Unlocking The Drivers Of Consumer Behavior

Steve WunkerJanuary 28, 20214 min

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. 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.

You know what your customers are buying, but do you know what they’re really trying to get done?

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

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