Innovating Brands On Function And Emotion

Steve WunkerNovember 18, 201611599 min

When thinking about how to launch a new product or bring in new customers, too many companies focus on what people are currently buying.

They use existing purchase data to define their markets quite narrowly. They begin to think of themselves as booksellers and PC companies. Then when sales dip or management makes aggressive growth demands, they end up asking the wrong questions. How can we sell more books? How can we build a better PC? This tunnel-visioned approach to market definition creates a very small solution space, and it can blind companies to threats from untraditional sources.

The ‘jobs’ customers look to brands to accomplish exist independently from what people are buying, making it essential to see the world from the customer’s perspective rather than from the vantage of a company that happens to be selling something. As the late Harvard Business School Professor Theodore Levitt famously told his students, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”

Snapchat gives us a good example of a company that has eschewed industry trends in favor of a customer-centric perspective. Snapchat is particularly interesting because it shows how a company is attracting the notoriously fickle millennial demographic to steal market share in the social media/mobile messaging sphere—an arena that’s barely old enough to be disrupted. To a casual observer familiar with the general direction of the industry, Snapchat shouldn’t be successful. While Facebook is focusing on delivering enhanced search functionality that allows you to find fond memories among old posts, the ephemeral nature of Snapchat’s messages makes that impossible. Instagram continues to add new filters and photo-editing capabilities, but Snapchat offers just a handful of filters and tools that are on par with the earliest versions of Microsoft Paint. Twitter opened a world where you can follow the musings of virtually anyone, yet Snapchat restricts you to the posts of added friends and a few preselected organizations.

Despite its apparent inferiority, Snapchat has already grown to reach 6 billion video views per day (just trailing Facebook’s 8 billion), and it has a valuation of $16 billion. So what explains Snapchat’s success? Rather than cramming its app with all of the features of its closest competitors, Snapchat has focused on satisfying a handful of emotional jobs that are important to its target users. Other social media apps have been criticized for creating an atmosphere of yearning in which users are bombarded with images of fun adventures and expensive vacations. Instead, Snapchat offers a way to document something closer to real life, allowing users to share moments and feelings without an expectation that their posts will be glamorous or that they’ll look their best. Framed in this light, the lack of a “Like” button, the inability to search old photos, and the lack of ways to enhance what you’re sharing all become advantages rather than drawbacks. Importantly for the company’s target demographic, Snapchat also lets users feel like they’re part of a chosen community that they helped build. With a younger user base and the ability to share with only selected friends, Snapchat offers a way for millennials to engage with a platform that isn’t shared with their parents, extended family members, and employers. Snapchat isn’t for everyone, and it doesn’t try to be. Instead, its founders resisted the temptation to copy the competition, building an app that helps an identifiable user base satisfy a handful of important jobs really well

Winning On Functional And Emotional Levels

Customers have jobs that are both functional and emotional in nature, and companies need to design offerings that win on both levels. First consider the functional jobs. Although these can be more straightforward to satisfy than emotional ones, many companies get so excited about adding new functionality that they overlook the underlying jobs. In general, satisfying a customer’s functional jobs requires pulling three levers: focusing on real jobs, satisfying those jobs for particular customers or occasions, and designing solutions that prioritize jobs over features.

Critically, it is important to satisfy real jobs. Although this sounds simple, too many companies start with a new idea and then hope that people will realize its inherent appeal. The end result is often a product that solves low-priority jobs or jobs that people don’t really have. Reading glasses, for example, were a great idea. Yet for several hundred years after their invention in the thirteenth century, there was virtually no demand for them. Because there was little need to read things up close, most farsighted people didn’t even realize they were farsighted. It wasn’t until the mid-fifteenth century, when Gutenberg’s printing press catalyzed the widespread printing of books, that people began seeking out a way to ease the strain as they tried to read. Once reading books became a high-priority job, demand for curing farsightedness soared.

Jobs are different from success criteria or metrics that determine whether a job has been achieved. Brookwood, an independent school for young children in Massachusetts that we’ve worked with, used to advertise itself to prospective parents as a “community of exuberant learners.” That phrasing was evocative, but unfortunately it placed a lot of emphasis on the idea of community. Finding a community for their children was not a job many parents rated as important, and there were many other ways to accomplish that objective such as soccer teams and neighborhood organizations. Community was, however, a means of determining whether children felt comfortable learning and were valued for their individual personalities and talents, not just for their test scores. As part of its rebranding efforts, Brookwood has reframed its messaging around real jobs to be done in order to drive an increase in applications.

Propositions also need to be designed with particular customers and occasions in mind. Designing for some theoretical average user can undermine the potential gains you may get from understanding distinct types of customers’ jobs to be done. When we introduce the Jobs concept to new audiences, we sometimes run a mock focus group, pretending that we’re working for an ice cream company. At first, we tell people we need to sell more ice cream. They usually think about customers on average and respond that we need more flavors, more sales outlets, fewer calories, and lower prices. That’s not very practical, nor does it respond directly to jobs to be done. So we then ask people a different question: Thinking about the last time that you had ice cream, why did you do that, and if you hadn’t had ice cream, what would you have done otherwise? The answers are completely different. People were celebrating an occasion, and they decided to have ice cream to spend more time together after dinner. They were trying to cool down at the beach, and ice cream competed against water. They were taking a stroll and saw a new shop, and they wanted a new experience rather than just following an old routine. Focusing on particular people in specific contexts creates far richer and more useful detail than thinking about things on average.

Once you have identified a few high-priority jobs, it is important to make sure that you satisfy those jobs well. Companies often spread their resources too thinly, adding extra features that sound good in advertisements. Yet those features rarely drive decision making. Microsoft can boast that upgrading to Excel 2007 increased the limit on unique colors per workbook from 56 to 4.3 billion, but will that really matter? Even worse, the payoff from new features is often short-lived, inasmuch as features generally prove easy for competitors to replicate. Why couldn’t Excel boast a template that helps people balance their checkbooks? That’s a job that, according to our research, a significant proportion of banking customers accomplish using Excel, but in a currently awkward and error-prone way.

Beware Of Feature Focus

Focusing on features makes you lose sight of important jobs. As the mobility trend further embedded itself in the PC world, Blackberry rushed to get on the tablet train. It quickly got out the PlayBook, which had a touch screen and an icon-based display. It boasted a great list of features and was actually quite slick in a number of ways. On the other hand, the PlayBook failed to take advantage of the company’s biggest strength: It launched without native email support! In doing so, the PlayBook glossed over key mobile communication jobs just so that Blackberry could have a competing tablet in the marketplace.

As much as companies may struggle with functional jobs, they typically get more attention than emotional jobs. Emotional jobs tend to be neglected in business, especially outside the realm of consumer packaged goods such as food and cleaning products. Emotional jobs can be difficult to articulate, and solution-oriented managers have a hard time dwelling on how their products can satisfy emotional jobs. Enterprise software companies, for instance, are fond of saying how their worlds are intensely rational, and then they struggle to explain why great products are never broadly adopted or why companies stick with long-term vendors even though their offerings are outmoded. As competitors find ways to satisfy the same functional jobs at a lower price point, emotional elements can provide a vital way to differentiate your product.

Sennheiser, Bose, and JBL have figured out how to make high-quality audio products. When Apple paid $3.2 billion to buy Beats Electronics in 2014, countless critics and music enthusiasts came out ranting about the inferior quality of Beats’ headphones. But despite competing against technically superior products, Beats had a 40 percent market share four years after entering the market. So why are people so excited about Beats? The company hits on emotional jobs. Put simply, the $300 price tag for a set of Beats headphones is the cost of a seat at the lunchroom’s cool table. From the beginning, Beats focused on getting its headphones into as many music videos, locker rooms, and runway shoots as possible, ensuring that they were associated with celebrity glamor and status. Going a step further, Beats offers a wealth of limited editions for movies and sports leagues, creating more opportunities for users to stand out and express themselves. Although the headphones have to perform at a certain functional threshold, their ability to satisfy emotional jobs allows them to command a premium in the market. Much like Beats, companies with products that excel along emotional dimensions can stand out even as the competition becomes more and more commoditized.

Using Jobs To Design Better Solutions

Doing research to uncover customers’ jobs to be done will undoubtedly leave you with a long list of jobs. Much like the problem of adding too many features, attempting to satisfy too many jobs leaves you with a complicated, expensive, one-size-fits-none product. You end up with the fax-sending smartphone described at the start of this chapter. Designing a breakthrough product requires making difficult decisions and trade-offs. At its core, your new solution will need to focus on satisfying a handful of key jobs. The sweet spot lies with jobs that are important yet undersatisfied in the eyes of the customer. These jobs will act as your North Star, guiding the rest of the decisions you make when designing the new offering. Then, at a lower level, you can focus on satisfying secondary jobs that allow you to differentiate your product further, as well as on table-stakes jobs that have to be accomplished by any product in the class.

To see how this works in practice, let’s journey to the small town of Ipswich, Massachusetts. Sitting about 30 miles northeast of Boston, Ipswich is a coastal community with a rich colonial history. The town was founded in 1634, and many of the homes are quite old. In fact, the town boasts more homes built before 1725 than any other place in the United States. First Ipswich Bank, much like its competitors in the area, offers the standard range of fixed-rate, adjustable-rate, and jumbo mortgages for the owners of such houses. While all of the banks in the area are rolling out innovative solutions, such as mobile banking options, their mortgage products are hardly exciting. Most banks fail to recognize that the customer’s job is not to complete a mortgage transaction but to move into a new home. That is the real North Star for the customer’s journey, and understanding this reveals many aspects that are undershot by existing offerings. First Ipswich seems to get this. For those buying a home built before 1750, the bank offers a unique mortgage that allows customers to add on to the initial loan amount to cover the additional renovation expenses that commonly arise when dealing with old houses. If you find out that you have to install new plumbing, for example, you can roll that cost into your mortgage rather than having to take out a second mortgage for the effort. That is Jobs-based thinking at work.

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.

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