Many aspiring entrepreneurs doom themselves to failure by making a fatal mistake before getting out of the gates. It has to do with the way they define the market they are targeting for pursuit. While a clear and precise market definition is a prerequisite for success, an effective process for defining a market is often missing from the innovator’s toolkit.
What’s interesting is that entrepreneurs use various, seemingly random classification schemes to define the markets they serve. Some innovators choose to define markets around a product, for example, the vacuum cleaner market or the espresso maker market. Others choose to define markets around verticals, such as the financial services market or the healthcare market. We’ve seen markets defined around demographics (the people over 45 market), technologies (the brain sensor market), customer activities (the fitness market), and product portfolios (the heavy equipment market), just to name a few.
As entrepreneurs deepen their understanding of the customer, they might choose to alter their product concept, target a different vertical, demographic, or customer activity, or incorporate a different technology into their solution.
Here’s the problem: Depending on how they originally define their market, making one or more of these changes can inadvertently alter the original market definition, which in turn changes the “market” they are targeting and invalidates the needs they have captured.
Here’s the consequence: They enter a recursive process in which they are iterating on the market definition, customer needs, and the value proposition simultaneously, with no logical way to exit. This frustrating experience can take the wind out of the sails of any startup.
Innovators don’t create markets; they create products to serve markets.
Thus, the market must be defined and validated in the innovation equation before moving to needs discovery and product definition.
How should a Market be Defined?
Markets must be defined using words, and those words should preferably convey valuable information to innovators, assisting them in their startup efforts. We’ve spent a good number of years asking ourselves what constitutes the “perfect” market definition. This is what we concluded:
A market should be defined in such a way that…
- It becomes a constant in the product/market fit equation, not a variable. It does not change as the study of that market unfolds.
- It is stable over time. It does not go away when different solutions or technologies come along, thus making it a valid long-term focal point for value creation.
- It is unique from any other market, making it distinguishable and unambiguous.
- It does not assume a product or a solution. Rather, it is defined in problem space.
- It indicates who the targets are for value creation — making it clear which group of people to focus on.
- It makes the discovery of customer needs quicker, more effective, and less costly.
- It reveals all sources of competition, making disruption and other surprises less likely.
- It is relevant to and aligns the entire organization, e.g., sales, marketing, development, etc.
Given this set of characteristics, how should a market be defined?
To answer this question, let’s consider an underlying economic principle that explains why people buy products and services in the first place. This principle forms the foundation of what has become popularized as Jobs-to-be-Done Theory.
According to Jobs Theory, people buy products and services to get a “job” done.
A job is defined as a task people are trying to accomplish, a goal or objective they are trying to achieve, a problem they are trying to resolve, something they are trying to avoid, or anything else they are trying to accomplish. This theory opens the door to a new way of thinking about how a market can be defined.
Since people buy a product or service to get a job done, when looking at a market through this lens, a market is best defined as: a group of people and the job they are trying to get done.
The Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) Market Definition Canvas
If you have a product in mind for your startup, you have already assumed a market but may not have formally defined it. The Jobs-to-be-Done Market Definition Canvas is designed to help you define the market you are in or have chosen to serve through a Jobs-to-be-Done lens.
The canvas lets you start by defining your market in solution space and guides you to redefine it in problem space as [a group of people] + [the job they are trying to get done].
The JTBD Market Definition Canvas is designed to accommodate both B2C and B2B applications. While it is optimized to define single-sided markets, it can be used twice to define both sides of a double-sided market. For component manufacturers who sell to OEMs or who are at the top of a long distribution chain, a canvas can be completed for each constituent in the distribution chain, including the end-user, as each constituent has its own unique job to get done.
Here’s how the canvas can be used to define the market you have chosen to serve.
1. Traditional market definition
What is the product/service/idea you seek to innovate?
The market definition exercise starts with something you’re familiar with — a product focus. We ask, “What is the product, service, or idea you’re looking to innovate around?” We use this as the grounding point, as the subsequent steps will help transition you from a product view to a jobs-to-be-done view of your market.
2. Job executor determination
Who’s using the product to get a job done?
The transformation begins with this step. Ask yourself, or people on your sales and marketing teams, who’s using your product (or who would use your product once released) to get a job done? The goal of this step is to reveal the diverse set of potential product users. So, list all the categories of people who use or would use the product of interest to extract its value. Keep in mind; we are focused here on stating the job executors. Do not list out influencers, economic buyers, people who support the product throughout its lifecycle, or other customer types, just job executors.
3. Abstracted job executor
What overarching term can be used to classify all the categories of people using the product to get a job done?
With a list of all the distinct categories of people using, or potentially using, your product, next, you want to define the one overarching term that can be used to classify or describe all these people as a single group. Remember, we are defining a market as a group of people + the job-to-be-done. When defining the group of people, try not to use an actual job title. Instead, look for an all-inclusive term that encapsulates all job executors, usually a higher-level, generic term.
4. Job executor
The group of people (job executor) is defined as:
You may have come up with more than one way to describe the “group of people.” Here you will make and document your final choice. Choose a label that fittingly represents all types of people using the product, service, or idea you have in mind. For example, you may choose the term surgeons over cardiac surgeons, or tradespeople over tradesmen to be more inclusive. Other examples include educators over teachers, accountants over tax preparers, or consumers over adults.
It is important to define the “group of people” before defining the job-to-be-done, as you will be interviewing representatives of the group to determine, from them alone, the way they define the job they are trying to get done.
5. Function of the product
What “job” does the product/service/idea you want to innovate help the job executor accomplish?
Products don’t have jobs-to-be-done; people do. But to uncover the targeted group’s job-to-be-done, it is often helpful to start by understanding what function/job the product you have in mind performs.
To make this determination, you can work with your product team, or preferably you can go directly to the “group” of people (defined in step 4) and ask the question:
What does/will the product or service we have in mind help you accomplish from a functional perspective?
6. Other products used and their functions
What other products do people use in conjunction with the product?What “job” does each of the other products get done?
To get a feel for the entire job your customer is trying to get done, ask them what other products they use immediately before, while, and immediately after using your product/service.
7. Abstracted job statement
When looking at the market through the job executor’s eyes, what core functional job do they say they are trying to get done?
Putting all the pieces together helps reveal the customer’s ultimate job-to-be-done at the right level of abstraction. Assume your product is getting part of a job done. Assume people are using these other products to complete the entire job-to-be-done.
You want to define your customer’s job-to-be-done in a way that includes your product’s function (job) and rationalizes why customers are using all these other products as they cobble together a complete solution.
Defining a market in this manner offers the innovator a built-in path and vision for growth — tied directly to what customers are trying to accomplish.
Remember, complete steps 5–8 employing customer interviews and make sure you encapsulate the job of the product you have in mind in the abstracted job statement. If the job of the product is not represented, you have abstracted the job statement to too high a level. This will ultimately prevent you from capturing customer need statements that will help inform the improvement of the product you have in mind.
8. Customer’s Job-to-be-Done
Now that you have your customer’s job abstracted appropriately, you can document that job in this box. If you have multiple versions of the job statement, work with job executors to gain consensus on the best version.
With this, the Market Definition Canvas is completed, and your market is defined for you through a jobs-to-be-done lens.
Your market = Group of people (Step 4) + Job-to-be-Done (Step 8)
With your market clearly defined around a stable point of value creation, you’re now in a strong position to iterate quickly during the startup process — and more reliably succeed in your market.
Learn more about the JTBD Market Definition Canvas >>
Tony Ulwick is the pioneer of jobs-to-be-done theory, the inventor of the Outcome-Driven Innovation® (ODI) process, and the founder of the strategy and innovation consulting firm Strategyn. Philip Kotler calls Tony “the Deming of innovation” and Clayton Christensen credits him with “bringing predictability to innovation.” He is the author of Jobs to be Done: Theory to Practice (IDEA BITE PRESS) and “What Customers Want” (McGraw-Hill) and numerous articles in Harvard Business Review and Sloan Management Review.