Whenever I talk with clients about positioning a new or even existing product or service, I stress the need for there to be a clear benefit to the customer, that the customer can clearly understand. The customer needs to understand how a product or service will fit into their lives, and immediately make a positive impact.
Some would argue, that the ease of collecting data about modern customers can actually make it more difficult to correctly identify the value that a product can create for a customer. Sometimes, customers simply buy a product for reasons that are their own, that really aren’t easily uncovered by simply looking at data or demographics.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
1 – I never chew gum UNLESS I am about to board a plane for a flight. If I am at an airport, one of the last purchases I will make will be to run into a gift shop or Hudson News and grab a pack of chewing gum. I want the gum because chewing the gum as the plane is taking off and climbing helps lower the chance of my ears popping! So I never need chewing gum UNLESS I am about to board a plane, then it’s a purchase I always make.
2 – I am currently playing a war game on my iPhone. The game includes chat functionality, and in playing the game, you can chat with other players and get to know them. I was talking to a player recently who said they enjoyed playing this game. They went on to explain that one of their parents had just died, and they were having to deal with the stress and worry associated with a parent’s death. They added that playing the game gave them a very welcome distraction that helped them get their mind off their real world issues.
I recently came across a wonderful article in the Harvard Business Review that explains this concept as buying a product for it’s Job to Be Done. For me, chewing gum bought at the airport has a job to do: Keep my ears from popping during takeoff. For my friend, playing the phone game had a job to do: Provide escape from their real world problems.
Here’s an example from the article: A consultant was hired by a Detroit building company to increase sales of its condominiums. The condos were positioned to retired couples that were looking to downsize from a larger home to a smaller condo. The units were given features designed to appeal to downsizers, and they even consulted focus groups to uncover any additional features they might have missed.
But sales were disappointing. The units generated prospective buyer visits, but struggled to close the deal. There was a bottleneck, something holding back the prospective buyer from becoming an actual one.
So the consultant decided to switch gears, and went back and started interviewing the people that had bought the units. The interviews were designed to help drill down on what prompted the person to commit to the purchase.
It turns out, it was the dining room table. Or rather, what the dining room table represented for the prospective buyer; Moving on from a home they loved, to a new condominium that had none of the attached memories.
As the article explains:
But as Moesta sat at his own dining room table with his family over Christmas, he suddenly understood. Every birthday was spent around that table. Every holiday. Homework was spread out on it. The table represented family.
What was stopping buyers from making the decision to move, he hypothesized, was not a feature that the construction company had failed to offer but rather the anxiety that came with giving up something that had profound meaning. The decision to buy a six-figure condo, it turned out, often hinged on a family member’s willingness to take custody of a clunky piece of used furniture.
This helped the company understand the Job to Be Done of its condos. It wasn’t about giving them a new place to live, it was about moving their lives into a new phase. The dining room table represented family, tradition, history. So the building company changed its offerings around the condos to reflect a better understanding of what was holding prospective buyers back from becoming actual buyers. They expanded the dining area to give more room to accommodate a larger dining room table. The company also added storage facilities to help buyers have a place to store items until it could decide what could be kept and what needed to be given away.
All of this goes back to simply understanding the customer. And with the ‘job to be done’ line of thinking, you are also thinking about ways to incorporate unpredictability into the lives of your customers. Every day, your customers are receiving unexpected good and bad news. In both cases, behavior patterns, either in the short or long-term, will immediately change. They will suddenly need new products for new reasons to fulfill new ‘jobs’ for them.
Think back to the last two years and the impact that the covid pandemic has had on the world. If you will remember, one of the constant themes I have stressed here is considering how the pandemic would change the purchasing behavior of your customers. Some of the changes are big and easy to predict, such as a shift toward takeout from restaurants over dining in person. But other changes are harder to detect. But you need to be able to account of the possibility of changes and the resulting shift in purchasing behavior.
Here again is the link to the HBR review article detailing the theory of ‘job to be done’.