Milkshake marketing: Applying the ‘Jobs to be Done’ theory to your email marketing campaign

Email Marketing

In his book, “Innovator’s Solution,” Clayton Christiansen told the story of a restaurant chain that wanted to increase the sales of their milkshakes. After observing their customers, they realized that milkshakes were serving completely different roles for different kinds of customers. For some customers, a milkshake was a tool for calming their kids down. For others, it was a way to get a quick breakfast on their way to work.

One lesson from this anecdote is that there is a difference between knowing your product, and knowing how your customers use your product. Businesses need to know the problems their customers are solving, or as the approach has become known, the Job to be Done.

Recently, we had an opportunity to apply the Jobs to be Done approach to an email marketing campaign. The client was a B2B software company that supports and automates aspects of the recruiting process. When we began the engagement, we suggested that email marketing can be used as the centerpiece of a three-stage learning process:

  1. Identify candidate Jobs to be Done by interviewing existing customers
  2. Gather data from your email campaign to evaluate the candidates
  3. Use what you learn to improve marketing and product development efforts.

Identify the product purpose

Before we even began our email campaign, we needed to understand what the product was from the perspective of our client, and our client’s customers. In other words, we wanted some anecdotal stories about how the product is used. Many email marketers make the mistake of jumping in too quickly with tasks like demographic segmentation. But in many cases, the relevant differences in your clients don’t depend on traditional categories.

In this case, after just a few interviews it became clear that the software was being used for two very different purposes: some clients were using the software to automate routine processes designed to bring in a large number of recruits. Other clients were using other aspects of the software to bring in a few high-value recruits. Our initial hypothesis was that the regular automation features for large scale recruiting were more valuable to clients.

Gather data from the email campaign

Most people think of an email campaign as a way to motivate or change the behavior of potential customers. But there is another role for email that is less well utilized: you can use it to learn about your customer (and about your product).

In this case, we selected emails that corresponded to the two primary Jobs to be Done we learned from the interview process. We didn’t send out surveys because we wanted the information gathering to be a little more subtle. Instead, we identified informational content and subject lines that would appeal more to one group or another.

Based on open rates and click-through rates for the different emails, we found that customers were engaging more with content based around aspects of the software focused on bringing in the high-value recruits. This data contradicted our initial hypothesis. However, after revisiting the interview data, we learned that our hypothesis had been biased based on some preconceptions about the function of the software, and we had missed some indications about how clients were actually using it.

Use what you learn

Once you have the lessons from your email campaign, the next step is to apply them to future marketing and product development efforts. Initially, for us, this meant reevaluating our customer segmentation. Before this campaign, we were focused on demographic segments such as company size and location. Afterward, we developed a more sophisticated segmentation strategy based on how the customers were using the software. This segmentation strategy relies on using the data from the email campaign (i.e., open and click-through rates). In other words, you can segment your email to increase customer engagement, but you can also use customer engagement data to refine your segmentation strategy.

But the information you learn from your email campaign shouldn’t be siloed within the marketing team. Share it with the product development team, too! Every company has limited resources, and those resources need to be used to develop and refine the solutions that customers care about. Email marketing campaigns are a great way to keep a pulse on what your customers want.

People often view the relationship between customer data and email marketing as a one-way street: knowing your customer is a good way to tailor your marketing content and improve customer engagement. But email marketing is a great way to learn about your customers, too. Our example of using email marketing data to apply the Jobs to be Done theory is one way to do just that. So go ahead, take a look at the data to find out how your milkshake draws in customers.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

I started my career as a scientist at Harvard Medical School and quickly realized that I was not patient enough for basic science. This realization led me to become a consultant, which I have done in one form or another for over 10 years. I love consulting because I never get bored. I could never quite kick my academic habit though and earned an MBA from the University of Chicago where I learned how to schmooze people and value an option. Now I run a customer intelligence consulting practice where I help companies understand, collect, and use their customer data. I would love to connect if you ever want to swap data war stories!

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