I just stumbled across this video of a talk from Clayton M. Christensen (he of ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma‘ fame) highlighting the important difference between a product’s function and its ‘job’.
The premise is that, when consumers are faced with a need, they essentially “hire” a product to do that job, and that this job can be wildly different from what the seller thinks it is. This thinking is summed up nicely by the Peter Drucker quote “The customer rarely buys what the company thinks it is selling them“, but Christensen goes on to elaborate in more detail:
The jobs-to-be-done point of view causes you to crawl into the skin of your customer and go with her as she goes about her day, always asking the question as she does something: why did she do it that way?
The fact that you’re 18 to 35 years old with a college degree does not cause you to buy a product. It may be correlated with the decision, but it doesn’t cause it. We developed this idea because we wanted to understand what causes us to buy a product, not what’s correlated with it. We realized that the causal mechanism behind a purchase is, ‘Oh, I’ve got a job to be done.’
Check out this article from the Harvard Business School or the video below for a more detailed take on this line of thinking.