I like a good user persona. Figuring out the would-be customer, learning their demographics, and making educated guesses about what might affect their willingness or unwillingness to buy a product or service is fun.
User personas are a tool built on a mashup of attributes and assumptions. Depending on your product or service, you could end up with a wide variety of archetypes that will probably end up having less in common than similar.
User personas serve as an interesting and instructive view of what a potential customer might be like, but focusing on shallow attributes, like income or education level, creates gap in knowledge. While there might be a correlation between characteristics that make one set of customers do one thing and another set something else, those characteristics cannot be confused with causation. For example, demographics alone cannot explain why some women of similar age, education, and income level buy a lot of shoes and some do not.
Buying behaviors change more often than demographics, so focusing on these static characteristics doesn’t teach you as much about the actual problem you need to solve for your customer base.
This article isn’t an indictment on User Personas. As already mentioned, I like them; they’re a useful tool and have their place. Mike Rivera wrote a great article outlining types of user personas that can provide depth and insight. But for my purposes, User Personas simply do not convey enough meaning the way the Job-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework does.
Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) Framework
Jobs-to-be-Done was coined by Clay Christensen. It’s a theory made famous in his 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma. The theory suggests that what causes a customer to buy something is that there is a job that needs to get done, that customers are buying or hiring a product to do a specific job. It’s about understanding the problem a customer is facing and providing a solution they actually want.
Most companies segment their markets by customer demographics or product characteristics and differentiate their offerings by adding features and functions. But the consumer has a different view of the marketplace. He simply has a job to be done and is seeking to “hire” the best product or service to do it. Marketers must adopt that perspective. – MIT Sloan Management Review, Spring 2007
Figuring Out the Job To Be Done
We don’t sell just products or services: we sell an outcome. .
People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole. – Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt
If we frame everything as a job, we have to focus on the event or situation that motivates a customer to look for a solution for a specific outcome.
I’m going to use the example of a job I needed done and the company who (unwittingly) solved it to demonstrate the value of the JTBD framework from the customer perspective.
The Problem: I’m short. Short of turning me into the bionic woman, that problem isn’t getting solved any time soon (and according to my doctor if I don’t start doing strength training, I can look forward to getting shorter (and hunched) in my old age…my doctor even mimed a whole demonstration of what I might look like when I’m older, shorter, and hunched. It was horrifying, hilarious, and effective—I do a lot more pushups and pullups now to stave off the effects of osteoporosis).
To compensate for my height (and because I like them), I wear heels at the office, but I also live in a very walkable city and wear flats on my commute. So, the real problem is the wear and tear on my trouser hem from dragging on the ground. Why don’t I get them hemmed, you wonder? Then, the trousers would be too short for the heels; I needed a different solution.
The Job: A cute, easy, and temporary way to keep my trousers from dragging on the ground as I commute to work.
The Initial Solutions:
The Problem Demographics Can’t Account For: I wanted something that was cute AND functional. I don’t cycle and those straps look ridiculous.
The Actual Solution: Poppy Clips. It took me a lot of keyword searches to find this company.
How I use poppy clips is NOT how Poppy Clips markets their product line. They’re “Accessories that Pop”. They’re intended to be an accessory the same way jewelry is—doesn’t solve a functional problem just adds some color, some “pop”, to your outfit. Which is a perfectly fine solution for someone looking to solve the problem of a drab wardrobe.
But as someone who wears very little jewelry, I would never buy Poppy Clips to just add “pop” to my wardrobe. I see adding them to my clothes the same way I once viewed the mock turtleneck (useless and WHY?!).
No offense to Poppy Clips, because while I’m not their target audience for how they actually market the product, I am a big advocate for how I use them. Other professional women commuting to work in their flats, but changing into heels, see me wearing them and want to solve the exact same problem. I’ve lost count how many women I’ve told about Poppy Clips.
Key Questions to Answer
Maybe Poppy Clips worked through the following key questions and even considered marketing poppy clips to short women who would like to not replace trousers more often due to wear and tear and decided it wasn’t a big enough market or it simply isn’t their vision for their product. Regardless, for a business looking to implement the JTBD framework, the following questions are a good place to start:
• Customer problem – What problem do we want to solve?
• Target audience – Who is the solution for?
• Vision – Why are we solving this problem?
• Strategy – How do we do this?
• Goals – What do we ultimately want to achieve?
Only after those questions are answered, can a business make sense of the exact features their product or service should have.
Building features is easy, building the right features for the right people is challenging – Nikkel Blaase
While widely accepted these days, I suspect some businesses still shy from using the JTBD framework because it requires time and resources to talk to real customers A lot of User Personas, while they should also be informed by customer interviews, can be gleaned from segmenting data and metrics. JTBD requires talking about a product or service in context to get at what is motivating a customer to use (or not use) a particular product or service.
Arguably, for a business that is willing to engage with customers in this way, they will learn in greater detail what problem their customers really want solved, which will allow them to change and adapt as needed more quickly. User personas won’t get you to that point at the same pace.