When Advertising IS the Product

Advertising is the first feature customers use to solve their problems. 

On the bus to my 5th grade daughter’s field trip, I sat next to a mom who constantly checked her phone. As we chatted, she told me about a call she received from the school nurse a few weeks earlier telling her that her son, Evan, had fainted. A few days later, he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. 

On the bus that day, she was watching an app on her phone that works with an insulin pump to provide a visualization of her son’s blood sugar level over time. Being able to monitor his health in that way made her life better. It helped her enjoy being on the field trip rather than being stressed out by it. 

But it started making their lives better weeks before they bought it. Their story may be helpful as you think about how and when you start creating value for your customers.

A System of Progress

I think you will find the System of Progress concept helpful for understanding (and helping others you work with understand) how your customers are trying to make their lives better. 

Realizing the Struggle

When Evan’s mom first learned about his diagnosis, she and her husband spent several days talking to doctors, reading websites and using their imaginations to to shape their understanding of how their family’s life would be impacted by it. They also began to envision how their lives might improve once they have a solution in place to deal with their challenges.

Here are a few types of struggles she mentioned to me on the bus:

Food: How would they convince Evan to change his diet? What if he hated the food? Would he resist temptation to eat certain foods while he was at school lunch or a sleepover? 

Blood Sugar: It’s a life threatening situation if his sugar gets too high or low. Also, he’s about to enter adolescence where growth spurts make it difficlt to keep blood sugar levels in the right range. How could they watch out for his safety while he was at school or friend’s house? Should they home school? Should they get a nanny? Private school?

Medication: Would he have to take insulin injections? How would that work? Would he resist using a needle? How would they manage the situation if he did resist? 

Personal Needs: The stress of caring for their son and the emotional struggle of his disease impacted their relationship and careers. Should they get counseling? School hours were a huge struggle for both of them — they would find themselves distracted wondering if there was any news and struggled to focus on work, pay attention during meetings.  

Searching for a Solution

As customers realize and make sense of their struggle, they begin looking for a solution. As they evaluate solutions, they begin using the product in their mind, imagining how it fits in to their lives. 

Though Evan’s parents eventually bought an insulin pump, their search didn’t begin there. Their time was spent finding a way to deal with their problems: Kid friendly diets, whether or not the entire famly should change their diet, medication options, home schooling options, talking to their financial planner about whether or not one of them could quit their job, pricing nannys, exploring counseling for themselves and for Evan. 

Their lives improved when they came across an ad for the insulin pump they eventually bought. The ad opened their eyes to a solution that would solve many of their problems. 

The day they saw that ad — weeks before they bought the product, attached it to Evan and monitored his blood sugar level while at the office — is when they started using and getting value from the product.

The North Star of an Enduring Business


Jobs to be Done is a set of principles that help us model customer motivation and predict what they will do in the future. In this episode, we talk about one of the principles of JTBD: Solutions come and go, but Jobs largely stay the same. 

  • The more abstractly a job is defined, the more it will stand the test of time. The job “I want help becoming a better salesperson” will probably be around as long as commerce exists. The more granular the job, the easier it is to define a solution, but the more prone the job is to 
  • It’s critical to understand that a JTBD describes a market, not an individual. An individual customer’s JTBD may come and go, but a market JTBD is stable. 
  • Solving a well defined job will help you survive creative destruction and give you a north star to guide marketing and product efforts.


Following is a lightly edited transcript of The North Star of an Enduring Business.

Solutions Come and Go, But Jobs Stay the Same

Eric White: There’s a principle of JTBD you cite in the book that says: “Solutions come and go, but Jobs largely stay the same.” Can you talk a bit about what you mean by “Jobs largely stay the same”?

Alan Klement: First off, we have to think about how abstract we get with our jobs. A very abstract JTBD might be “I want help becoming a better salesperson.” That JTBD has existed as long as capitalism and commerce have existed -- as long as people have wanted to sell things, they've wanted to become better at selling those things. 

But suppose I want to get more granular with that and define the Job as “Help me become better at managing a sales team, so I can generate more revenue for my business”. That JTBD hasn’t been as long lasting as “Help me become better as a sales person.”. You can imagine a thousand years ago, someone wanting to become better at selling the goods I sell. 

Eric White: Right, the main intention of JTBD is to explain what the customer feels like they need to do to make their lives better. Zooming out reveals a more timeless struggle, but it’s vague, while zooming in is a little more granular and actionable, but also a lot more prone to modernization. 

But the solutions we choose to help us get our jobs done come and go and vary depending on our situation. If I want to be better at sales and it’s a thousand years ago or I’m just starting out, I may find a friend who can help me and teach me, but as time goes on maybe I go to school or buy a book or take an online course or buy software to help me keep track of what I’m doing and have a better idea of what I need to do next. 

Alan Klement: But all these solutions are still pointing toward that really high level job which is “Help me become a better salesperson.”

Jobs Are About Markets, Not Individuals

Eric White: In a previous episode we talked about a guy named Andreas. He was struggling to generate sales for his business. Eventually his JTBD went away completely because he sold his company. 

Someone commented on the article and asked a great question about whether or not Andreas’ experience contradicted this principle that Jobs really don’t change very much. So I wanted to point out that it’s really important to understand that JTBD is not about an individual. JTBD is about a market opportunity. We may find that Andreas and other people who share his struggle have a JTBD that come and go depending on their situation. But if there’s a market with that struggle today, it’s a pretty good bet there’s a market of people with that struggle tomorrow and a couple of years from now. 

Built to Last

Eric White: This principle is helpful, but we need to ask: “How does it help me make progress as a businessperson?”

Alan Klement: Of course, great question! We should always make things practical and avoid living in theory land. 

This principle helps us understand how we can build long lasting businesses that survive creative destruction. Revlon is a great example. Charles Revson understood that Revlon is not in the business of selling cosmetics, they’re in the business of selling hope. 

John Palmer did something great with Hallmark. John Palmer is the grandfather of JTBD. When he was working at Hallmark in the 80’s, he helped them understand their business is not to create greeting cards, they’re in the business of helping people improve their social relationships with other people. That’s important for Hallmark, because you can’t make the same greeting card twice. You have to constantly innovate new types of greetings cards or keep innovating on top of the cards you’re making today. 

Evolutionary Change

Eric White: That’s the first one. What’s the second point?

Alan Klement: The other part, and this is what we’re doing with JTBD when we’re doing our research when we’re trying to apply the theory to innovation, we’re trying to build what I call a vector of progress. The whole idea is that we have to create an appropriate model of customer motivation that helps us predict what customers will buy in the future.

This thinking helps us understand what kind of data we need to gather, but also how we should model those data. Once we model those data, we can then figure out how to change the systems customers belong to. Not only that, but  we need a model that helps us change those systems in an evolutionary way. What I mean by that, is that if you don’t think in this evolutionary way, you can get too far ahead of your customers. This is what we call “out innovating” or building products that are ahead of their time. 

For example, if I went back in time 20 years ago and showed you an iPhone, you might think it was neat, but I doubt you’d be in love with it. That’s because if you think back to what the world was like 20 years ago, or in Jobs language, what the system customers interacted with 20 years ago, the iPhone wouldn’t fit. People weren’t really using the internet all that much, the internet was a playground. There was no app store, no facebook, no instagram, no Twitter, there was no Amazon prime. Even MP3 players were rare. I had one and it was a curiosity, but I think most of my use was actually on my CD player. 

So, for me, that’s why this principle is actually one of the most important parts of Jobs theory. If we can’t model behavior, then we’re leaving our businesses and innovation up to chance.

When Does a JTBD Start (and End)?

Key Takeaways

When does a consumer have Job to be Done, a Job they are getting Done, or no Job at all? Recognize the difference and you will understand why customers buy, use, and stop using your product. 

  • A customer’s Job to be Done starts when there is a mismatch between how their life is now, and how they want it to be. All they need is to find the right solution to get them from the former, to the latter.
  • A Job is getting Done when a customer finds that solution, and resolves that mismatch.
  • The difference between a customer who leaves because you failed to deliver them progress, and a customer who leaves because they no longer want help making progress.

Episode Transcript

Following is a lightly edited transcript of When Does a Job to be Done Start (and end)?

Alan Klement: A recent churn interview we did brought up some interesting questions about when a JTBD starts, when does someone stop having a JTBD, and when is a Job getting done? In our case, we were doing this interview with an entrepreneur names Andreas. When he first launched his business, he was just using Google Sheets, Google Docs and email to manage his team. He wasn’t completely happy with it, but it was good enough.

That all changed when a friend of his introduced him to Basecamp. Seeing Basecamp in action really opened his eyes. Up until this point, he had assumed that people in a business like his just used Google Docs and email. But when his friend showed him this new way of doing things, he was so excited that he signed up for an account on the train ride home.

So Eric, with that conversation in mind, do you think he had a Job to be Done when he was using email and Google Sheets?

Eric White: I don’t think he had a Job to be Done at that point. I think the better way of describing it would be that he was getting the Job Done. I recall from the interview that he had some dissatisfaction because he was losing track of things, his team wasn’t very good about keeping it up to date. So there was some push and desire for a new product, but it seems to me like he was getting the Job Done. How about you?

Alan Klement: I see it the same way, but I question if he wondered about whether or not there was a better product out there for him. I think the interesting thing we learned in that conversation is he how he just accepted things as they were — you just use Google Sheets and email to manage your company. I don’t agree that he thought there might be a better product out there. In fact, I would say he didn’t think there was anything better out there for him.

Eric White: We agree he was getting the Job Done during that phase. When would you say he had a Job to be Done?

Alan Klement: I would say the Job to be Done started when his friend showed him Basecamp. That was the moment when he was presented with a new way of doing things. And this is so crucial to understand about Jobs to be Done. It’s called Jobs to be Done for a reason. “To be Done” means there is something in the future that I want to “get Done”. I’m struggling right now and I’m hoping in the future that it will be Done. That’s why we have that particular wording. How it relates to Andreas is that he had a Job and he was getting it Done with Sheets. But it turned into a Job to be Done when his friend showed him a new way that was so much better than how he was doing things prior to that moment.

Eric White: It’s almost like that’s when he posted a Job opening in his mind. He had some problems and didn’t think much about them. But as soon as a better way was presented to him, he pursued it. He had enough social proof from his friend’s recommendation that he didn’t try other products. He had a Job to be Done during that brief period of time where he thought there was a better way.

Alan Klement: The other question that we have is, when did he stop having either a Job getting Done or a Job to be Done?

Eric White: He had been so successful in running his business that he was able to sell it. His struggle to manage himself and his team completely went away once his business was acquired. Do you see it the same way?

Alan Klement: Yes. I would that’s when the Job just went away. It was no longer there and he had no more desire to make progress. And that’s important for people out there to be aware of. There are times when people will churn from your product and it has nothing to do with your product not satisfying them or not delivering progress. It could be that you helped them make the progress they wanted, they graduated and, now they are onto something bigger and better.

Is a Job to be Done About Functionality?

Key takeaways

Sometimes a Job to be Done is described as functional, a task or activity. Does that thinking help you or limit your creativity?

  • Focus on why customers want your product (the emotional motivation). This helps you understand and describe their JTBD.

  • Focusing on what the product does or what customers do with it can distract you.

  • Knowing your customers’ JTBD helps you create advertising that speaks directly to your customer’s struggle for progress.

  • What did the founder of Clarity.fm learn about his customer’s Job to be Done?

  • You can’t create a breakthrough innovation by studying how customers solve their problems today.

  • How does Charles Revson (founder of Revlon) describes his customers’ JTBD?

Episode Transcript

Following is a lightly edited transcript of this episode of Jobs to be Done in 5.

Eric White: The first time you and I talked about JTBD, you urged me to get away from thinking about functionality when describing a Job to be Done.

I didn’t get your point at first but over time I noticed with my clients that when we started talking about functional jobs our conversation veered towards describing the product and what it does rather than why customers were buying and using it.

You’ve remained adamant that Jobs shouldn’t describe tasks or activities, why is that?

Alan Klement: Tasks and activities just describe solutions for Jobs. They don’t describe the Job itself. We want to focus on why customers use a product, not how they use it.

Eric: Can you offer an example?

Alan: One example is the Clarity case study from my book.

If you were to describe Clarity as an activity, then it would just be a “talk to an expert” service. That describes what Clarity does and how people it.

However, that description don’t tell you why people use Clarity. It doesn’t tell you what customers are struggling with and that picture in their mind how their life will improve when they use a product like Clarity. And that picture in their mind is the progress customers are hoping to make.

Eric: What progress are customers trying to make when they use Clarity?

Alan: When I interviewed Dan Martell about Clarity — Dan is the founder of of Clarity — he told me what Job customers were hiring Clarity for. He described how his customers would start off in an innovation or entrepreneurial slump. And these customers figured that if they could get advice from someone whom they respected, then they could get out of the slump.

Eric: He said that his customers didn’t want to have some random person tell them ‘go get 10 sales tomorrow’. They wanted Mark Cuban to tell them ‘go get 10 sales tomorrow’. So, the JTBD was something like… help me get through an entrepreneurial slump, with inspirational advice from someone I respect.

Alan: I would say so.

Eric: Potential customers had a lot of ways they could get advice from someone they respected. They could try to connect with that person on LinkedIN or go to a conference where they were speaking.

Dan also found anxieties that held people back from using Clarity to get their Job Done. Entrepreneurs were looking for help to get out of a slump, but what if that person was a jerk or couldn’t answer their questions? What should they do to prepare? They wondered if the call would be recorded so they could take notes later.

Once Dan’s team understood these anxieties, the solved they problem by setting expectations about the call with both the entrepreneur and expert. After the call was booked, they sent prep questions and guidelines so everyone would know what a great call looks like.

Have you seen examples of companies using jobs insight to market and innovate?

Alan: One of my favorite quotes, which is also a great quote about a JTBD, comes from Charles Revson — who founded Revlon. He said, “in the factories we make cosmetics; in the drug stores we sell hope”. And for the last 100 years or so, that insight has directed Revlon’s marketing and innovation efforts.

Revlon’s Fire and Ice campaign. The ads were accompanied with a questionnaire meant to intrigue customers. There’s no mention of how the product works or it’s functionality.

  Revlon’s Fire and Ice campaign. The ads were accompanied with a questionnaire meant to intrigue customers. There’s no mention of how the product works or it’s functionality.

Revlon’s Fire and Ice campaign. The ads were accompanied with a questionnaire meant to intrigue customers. There’s no mention of how the product works or it’s functionality.

“In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope.”
— Charles Revson, founder of Revlon

For example, one of Revlon’s most successful marketing campaign was called Fire and Ice. The goal of that campaign was to communicate that with Revlon’s products, any woman could be just as glamorous as any famous actress. That’s an example of the “hope” Revlon is selling.

When it comes to innovation, if all you’re doing is focusing on functionality, tasks, and activities, then the most you can do is improve existing solutions. And if you want to do that, that’s perfectly fine.

But if you want breakthrough innovations, then you have to break away from that type of thinking. In fact, breakthrough innovations are often about eliminating or inventing new functionality, tasks and activities, not when you design for existing ones.

How To Describe a Job to be Done

Here is a great format for describing a Job to be Done:

[ The pain point or aspiration the customer faces ]
[ How they imagine their life being better when they have a solution to help them with that pain point]

Here is an example using this format to describe why customers buy Honest.com products: 

Free me from the difficult choices I have to make as I try to figure out what products won’t harm my newborn, so I can enjoy parenthood rather than being stressed out by it.

This sentence is concrete enough to show both the customer's struggle (the job) and how the she envisions her life being better when she has a solution to help her with that struggle (the job is done). 

Furthermore, the description is abstract enough that customers can choose a variety of solutions for help getting this job done: 

  • Calling Mom 
  • Ask friends for advice on Facebook
  • Search Google for advice

A well defined Job to be Done helps you focus on what's important about your customer's struggle. The insight will help your marketing team build ad campaigns with huge conversation rates, your product team will undersand what features to enhance and which to kill, your innovation team will be able to find dramatically better ways to help customers get their jobs done

Motile helps teams understand, describe and use JTBD insights. 

For more, see our JTBDin5 podcast episode on this topic.