What “Job” Do You Want Content to Do?

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Marketing professionals who are trying to understand the principle behind content marketing can take a lesson from Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School and his “jobs-to-be-done” marketing ideas.

Strawberry MilkshakeThis core Christensen idea is presented in the HBS Working Knowledge article, Milkshake Marketing. The article describes a fascinating study his team conducted on behalf of a fast food chain that wanted to improve milkshake sales. The company initially applied a typical market research approach before it engaged “one of Christensen’s fellow researchers, who approached the situation by trying to deduce the ‘job’ that customers were ‘hiring’ a milkshake to do.”

Parallels Between Product Design and Content Strategy

Consider this comparison between product design and content strategy. Both product design and content share similar problems. Product design challenges are revealed in the low success rate of new product introductions. Marketing content issues are revealed in the low usefulness to marketing campaigns, sales and customers.

Clayton Christensen

Clayton Christensen

“When planning new products, companies often start by segmenting their markets and positioning their merchandise accordingly. This segmentation involves either dividing the market into product categories, such as function or price, or dividing the customer base into target demographics, such as age, gender, education, or income level.

Unfortunately, neither way works very well, according to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, who notes that each year 30,000 new consumer products are launched—and 95 percent of them fail.”

With business content, the American Marketing Association has found that 80% of content created by marketing is never used by sales. IDG reports IT buyers find relevant content only 42% of the time. “The lack of relevancy for the prospect reduced the vendor’s chance of closing a sale by 45 percent.”

The “Jobs-to-be-done View”

Christensen’s prescription is to look at the important difference between determining a product’s function and its job.

“Looking at the market from the function of a product really originates from your competitors or your own employees deciding what you need.

Whereas 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?”

This is directly related to the principle behind the content marketing movement.

Three good questions marketers can ask to get at “the job” they want their content to do for audiences as well as their business purposes:

  1. What impact do we want content to have on the buyer?
  2. What do we want content to tell us about the viewer (Digital Body Language)?
  3. What insights could we offer target audiences that would be relevant and useful to them?

From a company’s perspective we might want content to capture and hold attention, to educate, to prove or persuade, to motivate sharing of content, and to cause behavior change or action.  We might want content to identify the viewer’s areas of interest, functional role, industry, company size, stage of investigation, or degree of urgency.

Here is our “Job for Content” list we reference when we requisition new content using a Content Requirement Document.

  • Remember “the first job of content” (* see below)
  • Awareness – attract attention – acquire new names
  • Promote
  • Generate and hold interest
  • Develop / nurture leads – touch
  • Create differentiated value, early on as “first product” – build association connection with your brand
  • Conversations – get, be and support
  • Prove
  • Motivate Action – create urgency, get people to change
  • Convert – get people to yield information
  • Learn @ buyers – DBL – Acquire data
  • Test & verify audience data (who, interests, stage, etc)
  • Be shared – support internal sponsors and referrals
  • Accelerate buyers through process
  • Entertain
  • Train
  • Explain ideas
  • Answer buyer questions
  • Deliver “innovative insights” (thought leadership)
  • Score
  • Reuse content: easy to edit, re-configure, repackage,

A viewer or buyer will typically be researching a specific question or area of focus. Their interest will vary based upon their role, buying stage, role in the decision process, beliefs and values, and numerous other factors.

To accomplish its “job”, we know content must be relevant to each viewer. This means we must know:

  • Who, specifically, we are creating each piece of content to serve,
  • What their specific issues could be,
  • Where they are in their evaluation or buying process for each content piece,
  • What alternatives they are considering,
  • And a host of other elements.

We know that only late in their buying process will buyers be seriously interested in learning about specific elements of a company, its products and services.

Even here, understanding the “jobs-to-be-done” view, together with the skills marketing develops to create more relevant marketing content, can improve the current void in sales content that support the  “closing business job” of sales and sales content.

The “First Job of Content”

Steve Woods, co-founder of Eloqua, shared this extremely useful idea with me years ago. “The first job of content is to earn the right to send another, and have it be viewed.” He explained this isn’t just about the potential viewers will unsubscribe from email lists. Viewers often ignore emails and the content they deliver.

Before you send each piece of content, review it from the perspective of your intended audience. Ask yourself how your audience will answer the question, “So What?” favorably about your content. Better still, test this by asking someone else to review it in this context for you.

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