Keep Your Audience Top of Mind With the Simple Jobs-To-Be-Done Formula

Content marketing is not about your brand; it’s about your brand’s target audience.

I know, I know, every single content marketer should know this by now. But how many times have you really implemented that concept?

Enter the jobs theory, also known as the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) framework.

JTBD theory specifies a consumer’s “job” – what that individual tries to achieve in a certain situation. Consumers complete the job by “hiring” products or services.

Primarily used for innovation in product development and marketing, JTBD can be applied to content marketing, too. Just substitute “audience member” for “consumer.”

I’ll look at ways to expand your thinking processes to whip content marketing into jobs-to-be-done shape. I also share examples from well-known companies to help you better understand the concept of JTBD for content marketing.

How to think the JTBD way

The secret sauce to incorporating the jobs-to-be-done framework in your content marketing strategy is to figure out these three things:

  • Your customer’s situation (when)
  • Your customer’s pain point (what)
  • Your customer’s desired outcome from finding a solution to that pain point (why)

The when, what, and why combine to form the how – how can your audience member get their problem solved? To put it in a JTBD way, how can your audience member get their job done?

With each content asset, fill in the blanks in this formula to describe the job:

When I (audience member)  ______________, I want to ______________________, so I can __________________.

Jobs-to-be-done formula for #content: Address your audience’s situation, detail the pain point, then describe their desired outcome, says Debamrita Ghosh of @AssetIntel_ via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Years ago, Harvard professor Clayton Christensen did a marketing strategy case study on milkshake sales. A fast-food restaurant chain asked Clayton’s fellow researcher to help improve milkshake sales.

The researcher spent a day at one of the restaurants. He carefully noted who bought milkshakes, when they bought them, and where they proposed to drink them.

He found commuters bought 40% of the milkshakes first thing in the morning. They always left with the milkshake rather than dining in the restaurant. It turned out these customers faced a long, boring commute and wanted to spice up their journey somehow.

So why did these consumers “hire” a milkshake to accomplish that?

Well, sipping a thick liquid through a thin straw gave them something to do during their commute. It was better than gobbling up a banana in a few minutes or eating a donut and dusting the crumbs off their clothes.

Let’s fill in the blanks with this example:

When I commute to work, I want something tidy that quenches my appetite and lasts through the long commute, so I can keep myself from getting bored.

Now the restaurant chain understood the job of a milkshake. They made them thicker, so they lasted longer in the commute and added fruit chunks to make it more interesting.

While you don’t make milkshakes, you do make content. Using the JTBD framework for content marketing can be as simple as asking, “What does the audience want to be able to do their ‘job?’” To be more precise, “What kind of content does the audience want to consume to accomplish their ‘job’?”

How to apply JTBD to content formats

Let’s walk through the jobs-to-be-done framework for some common content marketing formats – blogs, podcasts, videos, and checklists.

Blogs

NerdWallet, a finance company, fills its blog with tips and guides on personal finance topics, such as banking, retirement, credit cards, mortgages, and the like, as well as small business finance.

Take their article, 4 Ways To Tame Financial Stress and Save for Retirement. The self-explanatory headline spells out the post’s JTBD formula:

When I haven’t been able to organize my finances, I want to look for simple ways to plan for my retirement, so I can feel better and move toward my future confidently.

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Podcasts

Expedia’s travel podcast Out Travel the System connects with their target audience when they aren’t traveling. A week before the Fourth of July holiday in 2021, Expedia produced a mini-episode, Tips and Tricks for Smooth July 4th Travels. The four-minute, information-packed snapshot highlighted when and where people could head out to celebrate the holiday.

So, the JTBD formula for this episode might be:

When I am planning a Fourth of July getaway, I want to find the best times to visit the best places, so I can avoid traffic as much as possible.

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Videos

Being the world’s largest beauty company, L’Oréal shelters over 36 brands and 80,000 employees worldwide. On its careers page, you’re likely to find over 1,000 open positions. You can imagine how many applications they screen every year.

To make it easier for candidates, L’Oréal publishes how-to videos that explain how applicants can get through their interviews, pep up their resumes, bag an internship, and so on.

One video gives 10 tips to ace their job interview at L’Oréal:

What would the JTBD framework for all these videos be for candidates seeking to work at L’Oréal?

When I have an upcoming interview at L’Oréal, I want to learn how to make an overall good impression, so I can get hired by L’Oréal.

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Checklists

Planning a wedding isn’t easy. Finalizing the guest list, fixing a theme, setting a budget, and knowing what else to put on the to-do list can leave anyone at their wits’ end. Vogue solved this by publishing The Ultimate Month-to-Month Wedding Planning Checklist.

They knew people getting married wanted to know what they should be doing and when. But they likely didn’t do the JTBD framework because then they might have noticed they missed the filling in the “I want …” and “so I can” blanks.

Use the jobs-to-be-done formula to ensure your content asset really helps your audience, says Debamrita Ghosh of @AssetIntel_ via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Here’s how I think the JTBD formula should have been completed to be more helpful to those getting married:

When I am planning my wedding, I want a checklist that can be easily downloaded and/or printed, so I can check off the items as they’re done to relieve my stress.

Social Tables, a free event planning and diagramming software company, fulfilled this JTBD by publishing a printable, detailed wedding planning checklist with boxes just waiting to be checked off.

Align content marketing to the JTBD framework for success

Using the JTBD framework ensures you always think about your audience and what they want to “hire” to solve their challenges. But how do you know the “jobs” your target audience wants to get done?

First, think of your product offering as a person. Let’s say you sell luxury watches. Ask the watch, “What do you have to offer?” or “What are the benefits I might get from using you?”

Then, answer those questions. Here’s how Scandinavian watchmaker Nordgreen might answer for its luxury watch called The Native:

  • My dial can help you keep time (which is obvious).
  • My sleek design can help you invest in your style and personality.
  • My interchangeable straps let you wear anything you want.
  • My overall design and value make me a great heirloom.

Next, ask your audience members what jobs they might want to accomplish with what you sell. Nordgreen might hear, “I want a luxury watch that:

  • Helps me keep time but not on a smartphone.
  • Matches my silent but sophisticated personality.
  • Goes with whatever clothes I wear.”

Now, if the answers from the watch and your audience match, you’re on the right track. Zero in on the elements stressed the most. Nordgreen published content to help their audience “hire” (read/view) What Your Watch Says About You to fulfill the personality job, and this beauty shot of the watch in Instagram post for customized looks to address the clothing versatility job.

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Adapt a jobs-to-be-done framework

As a content marketer, the trick is to pin down the jobs your audience members will hire your content to do. The jobs-to-be-done formula helps marketers create content that resonates with the audience because it fulfills your needs. If you continue doing that, it won’t be long before they hire your products or services, too.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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