Know the Job Your Product Was Hired for (with Help from Customer Selfies)

17 June, 2016 / Articles
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In what world is a Snickers bar competing with a kale salad?

When a healthy fast food chain recently asked customers to share selfies of them posing with healthy, on-the-go snacks, it received some unexpected pictures – including ones of customers holding Snickers bars. “We focus on organics and cool new macronutrients, and our consumers are into quinoa and kale and bean sprouts,” Alex Blair, who owns four franchises of Freshii, a Toronto-based chain of healthy fast-food outlets, told the New York Times. “But some of these photos were so far from that wavelength, it’s really helping us kind of realign with the mass market.”

True customer insights – the kind that can drive breakthrough innovations — come from these kinds of surprising individual stories. Classic market research would tell us that most of us aspire to make healthier eating choices – but the subtleties of when and why we actually do (or don’t) tell a far more important story to marketers. A Snickers bar might be a perfectly acceptable (even preferable) alternative to a kale salad when you’re running through the airport trying to catch your plane. Or you’re about to jump into a game of pickup basketball and your stomach is growling. Those kinds of use cases can even frustrate sophisticated data-mining techniques.

Over the past two decades, we’ve watched great companies fail time and again with innovation – and waste billions on go-nowhere R&D efforts — because they’re focusing on the wrong things. Rather than looking at specific customer use-cases, they chase the false sense of security offered sophisticated algorithms or market surveys, or they focus on technical improvements rather than customer needs.

Yet customers make the choices they make to bring a product or service into their lives not because they’re dying to purchase something, but because they have what we call a “Job to Be Done” that arises in their lives. They’re struggling to make progress with something – in particular circumstances.

Jobs to Be Done are, like customer stories, complex, and nuanced. To create products and services that customers want to pull into their lives, you have to identify not only the functional, but also the social and emotional dimensions of the progress your customers are trying to make. This means both drilling deep and looking wide; even the most experienced innovators can miss rich opportunities that are buried in the context of understanding a job if their focus is too narrow.

Great customer insights reveal the unexpected. Though it’s a nascent practice, the use of customer selfies is an attempt to get at the real “job” customers are hiring products to do. The idea is that selfies provide clues that bridge the gap between what customers say and what they actually do. Customers might unknowingly reveal something authentic and true about themselves through the simplicity of the choices they make in a selfie – and even provide insight into how they perceive the product and its potential competitors.

Of course, a selfie is far from a candid ethnographic moment. It’s a specific picture, with a specific composition, that the subject has chosen not only to take, but to share. By its very nature, it depicts how that person wants to be seen by others. But that, too, can provide valuable clues for piecing together a full picture of a customer’s Job to be Done. Both business strategies and academic theories are built – and made stronger – by our ability to recognize things that we cannot yet explain.

Many of these surprising or even anomalous use-cases can serve as a useful wake-up call — to an overlooked opportunity or a flawed assumption. When a consumer shows us an image of how they might hire kale in one circumstance and Snickers in another, it challenges us to think differently about how our products help customers make the progress they seek – not just what we expect them to seek — in their lives.

The science man and innovator, Fernando Fischmann, founder of Crystal Lagoons, recommends this article.

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