Clayton Christensen is someone I greatly admire.  He is the expert on disruptive innovation.  His expertise on this topic was first outlined in his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma.  He is currently a Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and founder of Innosight Institute, a non-profit think tank. 

I sat down with Christensen recently to chat about two of his books, Disrupting Class and The Innovator’s Prescription, as well as his current research.  A topic we discussed at length is his analysis of marketing—and why most businesses get it wrong.

According to Christensen, “The basic idea that marketing is wrong at its core is one of the main reasons why innovation seems blocked and unpredictable.”

So, what is the impetus that causes consumers to buy a certain product?  Simple: consumers buy products to complete jobs that need to be accomplished.

“We all have jobs in our lives that we must get done. We reach out and bring products into our lives to get these jobs done,” said Christensen. “Marketing is all about asking, ‘What job is the customer trying to accomplish?’” 

By shifting the focus to the job that needs to be completed, a product’s life cycle becomes insignificant. “Most marketers think there’s a concept called a product life cycle. Once you realize that the world is organized by jobs that need to be done, you understand that product life cycles don’t exist.”

So what’s so innovative about marketing with the idea of helping customers achieve their goals?  According to Christensen, this idea will greatly differentiate your business from your competitors. 

“If you understand cause and effect, it brings about a set of insights that leads you to a very different place. The knowledge will persuade you that the market isn’t organized by customer category or by product category.  If you understand the job that consumers need to complete, you can articulate all of the experiences in that job,” Christensen explains. 

A company’s product and the buying process must provide a sense of job completion for the customer.  If a company can accomplish this, it can gain an advantage in the marketplace. 

“When a company identifies how to integrate the processes needed to give the consumer a sense of job completion, it can blow away the competition. A product is easy to copy but experiences are very hard to replicate,” Christensen says. 

A good example of this concept is Ikea.  Ikea accomplishes the job of furnishing a new apartment as fast as possible.  They’ve been at the top of their market for 40 years because they serve that needed task so well.

An important question to ask is: how often does the job your business is aligned with occur for the customer?  In order to figure this out, Christensen suggests, “Use your own intuition; your intuition about how lives occur.” 

I’m such a fan of equations, so that answer is a little scary for me, but I understand what he means.  We all know how we think and feel about the various jobs in our lives.  Christensen suggests using our knowledge, our instinct, to tap into how a customer feels about the job he or she needs to accomplish.  This is an exciting and new way to look at marketing.

What job does your business accomplish?

Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx.  Learn more about Journyx and other business practices on the Journyx Blog.