“Once I figure out what to do with my dining room table, I’ll be free to move.”
But what sort of impact does a table have on a major life decision like buying a condo?
As innovation consultant Bob Moesta found out, quite a lot.
The table helped shape the winning offer – which included more than just the condo.
And the table provided critical insight into the condo buyers’ mindset.
And yet, a detail like a dining room table isn’t something you’d typically find on most marketers’ beloved buyer persona and ideal client persona (ICP) docs. You’re more likely to see a document that looks something like this:
Yet, understanding the role the dining room table played in the buyers’ minds helped the Detroit developer raise their prices. And, despite a 49% drop in sales across the market, the developer’s business grew by 25%.
But to understand how Moesta connected the dots between a dining room table and 25% business growth, you’ve gotta understand the all-too-common growth-blockers hiding in your ICP and buyer persona docs.
Let’s talk about ICPs, let’s talk about you and me (and, really, marketers everywhere).
According to HubSpot, ICPs (“ideal client personas”) outline a fictitious company that has all the characteristics of a good fit for your solution. ICPs usually include characteristics like:
- Annual revenue
- Company size
- Geographic location
- Legal restrictions (like age or government restrictions)
Similarly, buyer personas offer a general representation of your customer. Sometimes – hopefully – an aggregate of customer interviews builds buyer personas. Similar to ICPs, they’ll provide you with key characteristics, including:
- Goals in their role
- Responsibilities in their role
- Challenges in their role
- Reasons they might look for a solution like yours
As HubSpot points out, a company could have anywhere between two to five personas. But a common mistake – one we’ve seen in-house repeatedly – is creating a new persona for each role your team comes into contact with.
I’m all for personalized messaging… but roles don’t buy products. People do.
And it’s this all-too-common mistake that has me climbing up on my soapbox, crying out to marketers near and far:
“Please, please, pleaaaaaaaaassseeeeee. Abandon traditional ICPs and buyer personas.”
‘Cos traditional ICPs and buyer personas leave out some key details you really need to know to write high-converting copy. So you can capture more market share.
But, I mean, maybe there’s a silver lining here:
While 77% of marketers surveyed by Audiense say they’ve created buyer personas…
- 85% don’t refer to their personas before a product launch.
- And 77% don’t refer to their personas before creating campaigns.
Ah. So it’s not that marketers love buyer personas. It’s that marketers love creating useless docs… ?
(Wait. What? That can’t be right 🙃 )
But with buyer personas, useless and dusty persona docs definitely seem to be the name of the game. In that same survey:
- 11% of surveyed marketers claim they never update their buyer personas.
- 25% only do so before launching a campaign.
- 34% try to update their personas once a year.
Worst of all, 90% of respondents said that buyer personas are only written to support marketing.
As Clayton Christensen, Scott Cook and Taddy Hall explain in this rather timeless HBR article:
“Having sliced business clients into small, medium, and large enterprises—or having shoehorned consumers into age, gender, or lifestyle brackets—marketers busy themselves with trying to understand the needs of representative customers in those segments and then create products that address those needs. The problem is that customers don’t conform their desires to match those of the average consumer in their demographic segment.“
Slicing and dicing by demographics creates practically useless busy work for the marketing team. And this busy work is unlikely to drive further value to the customer.
It’s a lose-lose scenario.
And it might explain why ICPs and buyer persona docs are destined to collect pixel dust in your Google drive.
Is there a way to develop useful personas? So you can build your next campaign strategy (and the copy that comes after) on value-based insights.
As Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt frequently told his students, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” And while it’s likely that your marketing team agrees with Levitt’s insight, the same marketers are also likely to:
- Segment markets by type of drill and price point.
- Measure market share of drills.
- And benchmark the features and functions of their drill.
Marketers will happily look at the product instead of looking at the hole the product creates.
But when we turn our attention to the hole, we start asking customer-centric questions, like:
- Why is our customer trying to drill a hole in the first place?
- How does our customer define a successfully drilled hole?
- What other products – beyond drills – might our customer use to create this hole?
- How has our customer drilled a hole before?
If we don’t ask questions like these, we miss the opportunity to understand the value customers derive from the product. We miss an even bigger opportunity to put our future customers first. And, with us now over 14 months deep in a global pandemic that’s fundamentally changed consumer behavior, putting your customers first has never been more important to your bottom line.
As Yamini Rangan, CCO at HubSpot, points out:
“In 2020, 40% of businesses did not meet revenue targets. As you plan your 2021 and beyond, sharpen your focus on your customer. Place them at the center of every decision, across marketing, sales, and customer success.”
If marketing isn’t putting your customer first, now’s an excellent time to start.
Enter stage right: jobs-to-be-done personas. Or JTBD for short.
There are several JTBD models you can look at – ODI by Tony Ulwick, JTBD Theory by Clayton Christensen, or Demand-Side Innovation from Bob Moesta, to name a few. You’ll certainly find variations in their JTBD models and definitions. And yet at the core of each of these different models is the “job”:
A job is what a person seeks to accomplish in a specific situation.
What JTBD proposes is that the customer doesn’t buy your product for its features, or even its benefits. Instead, the customer hires your product to accomplish a specific job in a specific situation.
Let’s take Intercom as an example:
In an interview with Harvard Business School’s Forum for Growth & Innovation, Intercom cofounder Des Traynor says that when Intercom first came to jobs:
“We were using a personas-based approach to segmentation, but it wasn’t working. We had too many “typical users” who had little in common, going by traits like demographics or job titles. Because we didn’t really understand why people were coming to the platform—what they were using it for—we charged a single price for access to the entire platform. As soon as I grasped the distinction between “customers” and “problems people need help with,” a lightbulb went off.”
To shift from thinking about “typical users” – segmented by demographics or job titles – to a jobs-oriented approach, Intercom hired Moesta and his team to run a series of 1-on-1 interviews with two different customer types:
- New customers.
- Customers that recently churned OR showed significant usage changes.
According to Traynor, two things stood out in the customer interviews:
“One, prospective clients who sampled our services were usually flailing. Their growth had flattened, and they were ready to try something new. And two, the words they described our product with were really different from the words we used. People using it to sign up new customers kept using the word “engage,” for example. We used the term “outbound messaging,” which has a very different feel.”
What Traynor describes are shared circumstances – businesses with stagnant growth – and shared VoC in the language their customers used to describe what they’re trying to accomplish – “engage.”
As Moesta and Traynor discovered, Intercom’s users hired Intercom for four distinct jobs:
- To observe – show me who uses my product and what they do with it.
- To engage – convert prospects into active users.
- To learn – give me feedback from our right-fit users.
- To support – fix my customers’ problems.
Intercom used this intel to revamp its services – switching from what Traynor called a “one-size-fits-none service” to distinct services tailored for each job. Then they messaged the Helsinki out of it.
Back in 2016 (at the time of the interview), Intercom increased conversion rates because customers could buy the specific product they need to complete their job. Today, they now have over 30,000 paying customers and valuation to the tune of at least $1.275 billion.
And to this day, Intercom continues to leverage job-centric services:
Would Intercom have achieved those staggering stats without JTBD? Maybe. Maybe not.
So why is JTBD better?
If you’re still on the fence about giving up your traditional buyer personas, consider this:
When we put the customer first in our messaging, we’re able to tap into the reader’s tendency to think of themselves first.
Known as the self-prioritization effect, self-related processing, self-referential processing or the ‘Narcissus Effect,’ what we’re really talking about is the natural tendency for our brain to prioritize processing information that directly relates to the ‘self.’
The self-prioritization effect is widely studied in academia (like here, here and here). For example, consider this study conducted at the University of Aberdeen and University of Plymouth:Using a backward masking procedure, the researchers showed participants objects like these:
The researchers assigned each object ownership, either to the participant or the participant’s best friend. After they assigned several objects, they required the participants to report on the objects they saw. Researchers found:
- Participants classified self-owned items more rapidly.
- Participants classified self-owned items more accurately.
- Participants classified self-owned items more efficiently.
Where do jobs come in?
Writing with jobs forces you to put your customer’s needs, desires, motivations, struggles and circumstances first… before the product.
When you combine customer prioritization with copywriting techniques like The You Rule, your copy is more powerful because it puts the reader in the spotlight – so you can intentionally leverage the self-prioritization effect. Which allows your reader to connect the dots rapidly, accurately and efficiently between their needs and your product.
Your product becomes the obvious “hire” to get the reader towards their desired outcome, which is great for your bottom line.
How can you go from siloed traditional buyer personas to an incredibly useful set of JTBD personas?
At Copyhackers, we call it the Ultimate Message Map, or UMM for short.
The UMM lives inside Airstory and it’s shared across our entire team.
The UMM is a living document that ensures the team is never starting from scratch. It holds VoC, product documentation and, yes, our JTBD personas.
What we’ve found, after close to a year working through iterations of the UMM, is that it makes it easier to reuse work we’ve already done. Which helps us create strategic assets quicker, because we’re not starting from scratch every time we write.
And, yes, we use a variation of the UMM for our agency clients too. Which makes it much easier to transfer knowledge from writer to writer.
Here’s what you need to know before writing with JTBD personas. Plus, how we applied JTBD personas to develop our Copy School sales pages.
There are a couple of key concepts you need to map out if you’re going to write with JTBD personas:
- A primary job, as well as related jobs.
- Desired job outcome(s).
- Success metrics.
- The switch.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these concepts, using the Copy School sales pages as examples:
Primary jobs and related jobs:
The primary job is the #1 thing your customer is trying to accomplish.
There are a 3 types of jobs to consider:
- Functional jobs. These relate to the core task at hand for your customer. As Ulwick states, functional jobs should be stable over time and solution agnostic. For Copy School, the functional job for most of our JTBD-defined personas is learning copywriting.
- Emotional jobs. These relate to the customer’s feelings and attitudes, like feeling more confident about their copy.
- Social jobs. These relate to the perceptions held by those around the customer, like being recognized by your peers as an authority.
To build out your primary job statement you’ll consider functional jobs, emotional jobs and social jobs. In most cases, you’ll start with the functional job, as they’re more often than not the foundation of the job. Still, you shouldn’t discount emotional and social jobs – they’re powerful motivators too.
Let’s consider the headlines for each of our Copy School sales pages:
On our in-house marketer page, we lead with an expression of the unresolved emotional job – feel like they’re not guessing at their work.
On our small business owner page, we lead with the functional job – create effective marketing materials.
And finally, on our freelance copywriter page which, like the in-house marketer page, leads with an expression of the unresolved emotional job – feel like they’re not second-guessing at their work.
In terms of copy on the page, eeeeeeeverything (even beyond the headline) ties back to the specific primary JTBD and related jobs for each persona.
Take the freelancers’ resolved emotional job state – feeling confident in their work. We wove this job into the subhead:
It’s in crossheads:
It’s in testimonials:
It’s in body copy:
It’s in the product introduction:
And, yep, it’s definitely in the close:
Side note: You’ll notice our pages are, in fact, also segmented by title. To be crystal clear, this is not because the title itself is a key aspect of the persona. We did this for Copy School in addition to segmenting by JTBD, because these titles provide clearly defined and drastically different circumstances that allow us to dial into our one reader for the copy on the page. This may or may not be the case for the personas you work on.
Which brings me to…
This is quite simply what’s happening in the customer’s life that’s driving them towards a new solution.
Now, if you’ve been hanging around Copyhackers for a while, you might see how perfectly your thank you page survey results will map into a JTBD framework. A series of JTBD interviews also works wonders in gathering useful circumstantial data – this is exactly what we did for Copy School research. We found it allowed us to dig deeper into each personas’ circumstances. Which is ideal, because, as Christensen et al. point out:
“Circumstances are more important than customer characteristics, product attributes, new technologies, or trends.”
Circumstances are critical in understanding your JTBD personas because they define what the customer is currently experiencing. Circumstances also define the experience they hope to create once they’ve successfully achieved their primary job-to-be-done.
Once you dig into circumstances, you’ll see how closely intertwined they are with desired outcomes. Which brings me to…
Your desired outcome(s) are the end state your customer is trying to achieve. So, consider what a “job well done” looks like. You could also think of this as the “after” state, or the result of a transformation.
Like jobs, desired outcomes are stable over time and solution agnostic. They’re also measurable, and often feed into the customer’s success metrics (which you’ll learn about in just a moment).
With Copy School, we have buyers that hire the product for essentially the same functional job – i.e., learn copywriting / sales – but the desired outcomes are different. For example:
- The small business owner wants to create a consistent revenue stream – this is a functional outcome.
- Whereas the freelance copywriter wants to gain confidence – this is an emotional outcome. They also have a series of consequential outcomes that they see as by-products of increased confidence – make more money, attract better clients and be the envy of their peers.
Let’s return to the Copy School sales pages:
On our small business owner page, the headline closes out with a mention of the desired outcome – a steady stream of sales. Stating this immediately signals to the small business owner that this page is relevant to their desired outcome.
And if you look at the full hero on our freelance copywriter page pictured below, you’ll see a couple different ways we highlight desired outcomes:
- The sticky banner opens up the idea that Copy School is the cure for imposter syndrome. This resonates with the freelancer because imposter syndrome is how they describe their current lack of confidence.
- The eyebrow gently nudges at the idea of the consequential desired outcomes by mentioning the elusive next level.
- The top of the subhead opens up the consequential outcomes available to the freelancer once they reach their primary desired outcome – charge more, attract better clients and be the envy of their peers.
The freelancer provides a solid example for seeing how outcomes can interrelate or form a consequential series. And how your reader might achieve more than one desirable outcome with your product.
It’s this understanding of the freelancer persona that allows us to write copy that speaks to the core jobs and outcomes our reader is prioritizing. Which makes the product feel more relevant to their unique circumstances. Which ultimately makes it easier for our reader to rapidly, accurately and efficiently understand and recall how Copy School relates to them. All of which resulted in strong conversions across the freelancer sales funnel.
Here’s why understanding desired outcomes in the context of JTBD is so critical to effective copy:
If you look only at the Copy School product, you’d probably say we’re selling copywriting training. And this is true. But for the freelance copywriter, we’re selling confidence. In contrast, for the small business owner, we’re selling consistent revenue. This is just one example of how JTBD can change the way you write for specific JTBD personas.
As Christensen et al. explain:
“When we buy a product, we essentially “hire” it to help us do a job. If it does the job well, we’ll hire it again. If it does a crummy job, we “fire” it and look for something else to solve the problem.”
So… how does your customer define successful job completion?
The answers to that question are the success metrics your customer uses to evaluate your product. When you know these success metrics, you can strategically use proof that demonstrates how your product satisfies those success metrics.
For example, for our freelance copywriter, the desired outcome is emotional – gain confidence. This is also part of how they’ll evaluate whether Copy School is doing the job well. Our freelancers will ask themselves “has Copy School increased my confidence?”
But before the freelancer actually evaluates Copy School, they need to believe Copy School can satisfy this success metric. To increase their belief, we present proof on the sales page that the product can increase confidence. Here’s one small sample of what that looks like on the page:
With the freelancer’s success metric in mind, we’re able to plan and provide a powerful body of proof that builds the reader’s belief that Copy School will help them meet or exceed their definition of a “job well done.”
“It’s the struggling moment where they can’t do something that causes them to take the leap.”
That’s your customer’s switch in a nutshell – the moment where the push overrides the status quo and anxieties. In order to tap into the power of the struggling moment, you need to look at all the elements – the push of the now versus the pull of the now, as well as habits of the now and anxieties of the new. I like to map the switch like this, which is from a Solution Design template we use here at Copyhackers:
Another advantage to understanding the push and pull – and knowing which force is stronger:
Knowing the strongest force helps you spot the best-fit frame for your copy. Or, at the very least, an ideal hero.
For example, our data suggests that the small business owner is particularly motivated by the pull of the new. With that in mind, the sales page hero opens with a forward-looking “what if” hook that focuses on the pulls of the new:
On the other hand, the in-house marketer seems to be more motivated by pushes of the now. With that in mind, the sales page hero opens with a problem-focused headline that embodies the push:
For the in-house marketer, we also found strong anxieties and habits surrounding the boss. So we created a solution for the marketer’s anxiety on the page. And the solution – a boss buy-in pack – overcomes the boss’s own habits:
Bottom line: When you know what propels and repels the customer in the switch, it’s easier to plan copy and messaging that highlights the most relevant aspects of your product. And overcomes your reader’s anxieties.
So… will you swap your dusty buyer personas for JTBD personas?
As The Jobs To Be Done Playbook author, Jim Kalbach, says “JTBD is not a single method: it’s a lens, a way of seeing” and a more “human-centered way of viewing the people you serve.”
Once you use the JTBD lens, it’s hard to go back.
But, as Christensen, Cook and Hall put it:
“The rub is that when a company communicates the job a branded product was designed to do perfectly, it is also communicating what jobs the product should not be hired to do.”
Writing copy with jobs in mind requires focus. And it requires bravery to maintain that focus.
Unlike lazier messaging techniques, using JTBD forces you to explicitly define what your product is – and isn’t – for. No fence-sitters allowed. You must choose which job (or jobs) are most important to your market, and then you’ve gotta message the h-e-double-hockey-sticks outta ’em.
Here’s my challenge to you, dear reader:
I challenge you to gaze through the JTBD lens on your next project. Listen closely to what your users are hiring your product for – spanning across functional, emotional and social jobs realm – and then document how you might use that intel to craft totally dialled in, winning copy.
You might just surprise yourself with the results.