Customer-Centered Innovation: 5 Questions With Author Stephen Wunker


Jobs to Be Done / book / Stephen WunkerThe recent presidential election results showed that pundits’ predictions and time-tested polling methods are no longer trustworthy.

Stephen Wunker, innovation expert and Managing Director of New Markets Advisors, expands on that theme in his new book, Jobs to be Done (AMACOM, Nov. 15). His latest book looks at how business and organizations can better focus on accurate customer predictions to forge innovation in ideas and products (and even candidates) that resonate where research, predictions and focus groups fail.

Wunker’s framework grew out of a process popularized by his colleague and mentor Clayton Christensen, the acclaimed Harvard Business School Professor, expanding on Christensen’s work on disruptive innovation with a focus on targeting the right tasks.

Find out more in our Q&A below.

brandchannel: Given your book’s focus on customer-centered innovation, a hot topic for any company and brand looking to grow, where should they start on this journey?

Stephen Wunker - author - Jobs to Be DoneStephen Wunker (right): Many companies start with ideas, or with customers’ current experiences and pain points. Don’t. You need to understand the “why” before you examine the “what.” Get to understand why customers are doing what they’re doing, which may sometimes include not consuming at all.

What are the things they’re trying to get done in their lives that are relevant to your product or service? Look broadly there. For instance, the car company MINI hit a home run when they realized that people are using cars as a means of self-expression. Once you understand the “why,” then you can look in the right places for the pain points to solve and the ideas for getting those key jobs done better.

BC: You point to Uber as one of the great disruptors of our time. Not every company can be an Uber, especially one with an existing product and services, so what can they do to be more Uber-like in their thinking?

Wunker: Any company, big or small, can step back to understand customers’ underlying motivations and ways to solve them. A corner bakery can understand what it’s selling as an experience, not just bread, and think of ways to highlight that experience. This is actually what supermarkets do with the breads that they complete the baking of in-store; they’re seeking the smell of baking bread because it creates a positive image for the overall grocery. It’s a modest win, but a real one.

BC: As we’ve just seen in the US, trust in institutions is low and Donald Trump, who’s billing himself as the great disruptor of government and American democracy, just got voted in as the next president of the United States. What does this tell us, including in terms of how wrong pollsters and journalists have gauged the level of discontent in people?

Wunker: It’s a huge lesson, one we’ll remember for 50 years. You can’t just give people a choice between A and B and assume that peoples’ answers are what they’ll stick with. You need to understand motivation and the depth of those motivations. Equally, you need to look at emotional appeal and not just the function that a product, or candidate, serves. Many voters agreed much more with Clinton’s policies, but she lacked the emotional tug that Trump had. We’re not computers – emotions really matter.

BC: What do you see the role of brand being in establishing this necessary balance and relationship between being customer-centric and innovative?

Wunker: A brand encapsulates emotional appeal, and it’s shorthand for jobs that a product gets done. Some brands aren’t necessarily innovative, but the way they communicate those benefits might be. Even if the product isn’t changing one bit, understanding the motivations of customers enables them to communicate in ways that register deeply and affect purchase.

BC: What are the “jobs” that you see customers demanding from businesses and brands?

Wunker: One common theme we see is that customers are increasingly confused. There’s so much choice, and so many features and benefits, whereas often times the motivators for purchase are actually pretty simple. When customers see a clear fit between jobs to be done and a brand, purchase happens.

Jobs to Be Done - Stephen Wunker - roadmap

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