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Use “Jobs To Be Done” (JTBD) to Understand Your Customers

At Highland, we help our clients understand their audience and design digital products that fit their customers needs.

A young child and parent walking in a garden between several hedges

Photo by Laurent Peignault on Unsplash

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 innovators like this, 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 when it comes to product development.

Understanding the “Jobs to Be Done” theory

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 (often referred to as JTBD) as a way to strategically target products and services, here is the basic idea behind the theory of Jobs to Be Done:

A potential customer has “Jobs” they need or want to accomplish. These jobs can be:

  • Functional jobs — accomplishing a task

  • Emotional dimensions — bolstering or assuaging a belief or feeling

  • Social methodology — 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” or "needs" your product or service, but don’t usually line up with demographic breakdowns. As a result, unmet needs can be an obstacle in project development and can interfere with the innovation process.

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 doing market research and analyzing audiences along with potential growth strategies, 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.

Customer's Job: 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 and avoid common mistakes. 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.

The Value Proposition Canvas composed of two parts: the customer profile and the value map. This map if covered with colorful stickies.
The Business Model Canvas, divided into 9 components, starting with the value proposition. Covered with colorful stickies.

The results of our recent Business Model Canvas on Highland. We used the Jobs To Be Done framework to gain a deeper understanding of our clients and what motivates them to work with us. | Photos by Bridgett Colling

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 on this new solution:

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 and looking for disruptive innovation factors

Now we had the clarity to drill into actual demographics, market segmentation and firmographics. 

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 and metrics 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 answering what customers want, getting to people who have the jobs your product or service solves.

Happy hunting!

Find out more about how Highland used the JTBD theory and contact us today to put the Jobs to be done theory to practice with our team to get the desired outcome from your project.  View our case studies.

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