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Clayton Christensen

Clayton Christensen is the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, where he teaches one of the most popular elective classes for second year students, Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise. He is regarded as one of the world’s top experts on innovation and growth and his ideas have been widely used in industries and organizations throughout the world.

CompetingagainstluckCompeting Against Luck is about seeing the world differently through the lens of Jobs Theory. I’d like to ask you about a very powerful branding concept that is somewhat buried in your book, and that’s the concept of “purpose brands.” I remember when you introduced this idea in your Marketing Malpractice article, but I think it’s worth a book in itself. What is a purpose brand?

In Competing Against Luck I say that there’s a tool that helps protect your product or service from being hired for the wrong job. If you use this tool, your brand becomes synonymous with the job.

Q: Like a Xerox copy?

A: Sure – or a Google. Instead of trying to understand the typical customer, marketers should find out what jobs people want to get done. Then, develop purpose brands – products or services consumers can “hire” to perform these jobs. Google, for example, was designed for the job of finding information, not for a “search” demographic.

Let’s name some of these purpose brands. You instantly know what job they’ve been hired to do: Uber, Turbo Tax, Disney, Mayo Clinic, OnStar, Harvard,, OpenTable, LinkedIn, FedEx, the list goes on and on.

Q: And Jack Bauer?

A: (Laughs) As I say in the book, when you need to save the world in twenty-four hours, Jack Bauer is your man.

Q: How does a purpose brand help a business or a person succeed?

A clear purpose brand acts as a two-sided compass. One side guides customers to the right products. The other guides your designers, marketers and advertisers as they create and market new and improved products.

When competitors successfully enter markets that seem closed or commoditized, they do so by aligning themselves with a job that none of the established players have prioritized.

Lunchables made life easy for parents. FedEx. Apple. American Girl. A purpose brand nails the job. And the reward for being a purpose brand is that customers will weave you into the fabric of their lives. A well-developed purpose brand will stop a consumer from even looking for another option. Think of our college kids and IKEA.

Purpose brands become verbs: “Just Google It.”

Q: Once a strong purpose brand has been created, what should brand managers do when people within the company want to extend it by applying it to other products?

A: This goes back to Marketing Malpractice. There are rules about the types of extensions that will reinforce the brand—and the types that will erode it.

The fact that purpose brands are job-specific means that when a purpose brand is extended onto products that target different jobs, it will lose its clear meaning as a purpose-brand and develop a different character instead – an endorser brand.

We must not forget that different jobs demand different purpose brands.

There are only two ways to extend a purpose brand without diminishing its value: 1) marketers can develop different products that address a common job, or 2) they can develop new related jobs and create new purpose brands that benefit from the “endorser” quality of the original brand.

Diagram1In the book we talk about Volvo, the car that was synonymous with safety. In 1999, when Ford bought Volvo, it started creating flashier cars to compete with luxury car brands. The result was a decline in sales, and a loss of its status as the safety leader. In 2010 Ford sold Volvo to the Chinese carmaker Geely and only recently has it started growing again. My fear is that it has lost its purpose brand status forever.

Another point. Too much money at the wrong time can be a curse.  The thing to avoid is the premature outlay of huge amounts of money in pursuit of the wrong strategy. You need to have an experimental mindset and allow the right strategy to emerge.  Identifying the job people are trying to get done is critical to landing on the right strategy.

Q: So what message does this book have for marketers and brand managers?

A: We always have an overwhelming tendency to frame the market we are targeting by the boundaries defined by product categories, or product points, or the demographics of the customers. We think about industry verticals. When we target products that markets that are defined by demographics of customers or by the product characteristics, we are playing the crapshoot game of determining whether or not there is a valid customer need. We define our business as helping a customer get a job done – one that he is already struggling to get done and has no satisfactory means of doing it – the probability that product will contact with the customer is very high. You need to look at what is the customer trying to get done and does it help him or her get it done better. Or, does it make it easier for them to do what they aren’t trying to get done. The latter is a surefire way to fail.

"Branding as a Job to be Done" - an Interview with Clayton Christensen