.  Interviews and focus groups bring the same challenges. Detecting Jobs to Be Done at scale, with Narrative Analytics, gives you the confidence of a more comprehensive approach.

    Some of our clients have also successfully combined methodologies–using Narrative Analytics to inform themselves about Jobs to Be Done, and then using that foundational knowledge to conduct more successful interviews and focus groups (at a smaller, more cost-effective scale than they would have needed without Narrative Analytics up front).

    For more thoughts on how you can use the Jobs to Be Done approach in conjunction with Protagonist’s capabilities, feel free to schedule a conversation.