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Buyer Personas vs Jobs to Be Done

9 min read

As content marketers, we often find ourselves caught in a discussion about user personas and Jobs to be Done (JTBD). Many parties vouch for one’s usefulness over the other.

Maybe Carl thinks in-depth buyer personas are the best way to design for an outcome. Stacy feels a more innovative task analysis that goes beyond our current processes turns out best results.

What’s the right answer? Is there a correct answer? Let’s dive into this together and see what a buyer persona is, what is Jobs to be Done, and what both can do for your marketing.

What’s in a Persona?

Put simply; a persona is a made-up person. The persona, representative of your target audience, is given a set of demographic traits including race, gender identity, class, age, as well as behavioral and attitudinal characteristics: grumpy, chronically ill, arrogant, ambitious… you get the point.

Like design personas, great buyer personas are as elaborate as a real person. Not paying attention to behavior and attitude makes for rough user-centered design.

Say your target customer segment is marketing managers and content strategists. You’ll want to carefully analyze this ideal customer profile.

Consider what a day in the life of this persona consists of:

  • Do they start their day early with a cup of coffee to kick-start their content process?
  • What’s going on at home?
  • How is the current political world affecting their business?
  • Do they have tight margins with not much spare cash for trying new products?
  • Are they short-staffed and instead of being able to analyze data and create content, they’re backed up just making sure emails go out on time?

Create their goals. A common goal is to be able to operate more backend or “on the business” as opposed to front-end or “in the business.” Do they have any objections to what you are bringing to the table? When is generally a good time and when is not to contact them about your product?

From there, create their demographics including behavioral and attitudinal traits. All of these combined give you a unique persona with which you can better target your marketing. Knowing your audience is critical to your marketing success.

Bad personas are often an issue in content marketing. Here’s an example:

“John, 40s. He’s in customer support.”

It doesn’t give your marketing team much of anything to work with and doesn’t create the connection needed to humanize the process. Just like with anything, if you can’t give someone something to relate to, how do you expect them to create success?

What is Jobs To Be Done

If buyer personas are the who of marketing, then Jobs to be Done is the why and what.JTBD is a theory advocating for innovative user design that considers the customers’ needs. It creates a solution unhampered by existing products.

The Christensen Institute gives a solid breakdown of JTBD:

“The Jobs to be Done framework is a tool for evaluating the circumstances that arise in customers’ lives. Customers often buy things because they find themselves with a problem they would like to solve. With an understanding of the ‘job’ for which customers find themselves ‘hiring’ a product or service, companies can more accurately develop and market products well-tailored to what customers are already trying to do.”

Basically, “what job is the customer trying to get done” should be the question you ask. Create a solution that does that task and further helps them accomplish their overall goal.

A great example of this is how ice machines have developed because of a need for better quality ice for drinks.

In the past, most ice machines created cubed ice. However, the ice would melt down quickly, diluting a customer’s drink faster and making it hard for them to take some time to enjoy their drink.

Cocktail bartenders and bar owners knew that better quality ice provided a better experience.

However, creating those large and transparent cubes often seen in a glass of whiskey or an old-fashioned took too much time and space. Boiling, pouring, and freezing ice into separate trays was too cumbersome. So they continued to use the old ice machines out of a need for efficiency at the expense of quality.

An ice company saw this problem and designed a solution that not only helped create high-quality ice for bartenders. Their ice machines have two to three times the longevity of comparable devices due to their excellent filtration system. The ice company solved for the ice issue.

You may think from that example above, “Wow. Jobs to be Done is the best process for meeting customers needs. You have a customer who needs a job solved, and you solve for it.”

You’re not wrong. It’s a grand theory.

However, Jobs to be Done lacks part of what makes personas necessary for excellent marketing. It doesn’t incorporate the individual characteristics that appeal to those designing the solution.

It generalizes the emotional and social context of the entire user population. As a result, it misses the context and empathy that help create an excellent solution.

The ice machine company designed for a specific need, but they already had another product created for bars and restaurants. They initially developed for the need for lots of ice in a quick, efficient storage solution. However, that didn’t meet the requirement of beverage businesses where the quality of everything, including ice, matters.

Let’s look at how combining a complex persona along with JTBD theory can maximize your marketing.

How MarketMuse uses Personas and Jobs to be Done

We’ll use one of our MarketMuse personas for this example.

Meet Mary Contentowski. Mary runs a marketing agency called Market-2-U. She is a self-taught marketer who learned many of her marketing skills pursuing a bachelor’s degree. Complementing this is her knowledge gained through internet learning sites.

Her business consists of herself and four others: two content marketers, a designer, and an intern. Her company makes money writing for other companies who don’t have time to create content for their own sites. Mary used to write all the material before the demand became overwhelming. So she hired four employees. Now she oversees the final content editing and marketing.

Mary’s is 36 and single. She spends the majority of her time working from home or the small office she shares with her employees. She makes about $100,000 a year.

Mary’s business is just outside a large city. Most of her customers are small businesses or sole owners and operators.

She works on Saturdays as well but doesn’t let her personal time get too lost in the business. Her employees work a similar schedule.

Lately, her company is struggling to create unique and in-depth content. They’re trying to optimize some of Mary’s original content for the company blog from a few years ago. The content they created isn’t ranking well anymore despite using choice keywords.
Most of their content ranges from 500-750 words. That’s the length of the posts Mary used to write before passing off the work to her employees. They’ve noticed they’re not getting as much traffic as before.

In fact, some customers have stopped using her service altogether. One reviewer saying they felt Market-2-U wasn’t keeping up with relevance.

Mary’s goal is to update her and her employees’ knowledge of SEO and content creation so as not to lose any more customers. When that is solved, she wants to spend time expanding her customer base as well. One of her employees read a case study about how MarketMuse helped another content marketer double their traffic and ranking. She mentions it to Mary who signs up for a demo to learn about MarketMuse’s product.

Combining the persona and Jobs to be Done

Now that MarketMuse knows Mary’s persona as well as her needs, we need to identify if they can be satisfied by our current product, or if it’s something we can further design out for her and other customers with a similar need.

MarketMuse also identifies that Mary’s ultimate goal is to be able to create better content and expand her customer base. MarketMuse wants to make sure they can design well for users like Mary and sets about creating a product that satisfies more than the individual need for better content creation.

That is where Jobs to be Done theory comes into play. You create the complex persona with the need, but you think beyond the immediate solution to their need, helping them get closer to achieving their goal.

For customer’s like Mary, MarketMuse’s product does more than solve for her need for content creation. It also provides a blueprint Mary can use to improve her content, making it more comprehensive and increasing its ranking potential. MarketMuse has designed for problems like the one Mary has while thinking ahead to accomplish better the persona’s goal of strengthening and expanding their customer base.

When you combine a complex persona with the big picture thinking of Jobs to be Done, you stay ahead of the customer’s needs. This gives your team the chance to design bigger and better products that go beyond the singular need.

So, Do I Need Better Personas or JTBD or Both?

The best way to look at your marketing efforts is to examine how you’ve created your buyer personas and how your plan revolves around those assumptions. Analyze the process within which your company is designing for its target audience.

Are you looking at the big picture or thinking too small?

Maybe you’ll find your marketing personas need improving so that your team can relate to them better. Perhaps your focus is too narrow. Whatever it is, figure out what works best for your situation and hone in on it.

Featured image vector designed by Freepik

What you should do now

When you’re ready… here are 3 ways we can help you publish better content, faster:

  1. Book time with MarketMuse Schedule a live demo with one of our strategists to see how MarketMuse can help your team reach their content goals.
  2. If you’d like to learn how to create better content faster, visit our blog. It’s full of resources to help scale content.
  3. If you know another marketer who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

Loren is fuelled by supporting and creating human connection and communication. He loves working with and developing People Ops and Customer Success.  Loren has a soft spot for g-rated childhood jokes. So tell him your best one. You can follow Loren on Twitter or LinkedIn.