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Jobs To Be Done: an innovative approach to market research

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” Read on and find out how to sell roles instead of drill bits with Jobs To Be Done.

The German-American Theodore Levitt economist once said: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!“. This traditional quote have a lot to tell us about Jobs To Be Done.

Jobs To Be Done is about thinking not only in the scope of our solutions, but also in the contexts of use. It also ensures the foundations for a problem-solving product or feature and market-fit.

Read on and find out how Jobs To Be Done helps us to craft holes instead of drill bits.

What is a “Job To Be Done”?

When customers are looking to purchase a product, they don’t necessarily want the product itself but rather what it can do for them.

Remember Levitt’s quote. We can expand this analogy by saying that customers don’t buy a drill just to make a hole. What they really want is to hang something up on their wall. A Job to be Done is just that: it is the transition that a customer is willing to undergo to get from their current situation to a better state.

It’s a framework that focuses primarily on assisting customers with improving their life situations. A factory can manufacture cosmetics, but once those products are on the shelf to be sold to individuals, they are no longer a simple product. What they are selling is aesthetic self-betterment. People purchase makeup to make themselves look a certain way, which gives them more social/romantic confidence. That is what they are really looking for.

In this case, the Job to be Done would be “make me feel more confident about my appearance”. If someone is looking for a new toothpaste to brush their teeth with, it would be “maintain my dental hygiene.”

The beautiful thing about the Jobs To Be Done approach is that it surpasses the need for demographics. In many situations, a 23-year-old and a 63-year-old have the exact same Job in mind when looking for a product. This is because the person who benefits from the Job in a B2C scenario is often the same person who will execute the Job. This means that products in these scenarios have to be simple enough that anyone can operate them. Certain products might cater to more niche demands that concentrate themselves in specific demographics, but the JTBD is universal.

While this concept changes slightly when it comes to B2B markets, it still allows companies to ignore industry demographics. In a B2B relationship, the executor is usually not the business that will benefit from the Job being Done. This means that the Jobs can be complex and challenging to execute while still applying to a variety of industries.

The Different Types of Jobs To Be Done

The Jobs To Be Done community has varying opinions regarding job classifications. Some believe that separating Jobs into different categories can take away their intrinsic subjective nature. After all, one person’s functional Job might be another’s emotional Job.

But experts agree that all Jobs have these three aspects to them that influence how customers will perceive them. Those three factors are Functional, Social, and Emotional.

Functional Jobs To Be Done

These Jobs are easy enough to grasp and allude to our original Job example of a quarter-inch hole. These might just be the most straightforward aspect of Jobs to classify due to how simple it is to extract the function from the product being purchased.

When someone buys a product, they usually have a very simple functional Job in mind. We’ll start with a self-explanatory purchase, a watering can. When someone buys a watering can, the Job they need to complete is simple: keep my plants alive. Let’s be honest; this Job is easier said than done. That’s because the act of keeping your plants alive requires more than just watering them.

Plants need water, obviously, but they also need the right amount of sunlight, dirt, and consistency. The number one killer of plants isn’t leaf-eating bugs (although that’s an entirely different problem plant owners face), it’s lack of regularity. People forget to water their indoor plants and often have to leave them to fend for themselves during long trips.

While an automatic watering system would undoubtedly solve all the functional plant-watering problems that customers face (it would certainly solve mine), the Job of keeping your plants alive provides people with more than just a functional need, but a social and emotional one as well.

Social Jobs To Be Done

Keeping with our watering pot example, let’s focus on the social aspect of the watering can. If you’ve ever been to a friend’s bachelor pad or the apartment of your average college student, you may have noticed their lack of plants. The common thread between these two scenarios is that they both give off the same impression: these people lack the responsibility necessary to keep a plant alive.

This is what we would call the social Job To Be Done by buying a watering can. We want to keep our plants alive, yes, but being able to maintain these plants alive and thriving shows friends, family, and potential partners that you’re an adult who has their affairs in order.

Not to mention that plants also add a lot to a room in terms of aesthetics and can also be used as a sort of social status symbol. A rare and expensive orchid is an excellent example of this. Being able to afford and maintain such a fragile plant alive either speaks to your interest and dedication or the amount of money you pay for people to do it for you.

Emotional Jobs To Be Done

While the functional Job can be seen as something that a product needs to fulfill in order to just even sell, social and emotional Jobs can sometimes be seen as “extra” or “adjacent.” We’re here to tell you that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

While simply fulfilling the functional Job of keeping your plants alive might automatically lead to the social and emotional satisfaction you’re looking for, the watering can doesn’t actually cater to those aspects of the problem.

The problem with the simple watering can is that it doesn’t take these other aspects of the Job To Be Done into consideration. The feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment one feels when a plant that nearly died a few months ago is finally blossoming is something we acquire ourselves, not something we buy… but is it something that we can sell?

This is the ultimate idea behind why JTBD works so well. You aren’t just selling something that will help customers functionally and socially, but emotionally as well. Discovering how customers feel when they use a product is necessary because it can help you cater to how they want to feel.

A watering can fulfills a single purpose, but what if I told you there was a product that could deliver on all three aspects of the Jobs To Be Done theory: A beautiful and rare plant that comes inside its own completely enclosed terrarium, complete with a full mini-ecosystem.

It’s sealed, so you can’t give it anything but sunlight.
The transition glass makes sure that the plants are getting just the right amount of sunlight no matter where you put them.
It’s a talking point in and of itself.

This is just an example of how the JTBD theory can be used to turn the simple concept of a watering plant into a new product that encompasses everything your customer wants and needs.

So, where is JTBD applicable?

This might seem a little bit cliche, but to be honest, the JTBD theory applies to almost every market and sector. The idea behind it encompasses any industry where a client needs something done. While this applies more easily to a B2C market, where the products are essentially designed with a Job in mind, that doesn’t mean that a B2B company can’t take advantage of this as well.

The real “area” where JTBD is most applicable is innovation. The Jobs To Be Done concept is one that strives to reframe product-consumer interactions in order to give developers new insights into why customers make certain purchase decisions.

If you’re looking to revamp a product that hasn’t done so well, or are struggling to differentiate yourself within a hyper-competitive market, then you’re in the right place. Just remember that this method doesn’t exist to necessarily reinvent the wheel, but rather to understand what the wheel provides to users and get at the root of the question: why do people buy them?

Jobs To Be done as a market research strategy

Jobs to be Done isn’t exactly a methodology or a system. It can’t be implemented so much as utilized. It is a theory, a framework that allows you to observe a situation and derive insights from it. In that sense, JTBD functions perfectly as a research strategy. What you want to do is take an already existing product or an area that a new product would operate in and ask yourself, “what is the Job that customers want done here?”.

You want to discern your customers’ goal, that emotional or psychological state that they want to reach. The key then is to understand where your product can fit in along their journey to that Be Goal. Ask yourself questions like:

• Where are the pains and barriers located along this path?
• If a product is doing well, but its sales have reached a plateau, how can we innovate further?
• What “Job” are customers trying to achieve with our product?
• Is it even marketed as something that can fulfill that Job, or are customers using the product in unintended ways?
• Who is this product really competing against?
• Are there other products that don’t fall under the same category but still fulfill the same Job as this product?
• Is there a Job closely related to our industry that no other products on the market can assist in?
• How are consumers currently fulfilling this Job?

These kinds of questions rarely get answered spontaneously and often require in-depth desk and field research, interviews, statistical analysis, and sharp eyes. The number one thing to remember is that humans are extremely resourceful, and no Job that is within our field of influence goes by unfulfilled. Sometimes we might have to jerry-rig it or use an inefficient process, but people are more likely to find a better path than they are to keep going down an uncomfortable road.

If you’ve reached the end of this article and are still itching for more content on Jobs To Be Done, why not check out Visual Stories on JTBD?

We also have a ebook on Jobs To Be Done, that explains in-depth the science behind the theory, as well as how to implement it. Click on the image below and get your copy. If you have any questions, reach us out. Remember, you don’t have to go it alone.