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Does the Jobs to Be Done Theory Work?

The Jobs to Be Done theory says that consumers don’t actually purchase products or services at all. Instead, consumers have a list of “jobs” in mind that they want a product or service to complete, which is the true driver behind buying behavior. For example, a mother seeking a healthy snack option for her children is seeking a product that completes the “obvious” job – feeding her children with something that is nutritious and beneficial for their health. But she may have other “jobs” she wants that product to solve for:

“I want to be perceived as a mother who cares deeply about her children’s health and is committed to only feeding them the absolute best.”

This more human approach to consumer research and insights is not only intriguing its premise, it does beg the obvious question:

Should the Jobs to Be Done theory be used to help companies create innovative products and services or is it simply a valuable thought experiment to keep in mind?

Although we rely upon the Jobs to Be Done framework as a means to unearth unique, actionable consumer insights to global brands seeking innovation, you might be surprised to hear our answer to that question – yes, the Jobs to Be Done theory is a powerful approach to achieving innovation, but it will not be effective under certain circumstances. 

When the Jobs to Be Done Theory works

At a high level, taking the time to understand the wide range of functional, emotional, and social components at play within your consumers can only benefit you. That’s why our proprietary approach at 113 Industries – which blends AI, machine learning, and natural language processing, with strategic evaluation by human experts – is underpinned by the Jobs to Be Done theory. 

And our experience has shown us a few conditions must be met for it to work. 

Investment in resources

When you devote the time, care, effort, and resources required to discover the true scope and depth of “jobs” your consumers need completed, the sky's the limit when it comes to your potential for outcome-driven innovation. Moreover, those insights are game-changers when it comes to developing the messaging, packaging, and rollout strategies for your new products and services. 

But the key to doing it well is that devotion – to investing in the necessary resources, with a commitment to doing it the right way. In many cases, that means you must be willing to invest in a third-party partner with JTBD experience rather than trying to bootstrap together those efforts in-house. 

Data access, technology, expertise in different consumer research methods and practices … these are all boxes that you need to be able to check to do Jobs to Be Done well. If you are not able to check them with in-house resources, look to an outsourced partner. 

Mindset and commitment 

We consider ourselves truly lucky to work with the brands we have in our client portfolio. Although they each come from wildly different industries, each with their own unique needs, challenges, and goals, we have noticed those who see the most success share one key trait in common. 

They all possess a mindset that embraces change, with a willingness to challenge the way things have always been done.

Rather than being committed to validating long-held assumptions at all costs (or to at least keep the higher-ups happy), they understand that true innovation requires a commitment to curiosity. And discoveries of true consumer motivations that challenge beliefs are met with excitement rather than discord.

When the Jobs to Be Done Theory doesn’t work

Shortcuts and cutting corners 

Jobs to Be Done isn’t a quick task that you can check off your consumer research to-do list. As we’ve talked about already, it requires time, resources, expertise, and a genuine commitment to the process. It requires a true commitment to understanding your customers needs. So, one of the quickest ways to derail these efforts is to “do it fast” instead of doing it right.
 

This can manifest in many different ways – operating on assumptions and gut instincts when data isn’t easily available, relying upon limited data sets or incomplete information, or not validating and testing theories before taking action. 

Stuck at the functional surface

The types of jobs your consumers need completed very rarely are one-dimensional. In many cases, the most seemingly one-dimensional product or service (where the function is obvious) can still have powerful underlying emotional and social components. 

For instance, adults who are seeking non-alcoholic beverages often have emotional and social “jobs” they want a potential product to complete, in addition to satiating their thirst:

  • “I want to feel included at social gatherings and happy hours, without standing out as the awkward non-drinker.”
  • “I still want a fun adult beverage experience when I’m feeling celebratory, but all too often my only choices are soda, water, or juice.”
  • “I miss the experimentation and creation that can come with crafting a really good cocktail.”
  • “I don’t want my friends to feel uncomfortable about my drinking preferences when they think about inviting me to a party or out for a night on the town.”

Your goal innovation with Jobs to Be Done will only be realized if you’re willing to go beyond the superficial and obvious “jobs” your consumers need addressed. Especially since many of the deepest and most relevant feelings, you should be aware of maybe ones your consumers don’t always feel comfortable sharing proactively. 

Short-term gains vs. true innovation

Finally, one of the most common reasons why you may find yourself frustrated with the Jobs to Be Done theory in practice has nothing to do with its validity. Jobs to Be Done is an approach that is best used by companies who are committed to innovation and see it as a marathon, not a sprint. It does not work well if you’re using it as a means to solve an urgent business emergency or problem with very tight time requirements. 

For example, in response to unexpected growth from your competitors, you have a specific percentage of sales you absolutely must hit in the next 60 days. That is not a case in which you’d turn to Jobs to Be Done to determine your next steps. Jobs to Be Done is not something you should look to in reactive moments where you’re looking to achieve few percentage point gain (no matter how substantial or incremental) in a short amount of time. 

Conclusion

The Jobs to Be Done theory clearly holds the potential to bring added depth and insight to your innovation process. However, the dedication required to reach these levels of customer insight is not insignificant. Any company looking to successfully incorporate jobs theory must first make a realistic self-assessment as to the level of commitment it is willing to give to these strategies.

But, should your company decide the investment is worth it, rest assured the Jobs to Be Done theory will deliver actionable and invaluable insights towards your innovation teams.