I recently listened to a webcast by Tony Ulwick, CEO, Strategyn about his company’s approach to Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI). The focus was innovation strategies to reach growth objectives by developing product solutions based on a clear understanding of the “jobs” people are looking to solve in their life.
Couldn’t agree more with the basic premise that Ulwick is promoting: people are buying products to get jobs done; therefore, companies need to understand these “jobs” better in order to create successful solutions. He defined a job as a task, goal, or objective a person is trying to accomplish or a problem they are trying to resolve.
“Customers migrate to products that get the job done best,” Ulwick explained.
This is music to my ears. And Strategyn appears to have perfected the process of identifying and prioritizing consumer jobs and the desired outcomes that real people are seeking. They use these insights to identify areas of opportunity and, ultimately, help their clients implement a growth strategy based on product innovation in those areas.
This simple insight (focusing on the jobs that real people are looking to solve) has as much application to marketing innovation as it does to products and services. In the end, it is all about a company being relevant by providing genuine utility for someone.
The path I’ve been on for a few years now has followed a similar logic train as Ulwick…
People are not only buying products to get jobs done, they are consuming media and interacting with various influencers (people, places, and things) to get jobs done in their lives. Within the context of marketing communications, let’s refer to these media and influencers more broadly as “channels”. Like products they sell, these channels represent various opportunities, levers, or tactics that marketers can tap into in order to be relevant to real people.
In this way, the line between a product or service and a channel is becomingly increasingly hard to draw. Consider the obvious examples of Nike Plus and apples iPhone. Is access to tools and a community to help you track your running a product, service, or marketing channel? Is an iPhone app a marketing channel or a product? Both.
It follows, then, that understanding the jobs people are looking to solve in their lives can equally influence new products or new marketing channels you create. And we can best understand these jobs by mapping the dynamics of the “system” in which these jobs operate–in this context a system is the interaction between people, influencers, products/services, and companies.
For example, think about the last time you went out to eat and you chose an Applebee’s or Olive Garden or Chili’s, some casual dining restaurant. The system in this case includes you, the people you went out to eat with (we rarely go alone), the things that influenced your decision where to go, the food you ate, and the experience you had. The jobs you were looking to solve range from the functional (hunger) to the emotional (social interaction), and could include any number of different things.
Ulwick’s approach, if you were one of those restaurants looking to improve your product, would be to understand what jobs you were looking to resolve through that visit. And he’d likely probe multiple scenarios to get the full range of eating out jobs. From that, you can see how it would be easy to define specific outcomes you (the one eating at the restaurant) are looking for when you go to a restaurant. We could then measure how important each outcome is to you and find out how satisfied you are with the various options available to you to deliver that outcome. This is awesome and makes total sense.
I would go a step further. What if we were to study the jobs that you were looking to resolve at different steps of the process you went through in deciding where to go eat? We’d likely learn that you had a set of restaurants you like, you quickly determined which met your key needs (the jobs referenced in the earlier graph), then you took your choice to the group of friends you were going out to eat with, and then you ended up going to the place that some other guy preferred. Your experience at the restaurant would then help you decide where you’d go next time.
Mapping the entire decision cycle in this way gives us more jobs to define, and specific jobs we can assign not to the product but to the channels that help you arrive at your decision. The simple act of thinking what restaurants you might be interested in at a particular time and place is the first job you’re looking to resolve. In selecting the restaurant for the group you’re dealing with a slightly different job: successful negotiation, and success can be defined in many ways.
Knowing this, we can determine which channels are most effective at shaping your short list versus facilitating negotiation. Perhaps the actual experience and/or word-of-mouth recommendations are the best at the short list, while coupons, limited-time offers, or promotional events are the most effective at helping you win in negotiation (get to go to the restaurant you like by giving people a reason to like it, too).
Armed with this information, a marketer can see where certain decision-making process gaps are and find new and better ways to solve real jobs that real people face. These solutions, then, are as likely to be marketing channel innovation as they are new product innovation.
Kudos to Strategyn for the work they’re doing in this area. I think the big opportunity that is even more real in the digital world today is to apply this thinking to both marketing and product innovation.
Ulwick referenced a quote by Christensen in his book Innovative Solution: ”The job, not the customer, is the fundamental unit of analysis for a marketer who hopes to develop products that customers will buy.”
I would make a slight modification… the job is the fundamental unit of analysis for a marketer who hopes to be relevant and add utility in people’s lives through the products and experiences they create.
A little long… but, hopefully, you get the point.