The first step to designing an effective marketing strategy and creating compelling marketing content is to understand what your potential customers are trying to accomplish when they purchase products or services like those you provide. In most cases, people don’t buy a product or service because they want that product or service itself. More often, what they really want is what the product or service will help them accomplish.

Theodore Levitt, the legendary professor of marketing at the Harvard Business School, captured this idea in a memorable way when he often reminded his students that, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”

In The Innovator’s Solution, Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor built on Professor Levitt’s idea to describe what is called the jobs-to-be-done framework. The basic idea of this framework is that when people become aware of a “job” they need to get done, they look for a product or service they can “hire” to perform the job.

Christensen and Raynor argue that this is how customers “experience life.” Their thought processes begin with an awareness that they need to get something done, and then they seek to hire something or someone to to the job as effectively, conveniently, and inexpensively as possible.

What Milkshakes Can Teach Us About Marketing

Christensen and Raynor also provided a memorable example of hiring a product to get a job done. In their case study, a fast-food restaurant chain wanted to increase sales of milkshakes, and it commissioned market research to determine how to accomplish this goal. The most surprising finding of the research was that almost half of the milkshakes were purchased in the early morning. The milkshakes were usually the only item purchased, and they were rarely consumed at the restaurant.

Digging a little deeper, the researchers found that most of the morning milkshake customers were people on their way to work. Many of them faced a long commute, and they needed something to make the drive more interesting. Also, they were in a hurry, they were usually wearing their business clothes, and they only had one hand free.

These customers sometimes “hired” other foods to fill their morning needs, but most of the alternatives had significant disadvantages. Bagels left crumbs on their clothes, and breakfast sandwiches made their hands and the steering wheel greasy. It wasn’t so much that these customers “liked” milkshakes more than bagels or breakfast sandwiches, but milkshakes were simply better than those alternatives at performing the job the customers needed to get done.

The Magic of Job-Focused Marketing

The jobs-to-be-done framework is often used to guide the process of developing new products or services, but it also has implications for marketing. What it tells us is that one key to effective marketing is to focus the majority of our marketing messages and content on the jobs our potential buyers need to get done.

To create compelling “job-focused” messages and content, marketers need to thoroughly understand the jobs their potential customers are trying to get done, including:

  • What the specific jobs are
  • Why the jobs are important
  • What happens if the jobs don’t get done
  • How potential buyers are trying to perform the jobs – what tools and processes they are using
  • What is preventing them from getting the jobs done effectively and efficiently – the limitations and shortcomings of their existing tools and processes
As marketers, it’s easy for us to forget that most potential buyers aren’t really interested in our products or services per se. What they are (or can become) interested in is what those products or services can help them accomplish. Our products or services are simply the means to an end, and it’s critical to keep this in mind when planning our marketing efforts. 
To use Professor Levitt’s metaphor, our marketing strategy and our marketing content should be more about quarter-inch holes than quarter-inch drills.
Image courtesy of GotCredit ( via Flickr CC.

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