“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole,” an HBS professor named Theodore Levitt famously told his students.
Too often, marketers get wrapped up in the features and functions of their products, rather than solving the actual problems of the consumer. That leads to a lot of one-upmanship versus competition and over-bundled products that don’t handle any one feature particularly well. Marketers also tend to average out all of the feedback from consumers, ending up with one-size-fits-none products.
I recently heard Clayton Christensen, one of my favorite HBS professors, give a lecture at our 10-year business school reunion. He said that marketers frequently focused on the wrong things, leading them to target “phantom needs”.
“Don’t sell one-size-fits-none products,” he said. “Instead, find the job your customer is hiring your product to do”.
To illustrate the “jobs-to-be-done” method of marketing, Professor Christensen told the story of milkshake development (which he also described in this fascinating HBR article). A fast food restaurant wanted to increase milkshake sales. They first asked target consumers if they wanted their milkshakes more chocolatey, cheaper, or chunkier. This approach had no impact.
The fast food restaurant then investigated the jobs consumers actually hired the milkshakes to do. They discovered that many milkshakes were consumed, surprisingly, early in the morning. It turned out that the morning milkshake was “hired” to solve a “boring-commute” problem. Once they understood that “job”, they optimized that milkshake with prepaid swipe cards and made them thicker to last longer in the commute. They found another very different “job” in the afternoon, with dads who were tired of saying “no” to their kids all day and wanted an easy win.
By focusing on the “job”, the fast food restaurant realized they were competing, not against other milkshakes, but against other products that consumers were hiring for the “boring commute” job or the “hero dad” job. Christensen shared this insight:
“Job-defined markets are generally much larger than product category–defined markets. Marketers who are stuck in the mental trap that equates market size with product categories don’t understand whom they are competing against from the customer’s point of view.”
In the pursuit of new products and new features, there is value in understanding the “jobs-to-be-done”.
(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away one signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. I’ll pick one comment. Thanks!)
Here’s a 4-minute video I found of Professor Christensen sharing the insights from the milkshake story: