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A Marketer’s Formula

Marketing requires creativity. It takes getting inside the minds of consumers, and figuring out their wants, needs and motivations. It is an inherently qualitative and imaginative process, more of an art than a science. While the best marketers are able to consistently re-create their successes, 95% of new consumer products still fail. This high rate of failure could be due to a variety of factors. Perhaps some people are just better marketers, or perhaps the most widely used method of bringing a product to market is not necessarily the most effective.

Professor Clayton Christensen suggests in yesterday’s Harvard Business Review that there is indeed a better way. He points out that although people buy products to meet a certain need (what he calls “jobs-to-be-done”), the most common method of designing a product is to segment the market based on attributes, then position the product according to the needs of that segment.

Using a milkshake purchase as the lens for designing a product, Professor Christensen breaks down the “jobs-to-be-done” that buying a milkshake fulfills. Each reason for buying a milkshake inherently segments the consumer base by shared needs, so designing a product for this new target will maximize the target’s utility. Using “correlated” attributes like demographics as a basis for segmentation avoids the root motivations for buying, and only positions the product to a portion of the target segment.

One of the interesting takeaways from this article is that innovations can occur by challenging assumptions. Just because something is widely used, doesn’t mean it is automatically correct. There is no definite formula for qualitative processes like bringing a product to market, yet by asking “why”, it is possible to uncover opportunities for process improvement and innovation.


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