Focusing on Consumer Needs Is Not Enough

For Greater Impact, Understand the Problems Your Target Is Trying to Solve

By Published on .

Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson
Joe Sinfield
There may never be a snappier explanation of the "jobs" concept than late Harvard Business School professor Ted Levitt's famous utterance, "The customer is looking for a quarter-inch hole, not a quarter-inch drill."

Focusing on the "hole" rather than the "drill," by understanding the fundamental jobs customers are trying to accomplish, is a simple but powerful approach to identifying what customers really want. Instead of concentrating on the solutions in use, a jobs approach looks at the fundamental problems customers are trying to solve in particular circumstances. It involves defining how customers are trying to accomplish those jobs in their entirety, identifying how they define success and analyzing what constrains them from doing the jobs perfectly. What does this kind of analysis reveal? That existing products or services are often unsatisfactory in addressing the jobs. That's where the opportunity for innovation comes in.

A jobs-based lens provides a better way to segment markets and customers. Instead of sorting customers into groups based on demographics or behavior, the jobs process enables a more powerful segmentation scheme in which customers with common jobs and discrete priorities are clustered together, leading to the development of more targeted products and services that better meet a segment's particular needs. Jobs-related characteristics are more deeply connected to the best possible solution than any other segmentation scheme.

"But wait," you're saying, "isn't that need-based analysis?" It sounds similar, but there's a subtle yet crucial difference between jobs-based and needs-based segmentation: A jobs view uses the customer's circumstance or situation as its point of reference, while needs-based segmentation focuses on the customer -- demographics, income, geography -- as the unit of analysis.

The Malibu approach: Different jobs are aligned with specific vehicle attributes.

If you ask people what their needs are, they will tend to talk about solutions. With the jobs approach, you constantly ask "why" to get at the root cause that is driving their need, and thus the reason that a job exists. Insights garnered in this way are more unique and much more powerful than needs-based research, and the method drives innovation in a more actionable way.

Zeroing in
The jobs model provides a blueprint for innovation: Find frustrated customers and zero in on the roots of their frustration. It captures the functional, emotional and social drivers of purchase and use behavior, and calls attention to product and service attributes that drive value creation and differentiation.

And the jobs approach can be used at any point in a company's pipeline. It can be employed upstream as a powerful brainstorming tool before there's even a product or service concept. This can drive deep insight into the most meaningful elements of an offering's design. Jobs insights are also useful much further downstream, to help with positioning, marketing and selling an offering after all of its design elements or benefits are fixed. Here the process helps identify the key attributes that drive effective positioning and messaging.

So how this approach work in the real world? Intuit's QuickBooks launch is a famous example of the power of jobs-focused thinking. In the early 1990s, the company noticed that many small-business owners were ignoring software from an array of established accounting-software suppliers and instead were using Quicken -- Intuit's personal-finance software package. Those "small-business" packages were too complicated and provided a confusing level of detail, when in fact many business owners had one simple job: to make sure they didn't run out of cash. The owners were "hiring" imperfect solutions such as Excel spreadsheets or paper ledgers, but there was plenty of room for improvement. Recognizing that simplicity, not accounting language or deep analysis capabilities, was its target's end goal, Intuit adapted and repackaged Quicken to better serve small-business owners. The result, QuickBooks, rapidly took over the category.

Of course, there can be a level of uncertainty about which jobs are most important to customers. LiveTV, a subsidiary of JetBlue, will soon find out if it chose the right job with its in-flight Wi-Fi offering. LiveTV isn't the only company trying to bring internet connectivity to the skies, but the company is gambling that what travelers most want to get done is "stay connected while I'm in the air," not be entertained.
Mark Johnson is chairman and co-founder of Innosight, an innovation-based consulting and executive-training firm focused on helping companies and institutions innovate for new growth and transformation.
Joe Sinfield is a senior partner at Innosight. Along with Innosight President Scott Anthony and Elizabeth Altman of Motorola, they are co-authors of 'The Innovator's Guide to Growth: Putting Disruptive Innovation to Work.'
The latter requires full broadband internet access, an expensive proposition that will most likely require passengers to pay a fee. LiveTV's e-mail-only solution is much cheaper to provide and as a result will likely be offered for free. "We're betting that e-mail scratches the connectivity itch when you're on a plane," said Nate Quigley, LiveTV CEO. The company is targeting a very specific job and has been able to cut scope -- and cost -- from its offering.

Is it a good bet? Check back in a year or so. Continental Airlines recently announced that it will also offer the service, which is being tested on a handful of JetBlue planes. JetBlue plans to gradually roll out the service to the rest of its fleet.

A different approach
The QuickBooks and LiveTV cases highlight the value of jobs framing a strategy and defining an offering. But it can also prove useful for positioning, marketing and sales. Imagine you're at a dealership searching for the right new car. Usually you'd be approached by a salesperson who'd ask you if you wanted to look at Car X, and then you'd get hit with a list of features ranging from the upholstery to horsepower, crash-test ratings, sport or luxury packages, torque, subwoofers. It's a ton of information, but you probably care most about only a handful of key features.

The launch team for the new Chevy Malibu wanted to take a different approach. With the help of advertising agency Campbell-Ewald and our firm, the Chevy marketing team uncovered distinct jobs the car addressed: Some customers were most concerned with taking the best care possible of their families, while others wanted to use the car to commute and hoped to enhance their daily experience. The jobs were closely aligned with different vehicle attributes: A shopper looking for a family car is likely to care more about the safety features, roomy interior and affordability. Someone who wants a commuting car, on the other hand, could be more interested in a sporty, feature-rich, quiet interior, and performance and handling characteristics. With these insights in mind, Chevy educated many of its salespeople to try to understand potential buyers' jobs to be done. Salespeople might ask buyers about their lifestyles or why they want a new car. How are they planning to use the car? Will they use it mostly for commuting? Taking the kids to school? Depending on the specific jobs that are important to customers, salespeople can show them the features of the car that are most helpful for what they're trying to get done.

Why the change in tactic? Last year Chevrolet's marketing team had worked through various elements of the launch for the new-generation Malibu and sought ways to further differentiate the car and draw attention to its new features. Given the brutal competition in the midsize-car category, Chevrolet wanted to continue to improve the quality, reliability and dependability perception of the all-new Malibu. Chevy addressed past challenges in these areas and also enhanced the car's interior and exterior fit, finish and style. Chevy wanted to make sure customers got a good look at it. The goal was to make Malibu "the car that you can't ignore."

Overall, Chevy incorporated a deep understanding of its target's jobs into the Malibu's advertising campaign as well as dealer training for sales representatives, showing them how to communicate the right set of features to customers, depending on what customers wanted from the car.

That brings us back to that car lot, where you aren't getting lectured about the stuff you don't care about; instead, you're learning about the things that really matter to you.

Refreshing, isn't it? Now imagine how powerful those concepts can be for marketers. It's time to stop asking "Who?" and start asking "Why?"
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