HomeBusiness DigestThe Human Capital Telescope: How to uncover customer needs

The Human Capital Telescope: How to uncover customer needs

The words of Bob McDonald, the  CEO of the giant US pharmaceutical firm Procter& Gamble (P&G) underscore this point : “We know from our history that while promotions may win quarters, innovation wins decades.’’

How can Zimbabwe develop its own Michael Dells, Akio Moritas and Steve Jobses to develop innovations that ‘win decades’ for Zimbabwe? This article suggests that potential game-changing Zimbabwean entrepreneurs could adopt the jobs-to-be-done mindset to unlock untapped consumption.

Jobs well done

The ideas of celebrated English economist John Maynard Keynes helped post-WWI European and US economies recover  through state-led massive infrastructural development. While this approach is relevant to jump-starting Zimbabwe’s economic recovery and growth, it is  entrepreneurial-led growth that is key to the economy sustaining high levels of  growth. We need entrepreneurs with the right minds and skills to create a pipeline of game-changing innovations. Fortunately, the last few years have seen the development of “thinking frames” that entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe can employ to match the best entrepreneurs in the world.

A gifted wordsmith, famed for his ‘And one more thing’ phrase during product launches,  Steve Jobs did” one more thing” again and again—he  understood the jobs customers needed done better than anyone else in his industry. In the electronics industry, that mantle once belonged to the Japanese electronics giant Sony.

Steve Jobs once remarked in his signature witty style: “But Apple really beats to a different drummer. I used to say that Apple should be the Sony of this business, but in reality, I think Apple should be the Apple of this business.”


When Akio Morita, the co-founder of Sony and the brains behind Sony’s famous game-changing innovations—the Walkman and the Video Cassette Recorder (VCR)— retired from Sony in 1994, Steve Jobs’ second advent at Apple was three years away.  That which Akio Morita excelled in at Sony, Jobs inherited, making Apple ‘the Apple of this business’ and not “the Sony of this business.’ Akio Morita and Steve Jobs shared one fundamental similarity—they did not rely on traditional marketing research to develop game-changing products. Instead they were skilled observers of human behaviour.


Both geniuses constantly sought to deeply understand the jobs customers needed done, down to the minutest of nuances. While marketers employed sophisticated marketing research techniques to uncover underserved or un-served segments (niches), Akio Morita and Steve Jobs employed simple down-to-earth observational techniques to discover jobs customers needed done.   The duo’s approach unlocked oceans of potential customers.

Customer jobs-to-be-done triumvirate

To develop a deep understanding of the jobs customers need done, Zimbabwean entrepreneurs need to understand that a job-to-be-done has at most three elements, namely functional, emotional and social. Game-changing entrepreneurs seek to understand better than anyone else how this triumvirate plays among potential customers. 

To illustrate how this triad works, we will turn to the marketing experiences of Church and Dwight, a well-known pharmaceutical global brand  famous for selling a baking soda brand called Arm & Hammer. Though founded in the 1860s, a century later Church and Dwight, were still famous for the baking soda. In the 1960s, Garry Goldblatt, a director of research at Church and Dwight, commissioned a research project where researchers would through systematic observation attempt uncover the uses other than baking to which  consumers were putting the baking soda. To their surprise, the baking powder was being hired to do jobs that they had not imagined, such as deodorising fridges, cleaning carpets and cleansing teeth!

The first job that Church and Dwight had hitherto been unaware of was that baking powder users were saying ‘help me to remove odours from my refrigerator’. 

The functional aspect of this job-to-be-done was to remove odours.

The emotional aspect of the job-to-be-done is personal discomfort posed by odours from the fridge that must be removed.

The social dimension of the job-to-be-done is the elimination of the potential embarrassment a host can suffer in front of their guests or significant others due to odours emanating from the fridge.    

By understanding various jobs-to-be-done by their flagship baking powder product, Church and Dwight developed a new category of products they would have perhaps never uncovered using traditional marketing research.  The new products now account for more than 90% of their revenue. Clayton Christensen beautifully illustrates how the new category of Church and Dwight products are related to jobs-to-be-done: T


he Arm & Hammer Complete Care toothpaste was developed to do the job ‘help my mouth feel fresh and clean’; Arm & Hammer Fridge-n-Freezer baking soda was developed to do the job  ‘deodorise my refrigerator; Arm & Hammer Ultra Max deodorant was developed to do the job ‘help my underarms stay clean and fresh’; Arm & Hammer Vacuum Free deodoriser was developed to do the job ‘clean and freshen my carpets’ and the Arm & Hammer Laundry Detergent was developed to do the job ‘make my clothes smell fresh’.

Let’s apply these ideas to our banking sector.

Ordinary potential consumers of banking services have two basic jobs they need banks do for them. The first one is ‘help me to keep my little extra cash safe (including ‘reasonable’ bank charges) for a rainy day’. The second one is ‘help me keep my money safe until I find something to buy’. With regards to the first job, the little extra cash for a rainy day has either  disappeared due to current economic hardships or is now being re-directed to non-banking firms that ex-banking customers feel can keep their money safe until a rainy day such as a bereavement. 


Funeral assurance companies and non-financial firms are making a better case of convincing customers to allow them to assist them in preparing for a rainy day. With regards to the second job, smart banks are offering customers the option of using cards to make purchases at fees much lower than normal withdrawal fees.

Walkman and iPod takeaways

Sony launched the Walkman on June 22 1979. Akio Morita, the co-founder of Sony, employed a jobs-to-be-done approach to help come up with the revolutionary Walkman. The spill -over effects from the hippie culture of the 1960s-West, fanned by the rock`n `roll music subculture, spilled into the 1970s.


The loud music blaring from the stereos miffed and grieved many a parent. Akio Morita, who unlike many executives who spend most of their time ensconced in their stately offices, spent time with his teams observing customer behaviour. Morita uncovered a job-to-be-done —‘help me not to annoy my parents while I’m  listening to my loud music’.


The device to do this job thoroughly was  the famous Walkman. The Walkman also addressed the other two dimensions of a job-to-be-done. First, through listening to music from a portable cassette-playing miniature player using 50-gramme light-weight H-AIR MDR3 headphones (an average 350 grams common in the early 1980s), the social nuisance of annoying parents (and others) was solved. Second, the emotional dimension addressed was the psychological relief the Walkman wrought in the minds of people who were troubled by the guilt of annoying people in public  through loud music. At Morita’s retirement in 1994, 150 million units of the Walkman had been sold.

After Morita’s departure, Sony began hiring MBAs who introduced sophisticated research techniques to uncover special segment needs. Though Sony continues to produce good products,  it struggles to reincarnate the game-changing glory years under Morita. A new Morita arose: Enter Steve Jobs. ‘And one more thing’—Jobs knew a job that customers needed done which the marketing MBAs at Sony were not aware of—‘help me store and carry with me as many songs as possible that I can enjoy anytime.’ Jobs said, ‘I will do that job very well for you. How about carrying one thousand songs in your pocket?’’.

So the iPod was born. Jobs, well done!

Chulu is management consultant and business strategist. Let’s discuss at brettchulu@consultant.com.

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading