Finding High-Potential Avenues For Brand Growth

Steve WunkerNovember 23, 20165 min

It’s not enough to have a strong vision or a single great idea. To successfully innovate—in a way that doesn’t mimic every other competitor—you need to see the range of opportunities open to you.

A serious customer-centric view of the landscape will tell you what routes contain latent opportunities for you to exploit. It can also lead you away from uncomfortable pain points associated with current approaches and guide you through the pitfalls of getting customers to act in unfamiliar ways. Importantly, a true customer-centric approach will pinpoint the ways in which a new solution has to excel over existing offerings and lead you down the right paths to making money.

The Central Role Of Jobs To Be Done

All over the world, people go about their days getting things done. Much of what they do is aimed at satisfying a collection of short- and long-term objectives that they see as being related to their well-being. The many decisions that they make throughout the day—which toothpaste to use, whether to drink coffee or tea, what product to buy for their company—are all part of satisfying these objectives, as each person defines them.

But what if people know only part of what they want? Or—even more radical—what if they don’t really understand why they want what they want? While such confusion at first glance seems like a recipe for innovation disaster, it is precisely in this knowledge gap where opportunities for new growth exist. Throughout this section, we will answer such questions as: How can companies use this knowledge gap to attract new customers or launch new products? How can figuring out the known and unknown drivers of consumer behavior give companies an advantage in the marketplace? And if people themselves don’t know what they want or why they want it, how can someone else figure it out?

This process for finding growth opportunities is the product of 12 years of our own research and experimentation, which builds on further precedent before then. The core premise is the intuitive but not so obvious idea that by digging into the “why” of people’s actions, you can uncover the set of reasons—emotional, psychological, and practical—that drive people to behave in certain ways rather than in others. Ultimately, people are just trying to get things done in their lives, whether they are making a purchase for their own use, collaborating in a business-to-business transaction, or consuming a government service. They can employ a wide range of solutions to get these jobs done, so concentrating attention on solutions used—as marketers typically do—is incorrect. It is the jobs that really matter. Once you understand what jobs people are striving to do, it becomes easier to predict what products or services they will take up and which will fall flat.

While not the only requirement for successfully innovating or growing, identifying the range of jobs that current or future customers are trying to satisfy is central to any innovation strategy; it guards against pursuing phantom opportunities and grounds the innovation in smart data. The Jobs to be Done approach creates a powerful method for creating breakthrough innovations again and again.

Getting Results

The Jobs to be Done framework succeeds because it focuses innovators on the right questions rather than having them jump directly to devising solutions. This can be counterintuitive. After all, countless stories celebrating genius emphasize the moment of problem-solving insight. But it is actually the framing of problems that often leads to breakthrough ideas. Companies can waste thousands of hours and risk undertaking bad projects because they miss the critical—and often underappreciated—step of laying out very clear and rigorously defined problem statements.

Breakthroughs come from reimagining problems, not from creating an incrementally better solution to a well-understood challenge. To help people look at their challenges in a different way, we tell them to dig into the underlying “why” of consumer behavior and not just focus on the “what.” For instance, parents may choose to bring their children to a movie on a Saturday afternoon, but the underlying job is to keep the kids entertained. A movie is just one possible way of satisfying that job.

Job drivers—the underlying context that makes certain jobs more or less important—will influence customers’ choices in how they satisfy a job. In the movie example, the age of the children or the weather that day might make a difference in how the job of entertaining children is satisfied. The movie theater’s true competition is not merely other cinemas but also playgrounds, arcades, and other diversions. While offering a discount on ticket prices or a better array of snacks might help compete against the cinema across town, these solutions ultimately represent a superficial way of thinking about competition. A better way to win might be to set up a small indoor playground or to offer a space for socializing with dates after a movie ends. By understanding the real motivators of behavior, a company can uncover new markets and previously ignored levers of innovation at its disposal.

What Customers Are Trying To Get Done

In the late 1990s, I led one of the world’s first smartphone development projects. My team at Psion PLC combined the innards of the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), which Psion had originally invented in the 1980s, with telephony components from Motorola to create a device with a long list of features. The team was incredibly excited about all of the things the new device could do. You could even send a fax from your phone! But customers were confused, the technical complexity was overwhelming, and the device was quite costly.

Around the same time, a Canadian company called Research in Motion was taking a different approach, focusing on a simple hierarchy of jobs that people wanted to get done with a smartphone. Their product—the Blackberry—did far fewer things and was much less stylish. But it dominated the field for the next seven years—an eon in that industry.

The key to the Blackberry’s success wasn’t great technology or clever advertisements. It wasn’t about getting the priorities of the customer right; my team had been diligent about asking people what they wanted (“Maps!” “Games!”). Rather, the Research in Motion effort triumphed because it looked at customers the right way, focusing on a single critical job to be done: keeping in touch through email.

Jobs help you to focus on what really matters, rather than trying to add on cool features that muddle the customer experience and make the product less compelling. It is a concept that I really wish I had known about when we designed that device.

More of this approach is featured in my new book JOBS TO BE DONE: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation.

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