Jobs to be done is a concept that has been used by marketing and innovation organizations for more than a few decades. Its focus is on identifying needs – or jobs – that consumers want addressed. The idea is built on the principle that consumers buy products or hire services to complete a job they need done. The framework transformed the way organizations approached innovation by looking to the needs of their consumers rather than developing new services or products centered on the organization’s own technology or ideas – which can be woefully off-target.
As powerful as jobs to be done is, the framework emphasizes the economic approach to a decision that suggests people purchase products or services only because of how well they address a problem. It downplays the less structured decision-making process that social scientists have been uncovering for decades – including the role of emotion. It’s akin to hiring only based on the resume, and not recognizing that a candidate’s fit on a team is also influenced by personality, culture, and a myriad of other factors that can’t really be captured in a job application. To address this weakness in the model, I’d like to offer a complementary model to jobs to be done that I call stories to be told.
Stories to Be Told Focuses on Psychology
The stories-to-be-told framework is built on the principles of narrative psychology. This subfield of psychology focuses on the way people make sense of their experiences, their decisions, and themselves through the stories they tell themselves (and sometimes others). Think of it as a life story that is constantly being updated and refined, a subconscious journal we keep that is both a documentation of our life and an explanation of it.
People who consider themselves generous are likely to frame experiences in narratives of generosity. Victims of violence may be counseled to find a version of the narrative that helps them grapple with the event and position themselves as survivors. People’s consumption behaviors are also integrated into their life narratives, and understanding how is key to applying the stories-to-be-told framework.
Stories to be told recognizes the narrative of the consumer and provides inspiration to the organizations that use it to develop products or services that don’t just fill the job but enable the most rewarding stories as a result. This framework leverages the building blocks of stories to reveal insights and opportunities for the organization to fit into the consumer narrative. Those building blocks include the hero, tension or goal, action, and resolution.
Four Steps to Defining the Hero
It begins by answering four key questions about the consumer:
- Who is the hero? This is the most basic of questions to address. The hero is the consumer in the story, be they a working mom, a college student, or a widowed traveler. The first step in identifying a person’s story is to recognize and acknowledge the hero of that story.
- What are their struggles and goals? Like jobs to be done, the story-to-be-told framework recognizes that people are trying to buy a product or hire a service for a need. However, it’s not always as economic or functional as JTBD typically prioritizes. Here, their struggle may be about identity. Or their goal may be to feel a certain way in a moment.
- What are they doing to address their struggles and accomplish their goals? This is the action element of the story. Whether they’re actively purchasing your product, buying a competitor’s product, or making do on their own, they are doing something. Identifying those actions will help you more clearly understand their investment in the story and how much of an impact you could have on the consumer.
- How do they feel about what they’re doing and what they accomplish? Of course, just because they’re doing something doesn’t mean they’re happy with it. It’s important to identify whether your innovation is going to elevate a reward or transform a painful experience. And if your product or service doesn’t make the ending of their story a better one, it’s a sign it may not be good enough to go to market.
With these ideas addressed, innovation teams can begin looking at the different ways they can fit into the consumer’s story through innovation. Here’s a quick case study from a brand that my family has come to love known as SnackCrate.
Case Study: SnackCrate
SnackCrate is a monthly subscription service that provides its customers with a monthly box of snacks from countries all over the world. To understand why the box is so beloved, let’s apply the stories-to-be-told framework. Ideally, we’ll build this framework with social-science-driven research to understand the stories and insights related to snacking and culture. We’ll start with the SnackCrate customer:
- Who is the hero? Travelers and culture lovers ranging from individuals to couples and families. These are individuals who enjoy being exposed to different cultures and trying out the things that define them. They’re the sort of people who might google “What do the locals eat in Barcelona?”
- What are their struggles and goals? SnackCrate customers love to travel but can afford to do so only a couple of times a year. The rest of the year they’re looking for inspiration and connection to cultures all over the world. They want to feel cultured and feel like they know some of the lesser-known characteristics of a city or country.
- What are they doing to address their struggles and accomplish their goals? Before SnackCrate, they might have been trying to recreate cultural dishes in their own home or consuming cultural content on streaming services. More than anything, they’re thinking and talking about their next trip.
- How do they feel about what they’re doing and what they accomplish? They’re hungering for more. Watching someone else walk around a city on a travel show isn’t the same as strolling La Rambla in Barcelona themselves. It’s not a negative experience, but if they can’t go right now, they wish they had more opportunities to engage with it here at home.
When we look at this framework, we can start to see a few different “stories to be told” emerging. One story the consumer may be looking to tell is of a person who appreciates the less touristic elements of a new culture. SnackCrate helps its consumers tell this story by finding snacks locals love.
Another story the consumer may be trying to reinforce is one of someone who loves to travel regardless of the location. SnackCrate can help its consumers affirm this story by including cultural elements with their snack boxes such as information on local music, details about the country, or traditions followed in that region.
What stories are they trying to tell?
There are a lot of ways to use stories to be told. I hope in your next innovation session, after you’ve identified the job to be done, you’ll encourage your team to ask, “What stories are they trying to tell?” Only then will you see your product be accepted – not just as a new innovation but as a new way to express or affirm the consumers’ narrative.