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Putting Stories to Work Using the Jobs to Be Done Methodology

"Know Your Audience" (Part 2 of 3): Explore strategies that help raise the bar for meaningful, mission-driven external communications

As expert communicators, what steps are you taking to understand who is on the receiving end of your content? Who is your audience? What do they care about? What challenges are they facing? How can you tailor what you are creating in a way that is both useful and resonant to them. How do you move from talking at your audiences to talking to your audiences?

In this second installment of our “Know Your Audience” series, we lay out the second of 3 strategies for understanding who you’re talking to and how to design your communications with them in mind.

02

Jobs to be done is a wonky term for a really powerful methodology that has origins in innovation practices pioneered by Clay Christensen. The core idea is as follows: users “hire” products to do a “job” for them.

A “job” is shorthand for what an individual seeks to accomplish in a given circumstance. When I go to a store to buy a raincoat, I’m not just buying the raincoat, I am in fact buying protection from the rain. Every time it rains, I will “hire” the raincoat from my closet to protect me from the elements and keep me dry. This framework is a subtle but compelling shift, nudging us to think less about what we’re making and more about why we’re making it.

What would jobs to be done look like if we translated it into the world of nonprofit communications?

Audiences hire stories to do a job for them.

No different from concrete things or products people can buy in a store, every story or communications piece you put out into the world should be crafted to accomplish a specific job for your audience. What “job” does the content I’m creating accomplish for my audience?

Let’s say you were working on a fundraising campaign. Your goals might be as follows:

  • Build a website to house the campaign
  • Tell the story of the cause and lay out the need
  • Raise money

As a result, you might conclude that you need the following to achieve your goals:

  • Slick, interactive microsite
  • Compelling, easy-to-understand data points or infographics
  • Frictionless online donation experience

What if you were to run the same campaign through the lens of the jobs to be done framework?

Start with a specific target audience, that hopefully you clarified through the influence vs. impact matrix in part 1 of our ‘Know Your Audience’ series. In this case, you may have determined she is an early-30s professional who is already passionate about your campaign issue and primed to take action. Let’s call her Renee.

What would Renee “hire” this campaign to do for her?

  • Influence: show off to her social circle
  • Persuasion: convince her friends to care about the issue
  • Personal growth: continue to learn and gain knowledge about the issue

When looked at from this angle, these “jobs” crack open a whole new way of thinking of your fundraising campaign. Each job is a provocation to you as the creation. How might you craft this campaign in order to enable Renee’s desire to grow her influence, persuade her friends, and contribute to her personal growth? Your campaign immediately takes on a different flavor:

  • Social media badges to demonstrate to the world that she donated (fulfilling job #1)
  • A “donate-and-tag-5-friends” feature to gently pressure peers to get involved (fulfilling job #2)
  • Email sign-up and drip campaign to direct Renee to additional reading materials and resources that satiate her curiosity (fulfilling job #3)

The ideas generated without jobs to be done do not represent bad thinking. The microsite, infographics, donation experience are all necessary pieces. But they fall short of raising the bar. They are simply basic requirements for a decent online campaign experience. Table stakes.

The ideas generated with jobs to be done are concrete, specific, and dare we say, innovative! Jobs to be done help you go beyond the basics and start brainstorming tools, features, and content to get your audience what it needs.

Jobs to be done are helpful because they can help you:

  • Home in on the right problem to solve for your audiences
  • Generate strategic and innovative ideas for features, tools, messages, etc.
  • Create content that is valuable and useful to your audiences’ specific needs
  • Stretch beyond the basics of “good” communications and storytelling

Don’t be fooled by the apparent simplicity of jobs to be done. As humans, we are always juggling practical, personal, and social desires. The jobs to be done framework can expand to meet this complexity head on, helping creators of all stripes to innovate for the complex human beings we all are.

In Part 3 (coming soon) of our “Know Your Audience” series, you’ll learn about how to create proto-personas.

Learn more

If you’re interested in diving deeper into jobs to be done, check out the following articles and resources:

Know Your Customers’ Jobs to be Done by Clay Christensen (pioneer of this

framework) for Harvard Business Review

Innovating with Jobs to be Done, a great story-based intro to the concept

What is Jobs to be Done?, a thorough overview of what it is and isn’t

Slideshare on Jobs to be Done

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