Building Brands On Consumer Tasks

Steve WunkerAugust 16, 201711 min

In the mid to late 2000s, online retailers were driving down prices on consumer electronics. As competition increased and margins thinned, Circuit City tried a number of tactics to weather the storm. It narrowed its product selection, made its stores look like those of its more successful competitors, and trimmed personnel costs. Nothing worked. In 2009, Circuit City closed all of its remaining stores. Around the same time and facing similar pressures, Best Buy tried a different approach. It created a fresh customer segmentation that was unlike the demographic-driven segmentations that tended to dominate the retail industry. It unveiled a set of new personas—including Buzz (the young tech enthusiast) and Jill (the suburban soccer mom)—that wrapped together demographics, lifestyle factors, and other insights into customers’ everyday lives. The company embraced Jobs to be Done as a part of this process. They understood that ‘Jobs’ are the tasks that consumers are trying to get done in their everyday lives.

Armed with its new segmentation, Best Buy funded a $50 million pilot renovation program to redesign 110 of its stores in order to cater to the customer types that most frequently shopped there. So, for example, products that Jill might be interested in were put on lower shelves so that she could get a closer look at them. The sales staff was trained about what else Jill might have going on in her life, making it easier to cross-sell relevant products. Stores that were redesigned to fit the needs of its major customer segments reported same-store sales growth of over 9 percent—double that of the stores that had not been redesigned.

While jobs are the tasks that customers are looking to get done in their lives, job drivers are the underlying contextual elements that make certain jobs more or less important. Jill’s contextual job drivers—the three children who need to get to trombone lessons, soccer practice, and a dance recital in different parts of town—make certain jobs like speedy meal preparation and adequate nutrition rise to the top. So when Jill stops at a Best Buy to research microwaves, she’s not going to be upsold on an oven. She might, however, be interested in learning about other smart appliances that offer the speed of a microwave with a cooking technique that does a better job of locking in a meal’s nutrients. By knowing why people have distinct jobs, we can target segments of customers in ways that intuitively make sense to them.

Where Job Drivers Come From

Job drivers come in three flavors: attitudes, background, and circumstances. To help understand the differences among these three categories, let’s talk about Stan, who is shopping for a new car. Like other car buyers, Stan has certain key jobs to be done, such as avoiding breakdowns, having a comfortable ride, and ensuring his personal safety. It seems settled. Stan should get a Toyota Camry. They are reliable, sufficiently comfortable, and safe. How could he go wrong with one of the top-selling cars in America?

Stan’s attitudes—his social or personality-based job drivers—begin to differentiate him from other car buyers, causing a shift in which jobs are more or less important. As it turns out, Stan has an MBA from a prestigious school. Many of his peers and colleagues are wildly successful. These factors drive Stan to show off his own level of success. Not a problem. We can put Stan in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, a top-of-the-line luxury sedan. It satisfies the same primary jobs as the Camry but also allows Stan to display his wealth. Saving money is a less important job for Stan, given his earning prospects, so the Mercedes it is.

As it turns out, Stan’s background—his long-term job drivers—will also play a role. Stan lives in New England at the top of a steep hill. These geographical factors drive Stan’s need for a more powerful car that can get him up the hill during the snowy winter months. The Mercedes will not do after all. Maybe the Porsche Cayenne SUV would be a better fit for Stan. With its advanced traction capabilities, the Cayenne satisfies Stan’s needs for power. Looking at the reviews, the Cayenne is less reliable over the long term than the Camry, but Stan gets a new car every few years anyway. His emphasis is on short-term reliability, so a new Cayenne should pose no problem.

There is a final twist in the story, though. Stan’s circumstances—his immediate or near-term job drivers—make the Cayenne impractical. Stan happens to be shopping for a car during lacrosse season. This year, Stan volunteered to coach his son’s lacrosse team, and he is worried that he may have to haul some gear in the back of his car. The Cayenne may not have the cargo room. Ultimately, Stan decides on a larger luxury SUV, the Cadillac Escalade.

What Stan’s story tells us is that even customers who have similar jobs will make different decisions about what products they use to satisfy those jobs. The Camry buyer and the Escalade buyer may both care about safety, reliability, and cargo space, but their job drivers cause them to define those terms differently and place more emphasis on one set of jobs over the other. The job drivers are facts, such as Stan’s pedigree. They are not jobs themselves, but they have a big impact on which jobs are important. At the same time, job drivers can cause entirely new jobs to matter, such as Stan’s need to show off. Ultimately, it is a combination of jobs and job drivers that differentiates customers.

Using Job Drivers To Segment Customers

Good marketing revolves around customer segmentation. Not all products are well suited for all customers, so defining distinct segments of customers enables marketers to target certain products at particular segments. Then there can be a good fit between what is offered and who is buying it.

A customer segment—whether it consists of your customers, competitors’ customers, noncustomers, or a mix of the three—has a degree of homogeneity in what it needs and how it buys and consumes. The more that a segmentation has to cover all aspects of a customer’s experience—from how she gains awareness about a product to where she buys it to what she wants to choose—the less focused it will be. Sometimes segments do not need to encompass such diverse territory. A product development team, for instance, may care deeply about what customers are trying to get done, but they are not concerned with how customers view advertising to find out about new offerings. The company can address that challenge later. For now, the team just wants to segment customers by how they consider and use products.

Jobs and job drivers are critical factors for segmentation. Whereas many (poor) segmentation schemes focus on who people are or how they are behaving, jobs and job drivers explain why they are acting a certain way and how they might consider new offerings. In a public sector context, they explain why people want certain benefits and why they prioritize things as they do. Without knowing the “why,” facts are sterile. For example, a credit card company we worked with once segmented its customers based on life stage, which seemingly made sense, except that life stages had almost no correlation to card spending, use of revolving credit, and other key metrics. So it then segmented customers based on their card spending or revolving, which did tell the company about who is profitable but explained nothing about why these people acted as they did. A deeper look revealed that there are several distinct types of high-spending customers, such as people who consume a lot, business travelers, and small-business owners. These individuals have entirely different job drivers, and it was folly to lump them together into a one-size-fits-none segment of high spenders. Knowing that high-spending cardholders were between the ages of 35 and 50 and had large incomes was nice, but knowing that the reason some spend so much was because they travel on business at least once per month yielded a trove of opportunities for the company.

Another Example

Gyms also illustrate how the distinct categories of job drivers can factor into segmentation. In the past, many gyms attempted to distinguish themselves based on features. They would look at factors such as season, location, member age, and member gender to determine whether to promote perks such as free tanning or on-site juice bars. More recently, however, gyms are being built and marketed around underlying jobs and job drivers. Take Planet Fitness, which ranked third on the 2014 Forbes list of America’s best franchises and boasted a growth rate of 26 percent from 2008 to 2012.2 Much of the company’s marketing is focused on the underlying attitudes of its members, many of whom are looking for an accessible gym that lets them stay healthy. They want a venue where they do not feel as if they are getting in the way of—or being judged by—real fitness buffs. The company’s advertisements loudly boast Planet Fitness as the home of the Judgement Free Zone with “No Lunks” and “No Gymtimidation.” At the same time, Planet Fitness understands the circumstances of its members, many of whom are younger, casual exercisers focused on finding ways to save time and money. It offers $10-per-month memberships, Pizza Mondays, and Bagel Tuesdays. Collectively, these benefits allow members to cut their meal costs while also integrating a workout into their commute. Although the company’s offerings might be scoffed at by advanced athletes and fitness buffs, they meet the circumstances of the casual gym members that they are targeting. Finally, Planet Fitness meets the long-term needs that reflect its customers’ background by dedicating a high percentage of its space to cardio and strength-training machines that emphasize easy-to-attain everyday fitness. Although some athletes need access to full-size pools and free weights to meet strict training goals, most casual gym members prefer a more accessible gym experience.

A strict demographic segmentation never would have illuminated the need for the Planet Fitness model. Similarly, companies that segment based solely on customers’ jobs may also miss a key piece of the puzzle. Trying to distinguish customers based simply on their jobs tends to result in customer segments that are impractical. Often, a few key jobs will be almost universally important. Going back to our car purchase example, it’s rational for everyone to say that being able to stop a car in a short distance is an important job. In reality, however, most people aren’t going to purchase a car because of the quality of the brakes.

On the other hand, looking at a mix of jobs and job drivers begins to create a clearer picture of how various customer types are distinct. Imagine a couple with a newborn baby. While other customers may say that safety is important, it is likely much more front and center for this couple. At the end of the day, safety—including the ability to stop quickly—may be more of a deciding factor for them. At the same time, the number of children they have may raise or lower the importance they place on having adequate room to transport cargo. On a more emotional level, their attitudes may also play a major role in the decision-making process. Maybe they just do not see themselves as minivan people. They are already accepting that a new child will require them to make a number of lifestyle trade-offs, so perhaps the new car is an opportunity to cling to a vestige of whimsical fun. Ultimately, each customer type will have a unique combination of jobs and drivers of varying importance that lead them to their buying decisions. A segmentation built on jobs and job drivers will help to group these customers together, creating valuable insights into how prevalent a particular customer type is and what customers might eventually be willing to buy.

Segmenting The Market

An education provider came to us a few years back looking to assess potential opportunities in providing quality online degrees to people who wanted to obtain them as fast as possible. Although the company had heard much of the hype about how quickly the space was growing, it was interested in learning what types of people were actually looking for such degrees. Importantly, it also wanted to know whether its potential customers would be willing to pay a price that would make the entire model viable. Our research uncovered a number of functional and emotional jobs around learning new skills, impressing potential employers, and making family members proud. Although gaining insights into key jobs was helpful, it was insufficient for understanding who would enroll at a traditional four-year college, who would apply for a degree from a technical school, who would seek out an online degree, and who would give up on pursuing higher education entirely. For that, job drivers were essential. By probing deeply into attitudes (e.g., parental and spousal expectations), background (e.g., financial constraints, children), and circumstances (e.g., work schedule, degree-based promotion potential), we were able to identify clear segments that would be interested in an online degree at a price that made sense for both the student and the education company. The company then was able to design a flexible online course structure that made higher education accessible to a customer segment that previously would have given up on their educational pursuits. Using other insights from the Jobs Atlas we created, the company also chose to focus on a few key fields in which there was higher demand and in which it could differentiate itself. As the online space has grown more crowded, this company continues to be recognized as a leader in the areas in which it plays.

Marketers will often talk about demographics and attitudes, and some will talk about functional needs, yet the categories typically get mixed together haphazardly without establishing clear causal mechanisms leading from job drivers to jobs to specific customer purchase and usage behaviors. A lot gets lost in such messy thinking.


The road to understanding starts with job drivers, yet it is critical to begin the journey in jobs. If we begin by looking at attitudes, background, and circumstances, we will quickly get lost in details. What we care about are the drivers that lead to key jobs to be done. If a woman buying a car happens to be a vegan, it generally doesn’t matter. Once we start the journey with jobs, we can work backward to job drivers. Now we are ready to drive forward to the current approaches used by customers to get those jobs done today and to put the pain points associated with those current approaches into their appropriate context.

Unlike jobs, which are the tasks that customers are looking to get done in their lives, job drivers are not objectives. Job drivers are the underlying contextual elements that make certain jobs more or less important for specific customers.

Customers behave and make decisions differently based on their job drivers, which come in three forms. Customers’ attitudes (social or personality-based traits), background (long-term context), and circumstances (immediate or near-term factors) all cause them to prioritize their jobs differently.

Jobs and job drivers combine to yield meaningful customer segments that are based on insight into the “why,” not just the “who” or “what.” Organizations can target these segments with offerings that register deeply, not ones that simply correlate to underlying demographic characteristics.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by Stephen Wunker, excerpted from his new book JOBS TO BE DONE: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation, with permission from AMACOM publishing.

The Blake Project Can Help You Create A Brighter Competitive Future In The Jobs To Be Done Workshop

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

FREE Publications And Resources For Marketers

Related Posts

Connect With Us