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Six Questions for Stephen Wunker

The jobs people want to get done can be both functional and emotional in nature. Which should innovators focus on first?

The first step is to design a product that satisfies one or more functional jobs in a superior way. But if you can also appeal to your customers’ emotional needs, you can create a breakthrough success. When Apple paid $3.2 billion to buy Beats Electronics in 2014, critics complained about the inferior quality of Beats’ headphones. But, despite competing against technically-superior products from BoseSennheiser and JBL, Beats earned a 40 per cent market share after just four years. Why? Because the company addresses emotional jobs.

From the beginning, Beats focused on getting its product into as many music videos, locker rooms and runway shoots as possible, so that they were associated with celebrity, glamour and status. The $300 price tag basically buys you a seat at the cool kids’ table in the cafeteria of life. As competitors figure out how to satisfy the same functional jobs at a lower price point, emotional elements can really differentiate a product.

Tell us more about the role of ‘job drivers’.

Job drivers are the underlying contextual elements that make certain jobs more or less important for a specific customer, and there are three types: attitudinal, background and circumstantial.

In terms of attitude, what social pressures do your customers face? And what personality traits affect their behaviour? In terms of background, what does their context look like, in terms of geography, socio-economic status and culture? And in terms of circumstances, what immediate factors in the environment are likely to affect their decision-making? That could range from their work schedule to the weather.

Say your friend ‘Stan’ is shopping for a new car. Like most car buyers, his key jobs to be done include avoiding breakdowns, having a comfortable ride, and ensuring his safety. However, his combination of attitudes, background and circumstances will differentiate him from other car buyers who share those same jobs to be done.

In terms of attitude, Stan has an MBA from an Ivy League school, and many of his peers are highly successful — which drives Stan to want to show off his own level of success. In terms of background, Stan lives in New England, which means he needs a car that can climb up a hill in the snow. And in terms of circumstances, he happens to be shopping for this car during hockey season. He volunteers for his son’s team, which means he often drives players with lots of equipment around. As Stan’s story indicates, even customers who have similar jobs to be done will make different decisions about what products they use to satisfy those jobs.

Ultimately, it is a combination of jobs and job drivers that differentiates customers.

What is an example of a company that embraces the Jobs-to-be-Done approach?

recognizes that its customers have ‘jobs’ for their footwear beyond just comfort and support. Lots of people are looking to accomplish emotional jobs when they buy a pair of shoes, like ‘expressing my individuality’. The competition to do that job could be a radical new haircut or a new bumper sticker. Or, if the job is ‘projecting status’, the competition could be a fancy watch. Nike recognizes that every time a customer satisfies one of these emotional jobs by visiting the hair salon or buying an expensive watch, that customer has less incentive (and cash) to buy a new pair of sneakers. That’s why it has moved beyond traditional tactics — like associating athletes with its products — to find new ways to satisfy emotional needs. NIKEiD, for example, allows customers to design custom shoes by choosing the design, materials and colour of their shoes. Its tagline says it all: Express your identity.

You have said that Uber’s success is based on Jobs principles. How so?

Just think about what it was like to hail a taxi before Uber. You might have had to wait out in the rain, hoping a cab would stop for you; then once you got a ride, you would have to nervously check your wallet as you watched the meter continue to tick up. When you look at how many ‘pain points’ there were around satisfying such a basic job — confidently being able to get from point A to B — it’s no wonder that consumers were so willing to embrace Uber’s solution.

Uber really thought carefully about the full set of things that people are trying to get done in the realm of mobility. The fact is, it’s not just about getting from one place to another; it’s also about knowing how long that will take, how long you will have to wait, how much it will cost and whether the driver will have change. Uber has addressed all of these pain points.

What is the role of Big Data in the Jobs-to-be-Done framework?

Data can tell you a lot — like what your customers are buying, when they are buying it, and whether they are satisfied with their purchase. What it fails to provide is context. It can’t tell you that a particular shopper chose your brand of toilet paper to placate his screaming toddler, who ‘needed’ the one with the puppy on it. Big Data fails to provide crucial information about why customers make decisions — and how they interact with products after they are purchased. It is notoriously bad at telling us how customers emotionally relate to products, or how they use them in ways that you never envisioned.

That’s why the most successful consumer-goods companies — like Procter & Gamble, Microsoft and General Motors — have ethnographic researchers on staff. But the benefits of primary research hold just as much value in fields such as financial services and healthcare. At the end of the day, offering a new solution requires deep insights into how and why decisions are made; what level of frustration will push a customer to seek out new offerings; and what criteria new products need to satisfy.

Should people focus mostly on existing customers or non-customers to obtain the best insights?

There are actually three groups that you should reach out to, all of which provide a different type of insight. First, your existing customers, who can tell you what your products are particularly good or bad at. They can also tell you whether your product is being used to solve a slightly different problem than what you intended. For instance, Kleenex was launched as a disposable towel for removing makeup; its creators never dreamed people would use it to blow their noses!

The second group to engage with is customers who are currently buying competing products. Here, the goal is to learn what makes these customers different from yours — beyond the superficial answers that they are likely to start with. Just look at Walmart, Target and Kmart — three discount retailers that cater to very different customer types. Despite a number of similarities in selection and pricing, Target customers rarely consider shopping at Walmart or Kmart, because Target satisfies emotional jobs that the other two do not. Target shoppers love a deal as much as the others, but they are much more image conscious. Their lifestyle choices and social groups motivate them to place a higher emphasis on looking fashionable and buying in a socially-responsible way.

The final group to investigate is individuals who are not consuming the category of products you sell at all. Do they have a different set of jobs that they are looking to get done? Perhaps something is holding them back? These individuals, in particular, offer valuable opportunities for expansion. Leading brewer Anheuser-Busch sought to attract new customers — those who preferred cocktails to beer — by creating Bud Light Lime-ARita. Leveraging Bud Light in this way made margaritas more approachable and more ‘co-ed’, giving them a chance to promote a Bud Light product at venues with traditionally low beer sales.

It’s important to challenge established views of what your industry sells and how it operates. The Jobs-based lens creates a broader view of competition, illuminating new avenues for growth and sharpening your view of where disruptors might appear. This approach also ensures that your brand remains fresh as the world continues to evolve.


Stephen Wunker is Managing Director and U.S. Office Head of New Markets Advisors. He is the co-author of Jobs to be Done: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation (AMACOM, 2016). He co-founded Yowzit, one of Africa’s leading sites for ratings and reviews and was Managing Director of Celpay, a mobile commerce start-up that was sold to South African financial services group First Rand.

Further Reading:

Article: "A Winning Formula: Disruptive Innovation + 'Jobs to be Done'" by Stephen Wunker and David Farber, available in the Winter 2018 issue of Rotman Management magazine or individually as a PDF.

This article appeared in the Winter 2018 issue. Published by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, Rotman Management explores themes of interest to leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs. 

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