The Jobs to Be Done Framework: What It Is and How to Use It

I like to say that 80% of marketing is customer research.

I’m sure you agree that, when you understand your customers inside out, marketing is easier because you often know how to get them to take action. 

The hard part is understanding your customer.

Companies do market research, prepare focus groups, and create the inevitable “buyer personas”: Jill, 40, recruitment manager and John, 28, an investment banker.

But are buyer personas really the best tool to understanding your customer?

When I first started creating content strategies, I struggled with buyer personas. Although they did have their place and were often better than nothing, I knew there was a better way of visualising our target market.

That’s when I came across the Jobs to Be Done framework: a customer visualisation process that focuses on the problem you solve for your audience.

Where the buyer persona falls flat

Buyer personas are still useful, and should not be discarded. But they aren’t the best way to understand your customers.

In a newsletter by Louis Grenier, Louis articulates why “buyer personas should die a violent death”. He uses Prince Phillip and Ozzy Osbourne as two great examples: Both Prince Phillip and Ozzy Osbourne were born in 1948, like dogs, have two kids and go on holiday in the Alps.

But I think we can all agree that they are drastically different people: if you had to sell rehab treatments and water colour paintings, it’s clear which one is for who. Two very different Princes.

If you were using buyer personas, you effectively wouldn’t be able to distinguish between the two. It’s not their gender, age, and occupation that distinguishes them, it’s the reason they use your product.

At the end of the day, writing up buyer personas is mostly a guessing game. Who cares what their hobbies are or how many cats and dogs they have?

As this Intercom report rightly explains: products don’t match people, they match problems. What distinguishes them is the why?

And to find that out you want to be focusing on the psychographics, rather than the demographics. You need to find out what triggers them. And that’s where the Jobs To Be Done framework comes in. 

What is the Jobs To Be Done Framework (JTBD)?

The Jobs To Be Done framework was pioneered by Clayton Christensen, a marketing professor at NYU.

As the story goes, Clayton was hired to help McDonald’s sell more milkshakes. They did a demographic analysis to see what could be improved, but after countless attempts, their tests didn’t seem to work.

They then took a different approach: trying to understand the “job” the milkshake was doing.

It turns out that many milkshakes were bought first thing in the morning on the way to work in a car.

Why? They are tidier and easier to eat than muffins, they are more filling than coffee or a banana and they are still tasty and nice to eat.

Once this was understood, the milkshake had a job: a convenient snack that is easy to consume in the car before lunch.

The team could make tweaks to the milkshake and fulfill its job even better: e.g. adding a straw, making it even more filling, etc.

The approach worked, and sales skyrocketed. As you can see, the jobs to be done framework is mostly used to improve products. But it’s a framework that can also be used for PR, content marketing, and anything that involves interacting with your audience.

Let’s see apps: what do you hire an app for? Think of it next time you open an app on your phone. Why did you open it? For me, for example, I regularly open Twitter (to my detriment). I “hire” Twitter to entertain me with thoughtful content for a few minutes. That’s Twitter’s job for me. Who cares if I’m female, 6’ tall, and work from home?

Same with SaaS products: why do I pay for Docusign? DocuSign's “job” is to make it easy to get my contracts signed with e-signatures. 

When it comes to my industry, fintech, it gets interesting: why do I open an account with an investment fintech app? Sure, it’s to make money on the stock market. But why? Well, so I have enough for retirement. That’s the job of the investment app. 

You can, of course, hire a product for several jobs. Those investments are for my retirement, but I could also keep them in the stock market to save for a house deposit.

What are you competing with?

If you put yourself in the position of the customer, you’ll see that many customers don’t buy a product for its intended purpose. 

For this reason, your competitors are often not who you think they are. McDonald’s milkshake is not competing with Burger King or KFC’s milkshake. It’s competing with bananas, muffins, coffee, and other breakfast food items. 

DocuSign is competing with written contracts or dodgy email signatures. 

You could argue that investment apps are competing with lottery tickets. Or with a savings account. It might not always be the Hargreaves Lansdown or Vanguards of the world. 

The JTBD framework helps make it clear who your real competitors are. Who else is offering similar jobs to your customers? 

Implementing the Jobs to Be Done Framework

OK, how can we apply this when it comes to PR and content?

The main part of the JTBD framework is research - like most of marketing. But a key part of implementing the JTBD framework is asking the right questions.

Questions that help you understand your customers’ triggers, and map out the entire customer purchasing journey from start to finish.

I like these questions from the Intercom report:
  1. What tools were you using before you bought our product? 
  2. Were you also involved in buying that? 
  3. What was it like working with that tool? 
  4. Can you remember if anyone else was involved in the decision? 
  5. Can you remember how well that was working?
See how it’s so focused on the first trigger that got a customer to think about your product? That’s because a key part of the JTBD framework is understanding the trigger. 

Once you identify the trigger, it’s a lot easier to understand the job your product fulfills. 

These three main points from Louis are also a good place to start:
  1. Triggers: What made your customers say, "I want to make progress in my life"? Why now?
  2. Pains: What constraints or pains are stopping them from making progress?
  3. Goals: What progress do they want to make in their life? What functional, social, or emotional goals do they want to reach?
Then, once you’ve identified those points, you can ask yourself: who are the types of people that have those triggers, pains, and goals?

Once you have done your research, you hopefully have a list of jobs that your product does for customers, usually between 3 and 6.

The official “JTBD sentence” is:
[ When __(situation)___ ] [ I want to __(motivation)___ ] [so I can _(expected outcome)___ ]

This helps you get into the head of your customer, and see it from their perspective.

So for example, for Docusign: “When I want to get my contract signed, I want the process to be digital and seamless, so I can get the contract signed quickly.”

The key to the JTBD framework is that it helps understand every step the customer goes through when they buy a product from you.

You’ll then have insights as to why people buy a product for you: psychographics.

Once you’ve understood those, then you can add demographics and other details. I keep this list of “jobs” handy, and every time I write a piece of content or I’m creating a content calendar, I want to make sure it’s addressing at least one of the JTBD. I add it to the brief, and it’s a very useful way to generate content ideas.

When it comes to PR, the same applies. Why is this news piece relevant to your target audience? What problem are you helping them solve? What are they hiring your product for?

Do the JTBD exercise and you might be surprised to find out what specific jobs your product or service does for your target market. 

To summarise, the JTBD framework and buyer personas are models that work together, not in isolation. 

Start with the JTBD exercise, and then create your personas based on those findings. 

Then, every time you produce a piece of content, make sure it explains how your product solves your customers’ problems. 

The JTBD framework is ever-evolving, and it’s always good to keep improving the models you use. Here are a few resources I find useful on the topic:
About the author: Araminta is a freelance content marketer who helps fintech companies reach and acquire customers with content through her company, Mint Studios. She also hosts the Market Like a Fintech podcast, sends a bi-weekly fintech marketing newsletter, and is a partner of the Fintech Marketing Hub.