Growth Marketing

And You Thought “Jobs to Be Done” Was Just for Product Development…

This should come as no surprise: most copy is tragically bad. 

Most home page and landing page copy is abstracted, over-summarized and feature-heavy. It tries to get to the ‘benefit’ by saying things like “save time”, “save money”, “the easy way”, “the free way” and “the unsucky way”… but it continually misses the mark.

Meanwhile, we wonder why our visitors are hurriedly scanning the page, spending less than 40 seconds with us, barely converting and rarely even opting in for free stuff.

Any wonder?

We’re telling them nothing of substance.

At the Business of Software conference this September, Joanna gave a talk about this. It resonated with me because, on a daily basis, I observe or participate in “Jobs to Be Done” interviews, where we learn about the jobs that people hire products to help them do. (You may be familiar with Bob Moesta and Clay Christensen’s classic Milkshake Story, where they found that morning commuters were ‘hiring’ milkshakes for breakfast.)

When you discover what jobs your prospects will hire your product/service to do, you can write better copy.

I wanna show you how – and why – to find those jobs. But first, an introduction to JTBD.

Jobs-to-Be-Done Is a Framework That’s
Changing the Way 
Startups Think About
Creating & Promoting Products

Customers come to your website or read the label on your package because they want to know if your product is going to help them make progress against the situation they are in. That’s a big part of what’s going on in the customer’s brain:

“Will this product fix the problem I have,
and will it get me to where I want to be?”  

Focusing on customers’ situations and how they can make progress is what Jobs-to-be-Done thinking is all about. It’s different from more traditional product and marketing thinking that focuses on customer attributes and abstract goals (e.g., personas) or product categories (e.g., we make drills, so we compete with other drill companies).

As an example, think about a time you’ve been really hungry. It’s been a long day and you’ve barely eaten – running from one meeting to the next. So you finally finish yet another long meeting, and now you’re going crazy with hunger.  You check your schedule and you see that, believe it or not, you have another meeting in 15 mins!

This is a Struggling Moment. 

(Personas don’t show you struggling moments, BTW.)

So you do the math and figure: “Okay, I gotta get out of the building and then, in 5 min, find some food and eat it.”

You dash out of the building and start walking by places that sell food. You first pass by a funny looking guy at the corner selling bananas – that won’t work ‘cause you need serious grub. Next, you walk by a cafe – that won’t work either because by the time you sit down and order your food, you’ll have to leave. Then, you walk by two places: a taco stand and a pizza joint. Fast food joints.

At first glance, both look legit. You then look up at their signs and one says, “Ray’s World Famous Pizza! Voted #1 Pizza!” and the other says, “In & Out Tacos. Tasty taco meals in 30 seconds.”

Which do you think you’d choose?

Chances are, most people in this scenario would go to the taco place. Not necessarily because they love tacos more than pizza. But because the taco place had a message that spoke directly to the situation they were facing: I’m really hungry and I gotta eat something fast so I can get to where I need to be, on time. They wanted to hire a product to do the job of satisfying their hunger fast. The social proof messages – “voted #1”, “world famous” – simply wouldn’t be as persuasive to this prospect.

That’s the difference between product thinking (and copywriting) that focuses on a product VS. a customer’s job to be done.

Talk With Customers and Uncover Those Tragic, Wonderful “Moments of Struggle”

To create kick ass products and copy, we need to understand moments of struggle that have led our customers to hire our product or a competing product.

To do that, we need to interview customers in a particular way about their Jobs-to-be-Done. We gotta bring them back to those struggling moments.

But how do you run interviews that get at those struggling moments?

When interviewing, we think about it this way. We want enough detail so we can film a documentary about our customer as they struggle with the situation our product is going to solve. And we’re not talkin’ in general terms. You gotta know the nitty gritty details about what’s going on! A documentary highlights every step and looks at it from all directions; that’s what needs to happen in your customer interviews.

Without details, we’ll be missing all those critical parts for our film.

After all, there’s a big difference between thinking that the customer is calmly and rationally sitting at their computer while ordering new smoke alarms…. versus someone at their wit’s end because their buggy smoke alarms have been keeping them up 5 nights in a row!

Here are some strategies and tactics we use to find actual struggling moments when interviewing:

  1. Start by interviewing people who have purchased and used our client’s product or a product similar to it.
  2. Interview in teams of 2. That way, while you’re jotting down a note or thinking about a response, your interview partner can jump in and keep things moving.
  3. Ask them actual questions about their struggles. For example, start with, “Take me back to the last time you did your taxes.” Then, like a cameraman, inspect that moment from all angles until you find the story. Then move on to the next point in their journey, looking for the struggle.
  4. Avoid assumptions. We may think that a person is doing their taxes while sitting at home, when in fact, it’s the week before taxes are due, they’re on a cramped airplane that’s about to land, and they’re desperately trying to finish before the steward comes by and tells them to close their laptop.

This level of detail is important to us because, as we craft our messages, it changes from a more generic and over-abstracted “Do your taxes faster & better” to “You’ll never again have to worry about how you’re going to fit ‘doing your taxes’ into your busy life.”

What also helps us set the scene for this documentary film is to dig deep for some crazy detail to avoid assumptions. It’s not just:

“When was the last time you [ had to deal with this particular situation ] ”

But rather:

“When did you purchase the product (or a similar one)? Where were you? What time of day was it? What was the weather like? Was anyone else with you at the time? How did you purchase the product? Cash? Credit? Did you buy anything at the same time?”

Why would we dig so deep? So we can recreate those tragic-for-them, wonderful-for-us moments customers struggle with.

Most of our memories are made and recalled through association with places, people, things and our senses. If  someone was asked what the weather was like yesterday, they may struggle to remember; however, if they were asked what clothes they were wearing, they might remember how their feet got really wet. As it turns out, while walking to work, it unexpectedly rained and their feet got wet because they were wearing sneakers…

Average Interviews. Average Results…

This is different from a more traditional style of interview where customers are asked to either describe what they want or to talk, in general terms, about the problems they face.

One challenge facing those types of interviews is that customers are not in the struggling moment. There’s no emotional surge happening. It all becomes very abstract to the customer because they are trying to average together all their experiences in order to give an answer. And in such cases, the stories you hear and the words you’ll get from such interviews will be just that: average. You won’t be able to use much for your product development, marketing or copy.

JTBD Interviews Naturally Produce Reams of Test-Worthy Copy Ideas

Besides being able to set the scene for our documentary film, we need to be able to write the dialogue. Could you write the dialogue for this film about your customer’s struggle?

If you could, then you’d have a treasure trove of copy ideas to pull from. Copy written, as the folks at Copyhackers say, in the words of our prospects – that’s the best-performing copy.

As we talk with customers about their Job-to-be-Done, we’ll start to hear what words customers use to describe their own struggle. We can then use these words to craft our copy as if it were a mirror. So when a customer reads our copy, they will see themselves.

There are several things to listen for when talking with customers. Two important ones are:

    1. What specific words (adjectives & adverbs) they use. Let them find the words, and press them to explain more. So when a customer describes something as “big” don’t say: “Oh yeah it IS really big”. Instead, say “Big? What makes it big? Big compared to what? What else did you try that was big?”
    2. How often they use them. The more a customer uses a particular word or phrase to describe their struggle or what they want, the closer the association. Even better is when different customers, independently, use the same words. If different customers keep saying that they like to use an air freshener because it reminds them of “home”. Well. You’ve got some great copy ideas to start with.

What makes found copy so much better than, say, copy you thought up during a brainstorming session?

You are not your customer. You simply cannot describe your customer’s struggle as well as they can.

Using the customer’s words to describe their problem back to them will make them feel understood and their brain will jump to: “Yup, that’s exactly what it’s like when I’m in that situation. This product must be close to what I want because they know, exactly, my struggle.” And that’s what we want when we write copy. We want our prospects to see themselves on the page. It may take more words, but those words are more likely to be read because they’re real for your prospect – they’re not just abstracted marketing talk.

The “Struggling Moment” Is Where the Copy Gold Is Waiting to Be Discovered

If you wanna write believable copy, think about your visitors’ struggling moments while you write. Don’t think about yourself – about how great you want people to believe you are or about how beautifully designed your product is. What your visitors are most likely to care about is themselves, their own struggles.

So put aside all your hyped, we-we-rah-rah talk. Don’t even think about features and benefits. Seriously.

Now, with that in mind, check out this copy, which you’re surely familiar with if you read the Copyhackers blog often:

Beachway treatment


In the copy above, notice how little of it is dedicated to hyping the service is and denigrating the competition? Instead, it focuses on that struggling moment: someone who knows they have a problem with addiction and is wondering if the answer is rehab. (See how that headline performed here)

The next part of the copy is how this service is different. This is usually the place where copywriters go crazy with how great or cool the product is. Notice, however, it’s not hype. Rather, the phrases “dedicated team” & “holistic approach” are just subtle nods to the question: “why should I buy this product?”

After that, the copy starts to defuse any anxieties associated with using this service. You can imagine the customer in front of a computer. Hand on the mouse. Reading. Thinking:

“It looks good…but…

Do they have a room for me? Can I get in now? If I don’t do this now, I never will.

Can I afford it? Does my insurance cover this?  If it does, who & how do I ask?

How do I get there? Do I need to book a flight? Arrange a pick up? Take a taxi?

I have a question about something, can I talk to someone right now?”

Few prospects will be convinced by hype. The more someone hypes up a product, the more they build up anxiety in the customer’s mind. And anxiety is the enemy of conversion.

Uncover the Anxieties and Habits Keeping People from Converting

Jobs-to-be-Done uses the following diagram to explain these emotional forces and how they help and hinder progress for our prospects.


Jobs-to-be-Done forces diagram by Margaret Wilkins.

Here we can see that customers are drawn towards a new solution via two forces: Push and Pull.

A Push is one of those struggling moments mentioned earlier.

A Pull is something that attracts them to the new solution. (In the Beachway Therapy example, a Pull would be the phrases “dedicated team” & “holistic approach.”)

Also, we can see how the Anxiety force plays in. It’s associated with the new solution and if it gets built up too much, it can stop prospects from trying a new product or service. This is why we need to avoid hyping up our products too much. The more we tell customers how great a product is, the more lingering questions we create. Questions like: “Do they have a room for me?”, “Does my insurance cover this?” or “How do I get there?”…

The other benefit we get when we think about the anxieties associated with a new solution, is that when we interview customers, we ask about solutions that they thought about buying, but didn’t. These are opportunities to create copy that assures customers that our solution is something they can handle.

Just throwing words at the customer can show them that you don’t understand their struggle. It’s not going to assure them that your product is going to help them make progress. In fact, it will do the opposite: it’s going crank up their anxiety because they are going to be wondering if your product is even right for them.

Customers Want Progress –
And Your Words Can Help Give Them That

Customers are looking for a solution that will help them make progress for their Job-to-be-Done. The words and phrases we choose to promote our product need to assure them of that. And the best way to find those words is to talk with them and pay close attention to how they describe those struggling moments that they’ve faced in the past.

As we pen our copy, we should be asking ourselves: “Will customers will be able recognize their struggle in the words we chose?”

Is this something you’ve thought of when writing copy?

Are you familiar with JTBD?

Tell me in the comments, and let’s talk about it.

More about Jobs to Be Done:
Watch this 5 min JTBD videoRead a visual 5-min cheat sheet of Jobs-to-be-Done conceptsListen to podcasts from JTBD radio.

About the author

Alan Klement

I help others understand how we make buying decisions and how to use that to make products.

I do JTBD research with the ReWired group.

  • Venitia samuel

    Great lesson was taught in a simpler and nicer way. I benefited a lot. really practical
    stuff. Thanks so much.

  • Beatrix Willius

    Cool article and very helpful. My product deals with email, which is very generic. I’ve struggled with personas, which always sounded vague to me. But finding out exactly why my customers decide they need my product sounds so much more concrete.

  • Andrew Gale

    Well worth the read, great article!

  • Tim Walters

    Hi Alan – I’m just starting to research JTBD and found this to be the most succinct and accessible summary so far. I’m thinking about applying JTBD to personalization — specifically website personalization, which is usually based on trying to collect as much information about the visitor as possible in order to sort them into a segment or persona (algorithmically or manually) and target “appropriate” offers, descriptions, etc. It’s clear that JTBD takes an alternative, and arguably far superior, approach to this issue.

    What troubles me the most about persona-based personalization is that it encourages firms to think that they *must* gather as much information as possible, and that any additional unit of information can, in principle, only be a good thing. In short, if personalization is about getting to know the *person*, than every atom of personal information helps — and this creates a direct tension, if not contradiction, between the person (the prospect), who is anxious about sharing and/or losing control over personal data, and the seller, who is mandated by this particular ideology of personalization to seek, acquire, and store all the data they possibly can.

    Do you (or others on this thread) think that a JTBD approach to personalization/segmentation can help alleviate (some of) this privacy issue? My thinking is that if the segmentation is based on the *job* rather than on the person, there should be less inherent reason to “pry” into the person as such.

    On the other hand, you (and other proponents of JTBD) stress that the interviews need to capture microscopic levels of detail. When translated into a data collection and analysis scenario, rather than a face-to-face interview setting (which is what most companies would do if trying to achieve JTBD-based segmentation at scale), this desire for detail may also (again) translate into the conviction that it is necessary/valuable to capture all available data about prospects and customers.

    In short, do you think JTBD is not only an (arguably) superior segmentation method but also (potentially) a way to slack the sellers’ hunger for personal data and so dial down the tension with buyers?

    • “In short, do you think JTBD is not only an (arguably) superior segmentation method but also (potentially) a way to slack the sellers’ hunger for personal data and so dial down the tension with buyers?”

      Yes. here’s why:

      -Signal & Noise

      More data is not necessarily better. If I look at a data set, don’t feel it’s telling me what I should do, I may be tempted to reach out and grab more data. But if I do this, I could be just adding more noise and decreasing the overall quality.

      Even worse, I may be degrading my data quality and not even know it.

      A lot of people know about this, but they do it anyway. Why is that? I think it’s because it’s easy and cheep. It’s both cheep & easy to plop in some javascript tracking code and passively gather data.

      They also convince themselves that if they just gather enough data, a larger “n”, then they’ll hit some statistical significance. Then, they’ll have enough to make informed decisions.

      Unfortunately, they don’t understand that statistical significance only means that there is some correlation ( rejecting the null hypothesis ), not what that correlation is or even if it’s helpful to what you’re trying to accomplish.

      So even when we collect JTBD data, we’re very acute to the quality of what we’re collecting. I remember one interview where someone talked about a purchase they made and about 15 min into the interview, the guy said that his wife sent him to the store to pick up the item. At that moment we all just closed our notebooks and stopped collecting data. We did this because anything he said would be irrelevant to the data we wanted. He didn’t have the struggle, his wife did. His struggle was more of “how do I choose the thing my wife expects me to get”.

      Two other big problems with quantitative only data are:

      1) It’s only retrospective ( what happened ) and not what didn’t or could have happened.

      2) Only measures variables within in it’s own system.

      Each of those are huge topics onto themselves, If you want more info about that, LMK and I can talk more about ’em.

      -Persona, personalization, segmentation & privacy

      I’ve talked about Personas a lot, so I’ll skip that a little bit. As far as personalization goes, well, why does that matter? Perhaps I don’t understand the benefit of personalization, but why do I, as a customer, care how well some product knows me?

      I don’t consume a product just to have it know me. I consume a product because I believe it’s going to help me make progress towards where I want to be. I have a struggle, I have some notion of how to measure progress & what progress looks like, and I have an idea of how I want things to be after I use it.

      There’s a misunderstanding here. Often designers imagine customers saying “the product should just know me” , what they really mean is, “the product should just behave how I expect it to behave.” or “It should present progress to me in a fashion that I can relate to”.

      This is a big fallacy behind demographic based segmentation. I think you make a great point there when you mentioned a resentment & distrust against systems designed to gather customer attribute information. The customer looks at that and intuitively knows that they are not buying a car or a piece of software because of their age/sex/race… the customer has a struggle and that struggle exists regardless or all that junk.

      The customer thinks:

      “I need to haul all my BBQ & camping gear into the woods. How does knowing my ethnicity help you design a car that does that?”

      If you wanna play the card of “well, knowing all this data this helps us build empathy for our customers”. I’d say: a lack of customer empathy is YOUR problem, and not for your customers to deal with.

      – Job detail and privacy

      When I dig down deep to understand your JTBD, I’m not asking about you, I’m asking about your struggle. This actually has very little to do with you as a person. Sure people may feel embarrassed for not being smart enough or whatever, but, you’re desperate to have someone help you. You’re spending money on something to solve your struggle instead of spending that money on a trip to Hawaii.

      That’s why in my experience, people LOVE it when someone is truly interested in learning about their struggle. Hell, isn’t that basically the whole concept around online help forums? “I need help! Please someone help me and tell me what to do!”

      No one goes onto Apple’s tech forum and say:”Hi there, I’m 25 years old, black, married with 2 kids…oh and by the way…WHY WONT MY CD COME OUT!!! IT JUST KEEPS CLICKING AND I CANT EJECT IT ARRRGGGGGG!!!”

  • Dylan Meister

    Great stuff.

    At the top of the article, you link to Joanna’s talk at the Business of Software conference, Stop Saying Nothing, Or How to Use Sticky Personality in Your Copywriting.

    I’m really interested in seeing/hearing the full presentation — is there a recording available anywhere?


  • SteeveAuston

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  • The “struggling moment” makes me think of the Tumblr blog Infomercial Problems . . .

    The sales pros who develop the million dollar machine infomercial pitches understand this idea of capture the struggling moment. That site is a hilarious example of how they usually over dramatize these struggling moments. Their heart is the right place but they execution is often over the top.

    I like how this approach helps you find these struggling moments with a more thoughtful approach to interviewing, which is an art in and of itself, and is an aspect of copywriting I don’t believe is given much attention.

    “When you can describe a person’s problem to them better than they can explain it themselves, you automatically get credit for having an answer to it” is advice that was given to me years ago.

    It’s easy to space this out though sometimes and start speaking to overly broad benefits instead. I appreciate you reminding me to narrow my focus Alan. It’s a lesson I can’t be reminded of too often.

    • Glad it helps! The “Struggling moment” blog is too funny. Nice find.

      I also like the quote and I agree. When you can repeat back to someone their struggle, they instantly feel understood, that you “get it”, and you’re insightful because you understand when no one else did ( or seem to understand )

  • I love the idea of JTBD and have been reading about it for some time now. To me, it seems like just another way to look at how I’ve been taught to approach CRO. It’s all about understanding the motivations, hesitations, anxieties, and concerns of the prospect. Whether you look at it from the perspective of what job the service or product helps the person get done or from how you’re going to develop copy and structures on a site to facilitate someone’s end goal – you should reach the same conclusions.

    Maybe I’m not picking up on all of the nuances but this is how it’s struck me. I’m curious about your thoughts on customer journey mapping. This is another tool I’ve co-opted as a way to look make the whole CRO process more manageable.

    • Great question.

      Two of my favorite words are : “context” & “causality”.

      We’re designing & marketing products with one arm behind our backs if we don’t understand the context & causal mechanisms surrounding the customer’s Job.

      Consider the Beachway Therapy example. The prospect didn’t just wake up in the morning, jump on the computer and start looking at rehab options. The reality is that they may have been struggling with their situation for months, years or decades.

      Years could have passed between that first thought of “Oh gosh, I’m late to work again & may get fired because I was up [ doing X again ]” and them even considering a product ( rehab options ).

      The headline “if you think you need rehab, you do”, was so successful because it spoke to an emotion they were carrying around with them for a long time. Back when they were considering IF they should be considering a solution.

      And that’s what’s missing from almost every discussion around conversation rate optimization (CRO) & customer journey mapping (CJM). These processes treat customers as if they live in a vacuum. Where the only things that matter are the points where the customer and product touch. Everything outside of that vacuum doesn’t matter, exist or isn’t important.

      My hypothesis of why this happens is that a lot of people only feel comfortable making product & marketing decisions, when they can back it up with quantifiable data. This leads them to only consider what they can measure.

      We can measure all the contact points between our product and the customer, we can measure how many times a specific person visited particular pages on our website, we can measure the barriers we have between part A of our product and part B.

      But what’s harder to measure is, what other products did they try? Why did it take 6 months to finally realize that they “couldn’t take it any more” and started shopping for a solution.

      That’s harder to measure. But it’s also better.

      • Agreed. That’s why getting the best messages to the people who matter in a way that makes the most sense to them a challenge – especially when you’re not asking the right questions. Thanks for the thoughtful response.

  • Lena Prickett

    This is so helpful! Thanks Alan.

    • Awesome. If you have other questions or comments, fire away….

  • Robert Sanders

    This is awesome, but not complete in and of itself as I am finding out by reading “What Customers Want” Tony Ulwick.

    Case in point: “We have found that there are three different types of jobs that customers are often trying to get done in a given circumstance: functional jobs and personal and social jobs (two types of emotional jobs)….Functional jobs define the tasks people seek to accomplish, personal jobs explain the way people want to feel in a given circumstance, and social jobs clarify how people want to be perceived by others. All are revelant in creating customer value and should be considered as part of the data-collection effort.”

    Example: “A mom throwing a party for her child may want to arrange the party (functional job), but she may also want to feel loved by her child (personal job) and be perceived as a good mom by the other moms (social job).”

    JTBD however, is the key tenet & lynch-pin that leads down this path.

    I am curious if there are outsource services that a startup can turn to for this process?

    • Some like to categorize Jobs into subsets like these, but I don’t. I’ve seen people and teams get wrapped up in non productive discussions trying to put labels like these on a Job.

      It risks not seeing the forrest for the trees. And things start getting mixed up.

      For example, does the parent *want* to arrange the birthday party or do they *want* appreciation form their child & higher social status? They’re different aren’t they?

      In this case, we see that “arranging a birthday party” is really a means to an end. So it’s actually not a job, but a solution. The parent is “hiring” the birthday party to do the Jobs of “increase child appreciation” & “get higher social status”.

      You can even go further down the rabbit hole and ask, “is there even such a thing as a ‘functional’ job? Or is what we’re calling a ‘functional job’ really just some attribute associated with the solution?” e.g. buy a sofa, rent a car, eat an ice cream sundae, arrange a party, order a new desk….

      ..and even if we do get that far – have we really gotten a better understanding of why the parent chose a have a particular type of birthday party? Or have we just wasted a lot of time?

      phew…. 😉

      So, for further reading, check out the “More about Jobs to Be Done:” section at the end of the article for more high level info on JTBD.

      • Robert Sanders

        Thanks Alan for the context of your explanation and I wonder if we get caught up in semantics too often.

        I have perused the info referenced already. but still would like to know if there are outsource services available to do this type of research for a startup?

      • I might be able to recommend some people, but I would need to know more about the kind of progress you want to make. I suggest emailing me:

  • This is awesome. I’ve never heard specifically of JTBD before, but it is something I’ve used when interviewing and crafting copy for clients. I’ve read so much about personas lately, which can be affective for content marketing. But, when it comes to crafting a landing page or homepage, it’s better to focus on the real struggles of real customers and to make your copy super targeted. Thanks for the post!

  • Great stuff.

    JTBD always made way more sense to me than personas, which I feel have been turned into this obligatory step for marketing research that actually ends up never being used.

    Contrast that with all the swipeable goodness you get from a JTBD-driven interview, and it’s a clear home run.

    Non-gated version of the Christensen article available here:

    • Thanks for the link.

      The whole Persona debate is such a rabbit hole. A lot of Persona proponents have invested their careers and organizations in it – which can make discussion around it difficult.

      For me, there’s just so much gold available to us if we’re able to have the right mindset (e.g. think in terms of situations & jobs v.s. thinking in terms of customer segments) and are willing to take the time to talk with customers about their struggles.

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