Build your product to explicitly address a “Job To Be Done”

Edited excerpt from Clay Christensen’s Milkshake Marketing by Carmen Nobel:

“We realized that the causal mechanism behind a purchase is, ‘Oh, I’ve got a job to be done.’ And it turns out that it’s really effective in allowing a company to build products that people want to buy.”

A fast-food restaurant chain wanted to improve its milkshake sales. One of Christensen’s researchers tried to deduce the “job” that customers were “hiring” a milkshake to do. He spent a full day in one of the chain’s restaurants, carefully documenting who was buying milkshakes, when they bought them, and whether they drank them on the premises.

He discovered that 40 percent of the milkshakes were purchased first thing in the morning, by commuters who ordered them to go. They faced a long, boring commute and needed something to keep that extra hand busy and to make the commute more interesting. They weren’t yet hungry, but knew that they’d be hungry by 10 a.m.; they wanted to consume something now that would stave off hunger until noon. And they faced constraints: They were in a hurry, they were wearing work clothes, and they had (at most) one free hand.

The milkshake was hired in lieu of a bagel or doughnut because it was relatively tidy and appetite-quenching, and because trying to suck a thick liquid through a thin straw gave customers something to do with their boring commute. Understanding the job to be done, the company could then respond by creating a morning milkshake that was even thicker (to last through a long commute) and more interesting (with chunks of fruit) than its predecessor. The chain could also respond to a separate job that customers needed milkshakes to do: serve as a special treat for young children—without making the parents wait a half hour as the children tried to work the milkshake through a straw. In that case, a different, thinner milkshake was in order.

(1) Focusing on a Job To Be Done removes the need to specify who your target customer is, because your target customer is anyone who needs to get this job done. If you discover that there are different jobs to be done, for example Clay Christensen’s example of a milkshake to provide breakfast on a commute and a milkshake to provide a treat for a child, you’ll likely find you have different types of customers.
(2) Cf. The best products satisfy a frequent user need with minimum friction.
(3) Cf. Andy Johns on how to build a winning product.

9 thoughts on “Build your product to explicitly address a “Job To Be Done”

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