"What ‘job’ did your product do for you?"

As someone whose job is sales, and maybe marketing, it’s quite natural to want to believe that your product is for “everyone” and so should be marketed to everyone.

Network marketing companies tell their recruits, “This product is for everyone – it sells itself. Everyone will want it.”

Of course every new recruit discovers that “everyone” does not want it. This creates quite a shock, and often people quit, thinking THEY were the problem somehow, because they said “everyone will want this,” didn’t they?

But selling to everyone doesn’t work. We have all discovered that. Focus works better, it seems.

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, the authors suggest that successful marketing means to focus a product on the job it was designed to do, a la Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt:

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

It’s the JOB we want done we’re after, isn’t it? Rather than the product per se. And not everyone is looking for the same jobs. If you think of a product this way, then a product is “hired” to do a specific job, the authors observe.

Many of you already know how to focus your product on people who need a certain job done, e.g.

“This is a product for people who…” Saying those words to someone means that you will exclude those not described after the words “for people who…” This is worrisome for some people, because they fret about leaving someone out.

However, presenting a product by its focus on a certain “job” it did for the speaker also means that the listener can immediately recognize if there’s a match or not.

For example, “I market a product for someone with achy knees who doesn’t want to do drugs or surgery, like me. Do you know anyone who might like to know about a product like that?” (from the book, “If My Product’s So Great, How Come I Can’t Sell It?”)

The YES’s can immediately say YES, tell me about it, and the NOs, NO. That’s preferable to “everyone” not responding at all, because they didn’t hear their name being called as to a job they might want done. Think?

This very focused approach is presented in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review, along with the failure of companies who try to market to “everyone.”

The remind us that “The great Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt used to tell his students, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

It’s what one DOES with a product, then, that makes us buy it. So, they argue, focus a product on a job it is supposed to do. Like “for people who have achy knees and don’t want to do surgery or drugs, like me.” However, the authors write,

“Focusing a product and its brand on a job creates differentiation. The rub, however, is that when a company communicates the job a product was designed to do perfectly, it is also communicating what jobs the product should not be hired to do. Focus is scary…”

They conclude with the observation of what’s happened to one big industry because they’re too scared to focus and market a specific job their product does well, and instead, they try to focus on all jobs everyone might want, at once…

“Focus is scary – at least the car-makers seem to think so. They deliberately create words…that have no meaning in any language, with no ties to any job, in the myopic hope that each individual [car] model will be hired by every customer for every job. The results of this strategy speak for themselves…most automakers are losing money. Somebody gave these folks the wrong recipe for prosperity.” – Christensen et al, Harvard Business Review, 12.05

So fixate on what job the product did for you, and ask for those who’d like to hear about a product that did that job for you, in case they know of someone who might like that VERY job done for them. OK?

Now you have the brains of the Harvard Business Review on the same page with you.

Neat, huh?

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About the author

Kim Klaver

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