Use the Jobs-To-Be-Done framework

Business Benefits

Improve your copy with rich insights from customer interviews.


Define what you hope to gain from your customer interviews, so that you can structure your questions to get the information you need.

Pick a problem or opportunity facing your organization and answer the following four questions: What’s right?, What’s wrong?, What’s missing?, and what’s confusing?

When a prospect encounters your copy, they are in one of the five stages of awareness; Unaware, Pain aware, Solution aware, Product aware, or Most aware. If you’re working to align your copy with the buying journey, you can set up your interviews to discover the journey. Ask questions like What is the pain you solve?, How do prospects discover their pain?, What solutions do they consider?, and Why do they choose your product?

If you already have a copywriting formula, you can run interviews that mine the data you need. For example, if you use the Pain, Agitation, Solution copywriting formula to structure your copy, here’s how you find holes that customer interviews can fill:

  • Pain. What’s the problem: not the product they’re looking for, but why they’re looking for one?
  • Agitation. How does that pain present in specific, gory detail?
  • Solution. How does your solution solve their problem? What is the exact tipping point that convinced them?

Create an interview script that addresses the key points. Which words do you really need?

Ask customers about their pain, motivations, and objections to discover what they need in a product, and obtain the exact copy and hierarchy that can help other prospects decide to purchase.

In Marketing Science, Abbie Griffin and John Hauser institutionalized the Voice of Customer methodology and gave it four aspects: Customers’ wants and needs, expressed in their words, organized by hierarchy, organized by priority, and organized by customer segment.

Sometimes, the VoC insights will translate to risky copy, but take that as a sign, you’re doing something right. Taking a risk differentiates you in the customer’s mind and shows that you have a unique way to solve their problem. For example, “You’re a weirdo” may work as a strange email subject line but if it comes from the customers, it can be a powerful driver as it has the capacity to connect customers with the product.

Ask questions that focus on the journey behind the purchase, rather than the product itself, to find the underlying job that the product was meant to perform.

Job theory is the belief that people “hire” products to fulfill a “job.” The classic Jobs-to-Be-Done case is the prospect who walks into Home Depot to find a power drill. If you look at her search through the lens of a product as a job, you understand that she’s not looking for a drill. She’s looking for a way to make a hole in her wall. Which means she’s really looking to hang a picture. Which means she’s looking to make her house look nice. Now you can introduce this prospect to other hanging solutions like self-adhesive heavy-load hooks, or even a kitschy spread of yarn and binder clips.

Ask the interviewee to imagine themselves as a subject in a documentary, to give the full, vivid story surrounding the decision and purchase experience.

The full method is all about the job. Not the motivations, not the backstory. When you run a JTBD interview, you uncover those things, but according to the traditional model, their only importance is getting you to the job.

Use natural language and context reinstatement, be curious and biased, and stay factual when you conduct the interviews.

  • Use natural language as this is a conversation where you’re uncovering a story with sensitive information, hence the way you communicate needs to make the interviewee comfortable being vulnerable.
  • Use context reinstatement, a cognitive Interviewing method that takes the interviewee back to a moment in a time, with questions surrounding the senses of the moment like What was the weather like?, What you were wearing?, and Who were you with?. This will allow the interviewee to re-experience the moment and give a more accurate and emotional account.
  • Be curious to encourage authenticity and storytelling.
  • Be biased. For example, agree with your customer to make them comfortable sharing. Allow them to trust you and open up to you. At the same time, be careful not to ask leading questions, but don’t be a completely impartial, detached interviewer.
  • Stay factual by centering around true accounts only. You need clean, raw data, not speculative data.

Record the interview with permission, get it transcribed, and then organize the notes post call, to apply raw, exact language to your weakest copy sections.

For marketers hoping to improve copy, rather than develop products, focus on the conversion and take only margin notes. Don’t waste the interview opportunity with extensive note-taking or drawing a customer journey map, and note each statement in the corresponding slot of the customer’s journey.

Use single rather than multiple interviewers, and give interviewees enough time to think and search for the answers to your questions.

The JTBD framework suggests interviewing in pairs, as it can allow two sets of notes and a faster pace of interviewing where one person is processing information shared, or developing the next line of questioning, and the other interviewer can jump in with more questions.

However, taking notes may not be necessary if you are recording the interview, and giving interviewees moments of silence, and short breaks can be an incredible way to access vulnerable, deeper insights as they have more time to think through their answers.

Reframe Why questions as What questions to avoid making the interviewee defensive, or refocusing the conversation on a single justification.

  • Why did you do that? >> What was the thought process behind that decision?
  • Why did you feel that way? >> What was feeding into those emotions?
  • Why were you looking for an X product? >> What was going on in your life that led you to search for an X product?