Jobs to be Done


I liked Martin Weigel’s take on how a more appropriate metaphor for modern brands is perhaps less about the human personality characteristics that we've long tended to attribute them and more about thinking of brands as software:

"Brands can now can remember what we like, and what we bought. They can anticipate when we need to restock, repurchase, or renew. They can suggest purchases, content, and experiences we will probably like.They can compare and recommend purchase options. They can respond to our service, upgrade, and replacement needs. And of course as brands become more like software, unshackled from the constraints of the physical world, they and their functions can inevitably flow through our lives with ever greater ease.”

This metaphor reminded me of Clay Christensen's ‘jobs to be done’ concept, which theorises that what causes us to buy a product or service (or indeed a brand) is that we ‘hire’ them to do a particular job for us. It's a simple idea, but framing it in this way helps us to understand customer motivations better. A simple example that Christensen uses is the V8 juice drink which was once marketed to compete with (and in a similar way to) other soft drinks like Gatorade, using brand attributes like how refreshing it was. The realisation that V8 was being bought instead to fulfil a different job led to a campaign that focused instead on how the drink provided the required daily servings of vegetables. Within a year of this decision, V8 had quadrupled its revenues.

Martin goes on to suggest that thinking of brands as software might encourage us to consider them as "...fluid, adaptable, responsive, upgradable, and permeating", and also how "utility (not just storytelling) can create meaning", all of which might encourage a more productive relationship between those who make products and services and those who tell stories. The best metaphors are those that interpret and clarify meaning in memorble ways. And this is one that is worth exploring further.

Google Firestarters 13 - Agencies and Product Innovation - The Event


The intersection of product innovation and agency culture and practice is a theme that has generated considerable debate in our industry and one that has been put forward by several Google Firestarters regulars as one that we should run an event on. So on Wednesday we did just that, with a packed house and three excellent provocations to help us navigate this fascinating topic.

I've long been an admirier of the work of ustwo, the digital product studio who originated the amazing Monument Valley as well as work for clients like Tesco, Sony and Channel 4 ("we launch valuable products, services and companies that make a measurable difference to the world"). So it was great to have Brett MacFarlane (whose background has been in network agencies) from the studio talk about their philosophy, and what he called the ustwo 'experiment'.

Nobody, says Brett, should own creativity or innovation but everyone does ideas:


Innovation is not one dimensional and may be incremental (refine), evolutionary (refresh), or revolutionary (re-imagine). One of the key questions in thinking about agencies and product innovation however lies in the difference between demand generation (which still has lots of value - advertising works) and value creation, which is more challenging for agencies than the former.

ustwo are focused on maintaining the right balance between client work, games and new ventures, and actively pursue diversity in both their staff and in what they do. Independence gives them the freedom to explore new revenue models and career paths for their people, so staff can really work on what they care about ("the founders didn't set out to run an agency and that's the point").

Brett also talked about the importance of the ustwo environment - an adaptive space, a sometimes chaotic setting, little rigid process ("rather than a process, we have a starting point and approaches"), a focus on employee wellness, time for invention, commercials that focus on the long-term and on value, and equity for employees.

Along their journey they've had significant failures (including a messaging app where they waited too long before bringing to market), but also huge successes like the one below, successful apps for financial institutions that focus their design on how it makes people feel, and new ventures including the just launched DICE ("the ticketing platform for fans, not fees").


Brett finished with some thoughts on three key elements of ustwo culture: Collaboration ("we believe that the best work is accomplished by team members creating together and solving problems together"), Value ("we believe our job is to find the quickest route from idea to digital product because that's where the business value is"), and Learning ("in the complex marketplace, we believe future success belongs to those who learn the fastest"). In the end, he said, mindset eats organisation and evidence beats opinion, but it's all about the team ("only that team, at that time, in that way, makes that thing"). Perhaps the ustwo experiment is about breaking down the one last silo - the individual employee.


I've long wanted to have Andy Whitlock, product strategy lead at MadeByMany, speak at Firestarters and he didn't disappoint. Andy's smart, witty talk started with his own journey from ad agency to product lead and the quite profound differences involved within each, not least in the relationship with clients and where value is placed. With advertising the launch day is everything, with product innovation if the launch day is your biggest response you're in trouble.


Advertising is about earning a reaction. Product innovation is about earning a role ("Life's too short to make things no-one wants" - Ash Maurya). With advertising some degree of success is likely, but with product innovation total failure is a real possibility. In fact, there's a whole series of differences that need to be accounted for between marketing and advertising and product innovation. With the former ideas are the most valuable thing, strategies are sold in, attention can be bought, deliverables are clear, budget is fixed, and it may be separate from the business. With the latter ideas are just hypotheses, strategies are adjustable, users can't be bought, deliverables and costs are unknown, and it must integrate with the business. 

MadeByMany keep their development loops very tight so that they never go too far down a particular road before developing a learning, and thereby minimising risk:


Yet perhaps the interesting place is where these things can meet. Marketing can learn from user-centred development and product people still need marketing of-course (they are often not good at it: "no marketing needs to stop becoming a badge of honour for product people"). Andy's final summary captured three points about making useful things, and telling good stories with them:

  1. Differentaiate the service before the brand
  2. Spend less time guessing
  3. Great products lead to good stories but not necessarily good storytelling

Our final talk from BBH Zag featured four speakers: Adam Arnold (Managing Partner), Richard Davies (Creative Director), Aran Potkin (Strategist) and Alex Matthews (Head of Creative Technology), and was interesting in that it was from an agency that was actually creating products. Zag describe themselves as a "brand consultancy that ventures". Adam spoke of how being an active shareholder in a venture changes the relationship you have with a client quite fundamentally. It aligns interest better than anything, and puts you in a position where you really do need to keep on adding value ('the saga continues after the product ships"). The team described the learnings they'd had from developing and working with (amongst others) Autographer (the world's first intelligent wearable camera), Money Dashboard (online money management tool) and Beakle (which enables people to connect to audio streaming for outdoor digital screens).

The talks were fascinating and diverse in equal measure, and we had three very instructive but different perspectives on the subject.

My thanks to our inspiring speakers, to all those who came, and to Google for hosting of-course. You can see a Storify of the event here. Our next event will be in November. If you'd like to ensure you get notified of when registration opens you can sign up for my newsletter for more news of that.

A Rant About Customer-Centricity

Just about every large organisation thinks of itself as customer-centric. Many have this laudable objective as one of their strategic pillars. Yet it never ceases to amaze me that those same organisations seem to want to put as many barriers in the way of great customer service as possible. So here’s my version of what customer centricity is not:

If you are organised in ways that make sense for the business but not for the customer then you are not customer-centric
If your resourcing priorities are focused on business efficiency over customer satisfaction then you are not customer-centric
If the functional silos in your business unnecessarily impair a joined up customer experience then you are not customer-centric
If your customers are at all frustrated by the use of automation, inflexible rules and systems then you are not customer centric
If your staff use scripts then you are not customer-centric
If you charge your customers to talk to you then you are not customer centric
If you create demand for customer service by failure to deliver on promises that you have made you are not customer centric
If you make it hard for customers to find out how to talk to you then you are not customer-centric
If your representatives use language that makes sense inside the company but not to customers then you are not customer-centric
If your public proclamations to customers don’t match your actions then you are not customer centric

Saying you are something doesn’t make it so. And people can see that.

Google Firestarters 13 - Agencies and Product Innovation


A few years back Murat Mutlu wrote a post that got a lot of conversation going around whether an agency could build the next Instagram or Angry Birds. His post raised some interesting questions around what capabilities modern agencies should have and whether they should be messing around with digital products at all or just sticking rigidly to advertising.

Adam Glickman wrote a piece on FastCompany that Murat quoted from in his post, suggesting that ad agencies should act more like tech start-ups:

'Startups and agencies alike always ask themselves, “What is the problem we’re solving?” If agencies want to think more like tech startups, they might focus less on clever storytelling and more on utility.'

And then we have John Willshire's mantra that making things people want trumps making people want things. Or as Russell Davies puts it: 'usability trumps persuasion'. One of the issues here, as Glickman said in his article, is that the two come from a different place: 'Tech startups begin with the big idea, then seek to monetize...Agencies start with a budget, then seek the big idea.' 

Yet, as products and services are increasingly digitised and marketing baked-in, perhaps there is a greater opportunity at the intersection of product development and marketing processes and metrics, a harmony between vision and validation, as Andy Whitlock put it. So should agencies re-model themselves to drive genuine innovation through a product, as well as a marketing, perspective? What can and should planners learn from digital product development processes? And should agencies be producing their own start-ups and products either for their own benefit or as solutions? 

These are some of the questions we'll be addressing in our next Google Firestarters event, which is on 17th September, 6.15pm at Google HQ, London. To help us navigate them we have three excellent provocations from Andy Whitlock (Digital Product & Service Innovation lead at MadebyMany), Brett MacFarlane of ustwo (who made the fabulous Monument Valley), and Adam Arnold (Managing Partner at BBH Zag). As always I have some guest passes to give away to readers of this blog so if you'd like one leave a comment below or drop me a line.

Google Firestarters 10: Planning For Good - The Event

Last week saw our tenth Google Firestarters event. I can hardly believe it's been over two years since we had our first event. Since then we've built some pretty significant momentum, had some amazing and thought provoking talks (too many to mention individually) and a real sense of community has built around the events which is great to be a part of. To mark our tenth event we focused on the theme of 'Planning For Good' and had three smart and inspirational speakers.

John Grant, who is something of a long-time hero of mine (and who was beamed in via hangout from RuralHub in Italy), spoke in a talk rich with ideas of how planning for good might be considered as a mix of turning planning skills to good causes and trying to create cause related and social mission strategies for clients. His overarching theme was that the best way to do planning for good is to be a planner for good. In other words to take an inside view, to start with an ethic, with a personal commitment, a rounded human satisfaction with your working life. Another way to think about this he said, is Erik Ercison's idea of 'generativity', or the creativty between generations, "a concern for establishing and guiding the next generation." (Jonathan Zittrain's definition of Generativity is "a system's capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences").

Brands and virtue can be an awkward mix. There is an Arab proverb: "a good deed dies when it is spoken about", and the danger is in doing good against just seeming good. John used the example of the term 'greenwashing', which originated in reference to hotel towel schemes that might make the hotel company look environmentally friendly but are an isolated example and take no account of what else the company might be doing. Really doing good can have significant benefit for brands in terms of brand resilience, loyalty, longevitity and meaningfulness. So really it's about the choices we make about who we will work with, what ideas come naturally into our general work, particularly around innovation perhaps. John finsihed with some recurring approaches around creating a space wherein people and customers can live better:

  1. Innovation - creating better alternatives
  2. Education - fuller knowledge usually means better choices
  3. Co-operation, participation - citizens not consumers
  4. Working with authentic human ways of life, instincts, free-will
  5. Avoiding alienation - meet the consideration of a human mind not a system
  6. Curative creativity - that heals divides, or its just a great idea that gives people joy
  7. Working on the core offer rather than the fringe
  8. The best ideas are those that transform the organisation - new self-image or vision
  9. Giving access to the excluded - a fairer, more integrated society
  10. Working in real local communities - in your backyard, keeping your feet on the ground

Nick Hirst, Planning Director at Dare, focused on the relationship between money and doing good. Milton Friedman argued that CEOs should be motivated only by money and was explicit about the supposed oppositional relationship between delivering shareholder value and doing pretty much anything else. Jack Welch called “shareholder value” the “dumbest idea in the world”. And yet it's wrong to consider that improving lives is diametrically opposed (or at least at tension with) making money. People pay for what makes their lives better, For brands that make them happy or that serve a useful purpose. Improving lives might actually be a more profitable way of growing brands. Nick referenced Obliquity, John Kay's fascinating book which makes the case that our goals are often best achived indirectly. Obliquity is relevant whenever complex systems evolve in an uncertain environment, and whenever the effect of our actions depends on the ways in which others respond to them, which definitely applies to marketing. So instead of 'doing CSR', build purpose into your business plan. People are increasingly uncomfortable with the collateral damage of the brand choices they make, so think about the role that guilt might play in a choice between two trivially different brands. How much guilt does your brand create? Businesses are made of individuals, and the choices that those individuals make. So planning for good is about choices. It makes business sense to make lives better. Avoid collateral damage. And be moral. 

Our last speaker was Sam Conniff, who runs Livity, the marketing agency that works with youth communities in South London and embed the power of purpose in everything that they do. It was a hugely inspiring and moving talk - I couldn't possibly do it justice here but I urge you to check out his wonderful TEDX talk in which he talked around some similar themes.

Sam's passion is tackling the systematic waste of the talent of our young people which he believes is one of the most precious natural resources and powerful forces for change and good that we have. Amongst many other things that they do Livity run mentoring programmes pairing people working in business with some of the young people in their local community. Sam's belief is that the true beneficiary of mentoring is more often the mentor, and that the benefits are increased proportionately to the greater the cultural or experience gap between the mentor and mentee. He ended with a challenge to the audience to mentor some of the young people they work with, for their own benefit, not just the young persons. I believe a number of people who attended the event have responded, and I have signed up myself.

All in all, it was a wonderful event so my thanks to our amazing speakers, to Google as always for hosting, and to the many that attended. The Scriberia visual of the talks is below - you can view a larger, higher res version of that here.

Google_Firestarters_10And there is a Storify of the event which is well worth a look: