What is the job of a milkshake?

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I stumbled across a useful framework for considering customer needs while going through my old Kindle highlights. In How will you measure your life?, Clayton Christensen presents the idea that products should be doing a job for someone.

He uses the example of a milkshake. In the first instance, what does your intuition say? What is the job that milkshakes do for people. Popular answers include: it quenches your thirst or it is tastier and considered a treat for people who want to reward themselves. Those answers sound probable right? So he looked into the statistics around when milkshakes are bought.

You would expect they be bought later in the day, in the afternoon or evening based on the aforementioned motivations. It would be reasonable to assume that people buy a milkshake to complement a dessert or a meal of some kind. In those situations, you would expect they are not alone and with family or friends sharing a meal and milkshake.

“Surprisingly, it turned out that nearly half of the milkshakes were sold in the early morning. The people who bought those morning milkshakes were almost always acting alone; it was the only thing they bought; and almost all of them got in a car and drove off with it.”

Clayton Christensen

While our speculation above is entirely plausible, the most popular ‘job’ that a milkshake does is, in fact, as a play-thing for commutes to work. It gives people something to do (drink the milkshake), when they are in the car. It would be highly unlikely that you would stumble on this insight by chance. This begs the question, what other everyday purchases have unconventional ‘jobs’?

One unconventional ‘job’ that comes to mind is for headphones. We buy them to listen to music or any sort of audio, but in some situations, we use them just to signal to others we don’t want to be disturbed. I regularly practice this whenever I am in public or open spaces.

The implication is that once you know what ‘job’ a product does, it will make it much easier to market and sell it. Even though I have a business degree and have been taught to death about customer needs, I found this expression of the idea particularly compelling and thus more memorable.

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