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.