What “Job” Do You Want Content to Do?


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Marketing professionals who are trying to understand the principle behind content marketing can take a lesson from Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School and his “jobs-to-be-done” marketing ideas.

This core Christensen idea is presented in a recent HBS Working Knowledge article, Milkshake Marketing. The article describes a fascinating study his team conducted on behalf of a fast food chain that wanted to improve milkshake sales. The company initially applied a typical market research approach before it engaged “one of Christensen’s fellow researchers, who approached the situation by trying to deduce the ‘job’ that customers were ‘hiring’ a milkshake to do.”

Parallels Between Product Design and Content Strategy

Consider this comparison between product design and content strategy. Both product design and content share similar problems. Product design challenges are revealed in the low success rate of new product introductions. Marketing content issues are revealed in the low usefulness to sales and customers.

“When planning new products, companies often start by segmenting their markets and positioning their merchandise accordingly. This segmentation involves either dividing the market into product categories, such as function or price, or dividing the customer base into target demographics, such as age, gender, education, or income level.

Unfortunately, neither way works very well, according to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, who notes that each year 30,000 new consumer products are launched—and 95 percent of them fail.”

Clayton Christensen

With business content, the American Marketing Association has found that 80% of content created by marketing is never used by sales. IDG reports IT buyers find relevant content only 42% of the time. “The lack of relevancy for the prospect reduced the vendor?s chance of closing a sale by 45 percent.”

The “Jobs-to-be-done View”

Christensen’s prescription is to look at the important difference between determining a product’s function and its job.

“Looking at the market from the function of a product really originates from your competitors or your own employees deciding what you need.

Whereas the jobs-to-be-done point of view causes you to crawl into the skin of your customer and go with her as she goes about her day, always asking the question as she does something: Why did she do it that way?”

This is directly related to the principle behind the content marketing movement.

Three good questions marketers can ask to get at “the job” they want their content to do:

  1. What impact do we want content to have on the buyer?
  2. What do we want content to tell us about the viewer (Digital Body Language)?
  3. What does the buyer want to learn from viewing each piece of content?

From a company’s perspective we might want content to capture and hold attention, to educate, to prove or persuade, to motivate sharing of content, and to cause behavior change or action. We might want content to identify the viewer’s areas of interest, functional role, industry, company size, stage of investigation, or degree of urgency.

A viewer or buyer will typically be researching a specific question or area of focus. Their interest will vary based upon their role, buying stage, role in the decision process, beliefs and values, and numerous other factors.

To accomplish its “job”, we know content must be relevant to each viewer. This means we must know:

  • Who, specifically, we are creating each piece of content to serve,
  • What their specific issues could be,
  • Where they are in their evaluation or buying process for each content piece,
  • What alternatives they are considering,
  • And a host of other elements.

We know that only late in their buying process will buyers be seriously interested in learning about specific elements of a company, its products and services.

Even here, understanding the “jobs-to-be-done” view, together with the skills marketing develops to create more relevant marketing content, can improve the current void in sales content that support the “closing business job” of sales and sales content.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jim Burns
Jim Burns is founder and CEO of Avitage, which provides content marketing services in support of lead management and sales enablement programs.


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