I recently had coffee with a young entrepreneur I am mentoring from the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center. It’s always a highlight of my week to connect with someone passionate about bringing something new into the world.
We were walking through the Business Model Canvas for a new idea he is working on.
I asked, “Who is the Customer Segment that would get value from this service?”
He answered, “High School and College Students.”
This is a marketer’s answer, not a strategist’s answer.
Understanding “Jobs to Be Done”
Demographics can be useful in marketing, but they can cause serious problems when they end up in the early stages of a business model. A demographic is an attempt to group people together by shared characteristics that might make them more likely to want your product or service.
But instead of starting with demographics, what a business strategist should identify first are the social, emotional, and physical jobs your potential customers are hiring your product or service to do. We use the Jobs to Be Done framework to help us identify these different kinds of jobs.
If you’re new to Jobs To Be Done as a way to strategically target products and services, here is the basic idea:
A potential customer has “Jobs” they need or want to accomplish. These jobs can be:
Functional — accomplishing a task
Emotional — bolstering or assuaging a belief or feeling
Social — increasing relational connection or social standing
These various jobs show up in different contexts that make perfect sense when thinking about why a person “hires” your product or service, but don’t usually line up with demographic breakdowns.
Demographics vs. Jobs in Practice: The Morton Arboretum
Our work with The Morton Arboretum focused on a particular job — connect with nature — among several main jobs for their members, which include walking/running/biking, learning how to care for plants and trees, and being with family. Members “hire” the Arboretum to fulfill these jobs in various ways, from visits to classes and special events. What these jobs have in common is an aspirational emotional “job” to be a certain kind of person — one that can slow down, disconnect, and be present to the world around us.
What these jobs do not have in common is a demographic.
In fact, when our research team started, we focused on members with young children, a group with a strong demographic overlap with 30-something mothers living in affluent Chicago suburbs. Demographic assumptions would have led to the conclusion that the “job” these members would most want was for the Arboretum to offer enrichment programming that advanced their child’s cognitive and motor development. But the reality, as we discovered, is that these members want the Arboretum for an entirely different job: to escape from the over-programmed schedules designed for their child’s development.
The job for this group — connect with nature because I want to be a person who can slow down, disconnect, and be present to the world — is virtually the same across the dozens of demographic segments present in the Arboretum’s membership.
Your Customers Share a Job, Not a Demographic
We’ve seen this scenario play out at Highland as well. We’ve seen a lot of success in our Customer Experience work, but our client demographics are really diverse: financial services, not for profit, technology, government services, manufacturing, social impact, and more. We’re looking to bring on a new salesperson to help scale this part of our work, and in preparing for that hire, we found we were struggling to describe our ideal customer segment.
We were falling into the demographic trap. We had our sales and marketing hats on, and sellers and marketers think in demographics, because it is an easy way to decide who to target. But trying to describe our customer segment demographically is nearly impossible.
So, in a recent Business Model Canvas, we switched hats and drew out some clear “jobs” connections. The main decision makers at our clients had a lot in common. Their organizations weren’t struggling, they were thriving. They weren’t seeking someone out to fix core issues, but to push them and their organization forward to be even better. They naturally wanted to take risks and try new things, but they sought discipline to help them take smart risks. Leaders who “hired” us for our work around Customer Experience Design and Lean Startup Innovation shared a fairly consistent set of functional, emotional, and social jobs.
Once we were clear on the jobs, now we could turn to demographics as a way to increase our odds of finding people who shared the jobs our service delivers on. So we started here:
Innovative leaders at mid-sized to large organizations that:
have strong customer experience commitments
deliver growth journeys — instead of or in addition to transactional customer journeys — to people
are mission driven
Now we had the clarity to drill into actual demographics and firmographics so Bridgett, our Marketing Manager, and our to-be-hired salesperson could know where effort is best applied.
So whether you’re clarifying a customer segment for a new or existing product or service, or seeking to offer new products and services to an existing customer base, save your demographics for last. Start with jobs, get clear there, and then use demographics as a way to help marketing and sales have a higher probability of getting to people who have the jobs your product or service solves.