Charlotte Rush13 September 2017

Innovation Opportunities: Why all of the focus groups in the world will never cut it

I work in the business of light bulb moments. As an Inventiologist at Inventium, I have the privilege of educating professionals about the theories and scientific principles that underlie best-practice innovation. One of my favourite parts of this role is seeing those big, light bulb ‘Aha!’ moments that occur when working with our clients.


For those of you who have attended our Customer Driven Innovation program, one of your earliest light bulb moments was probably experienced when learning about Clayton Christensen’s Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) theory.


For those of you who are not aware, JTBD theory states that instead of buying products or services, customers actually hire products or services to do specific jobs for them. If your product or service is the very best thing at getting a job done, a customer will hire it. But only as long as it remains the best thing at getting that job done. If something else comes along that achieves the job more effectively, customers will hire that thing instead. So organisations need to understand what ‘jobs’ customers have to get done in given circumstances.


This seminal theory allows businesses to uncover the biggest opportunities for innovation by truly understanding what motivates their customers to purchase or use a product. This is in contrast to conventional wisdom and practice that has many large organisations investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into traditional market research as the primary method for uncovering innovation opportunities.


Unfortunately, traditional market research does not actually delve deep enough to uncover customers’ jobs to be done. Here are the key reasons why:


Customers are categorised by demographic and psychographic variables

Traditional customer research involves ‘understanding’ customers by segmenting them according to demographics and psychographics.  However, none of these factors are going to predict customer behaviours. My age, SES, interests and values may be related to my purchasing decisions, but they do not actually lead to me purchasing a coffee before work each morning. JTBD theory helps us to understand what drives customers to purchase or not purchase a product by examining the various outcomes, or ‘jobs’ that they are trying to achieve (which may be functional, social or emotional).


Correlations do not indicate a causal relationship

Traditional marketers will take this information that they have gathered about their customers and condense that into correlations – for example, 60% of customers prefer full-fat milk, 80% of customers have a coffee after eating breakfast. Whilst these correlations look nice, they only inform us about a relationship between two variables and not necessarily a causation. In contrast, an appreciation of your customers JTBD will help you to make informed decisions about how to get your customers to ‘hire’ your product, and then re-hire it time and time again.


Unconscious biases limit the validity of research

When conducting traditional customer research, researchers have a tendency to search for, and interpret information, in a way that confirms pre-existing beliefs. For example, making the assumption that price is important to your customers’ purchasing decision and therefore asking “Is price important in your decision to purchase a coffee?”, to which the customer will invariably reply “Yes!”. This is known as the Confirmation Bias. This, and a range of other cognitive biases, inhibit our ability to conduct truly exploratory research. Applying JTBD theory requires taking a best-practice approach towards exploratory research. This means asking your customers open-ended and non-leading questions, but also observing them and developing empathy for their experience by experiencing it yourself. This approach allows you to truly understand how your product fits into their life and the full gamut of jobs that any one product could be doing for them.


Want to become a better innovator?

We’ve created a report that explains the six innovation mistakes almost every organisation makes.

Avoid those mistakes by reading this!