Innovation Blog

Milkshake Marketing:  How a ‘jobs-to-be-done’ perspective spurs innovation

By Shlomo Maital



In our book Innovation Management, D.V.R. Seshadri and I suggest that innovators should listen to four ‘voices’ – those of the product, the organization, the customer/client and your internal intuitive voice.  All these voices ‘speak’ – except the product. How can products make their voice heard?

  Now comes Harvard Business School Professor Clay Christensen’s “milkshake marketing” perspective to reinforce this point. Readers will know Christensen from his famous ‘disruptive technology’ work.  Here is my ‘take’ on Christensen’s approach, which says products are simply things that do a job. Find what that job is, and you can innovate successfully.  I write as if I were a milkshake.

  Hi!  I’m a milkshake. My mom is a fast-food chain.  She wants to sell more of me. So she did everything the MBA marketing texts say to do. And nothing worked. Then, she did the obvious – she asked me, the milkshake itself.  So I asked my buyers. Turns out I’m bought mainly in the morning by commuters, who want something they can hold in one hand and relieve the boredom of the long commute to work.  So we made the ‘morning milkshake’ thicker, so it lasts the whole trip, and more interesting, with chunks of fruit.  Also kids like milkshakes. But it takes them forever to finish them, because they are so thick, so parents balk.  So I told mom to make thinner milkshakes for kids.  It worked!  Sales doubled!”

  Christensen says, “Looking at the market from the function of a product really originates from your competitors or your own employees deciding what you need, whereas the jobs-to-be-done point of view causes you to CRAWL INTO THE SKIN OF YOUR CUSTOMER and go with her as she goes about her day, always asking the question as she does something, ‘ why did she do it that way?’ “. 

 See:  “Clay Christensen’s Milkshake Marketing”,  Carmen Nobel, HBS Working Knowledge, Feb. 14, 2011.