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Jobs to be done

We’ve been thinking a lot here about ‘jobs to be done’ this week. This is a phrase coined by Clayton Christensen in a study for McDonalds who wanted to understand their customers’ product needs (in this case milkshakes) better.[1] He found that understanding why customers bought milkshakes – quite often to fill or pass time – gave them a status beyond nutrition. By then making them thicker, they increased the value of this aspect of the product and increased sales.  

The ‘Jobs to be Done’ idea is simply that your customer is buying your product or service because it is helping them get something done in their life or work. However, there may be more than one job associated with the task. Katie Tucker in her excellent book do penguins eat peaches? builds on their research and that of Wunken, Wattman and Farber to highlight the example of a Rolex watch. The functional job is telling time, but there are social jobs – sending a signal about status or success – and emotional jobs – for example the idea that you might be buying the watch as a legacy piece for your family. By tapping into all these aspects, you can get a better idea of what your customer is thinking and identify elements of your product or service they might really value and that might differentiate you from your competitors.

We’ve been thinking about this across a few dimensions – in the trying to understand our own customers – and our clients’ customers. So how might you get to a better understanding of your customer or potential customer’s ‘Jobs’?

If you are at an early stage of your business or of your product development asking some open questions can elicit a good understanding of the different aspects of the tasks they are trying to complete and the qualities or values of products they might use to help with those that might be important. Something as simple as ‘tell me more about..’ can elicit rich insight. The point is that you looking to understand what they are trying to achieve rather than making it about your product or business idea. That can come later and insight at this early stage can in turn underpin follow-on quantitative analysis which would allow comparison of the relative importance of individual product aspects and how you are doing versus your competitors in these areas creating opportunity for differentiation.

To get further help or advice on understanding your customers’ needs drop us a line here or at


[1] Katie Tucker, do penguins eat peaches? 2023, Practical Inspiration Publishing, p84

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