Branding 101: What Are They Hiring You to Do?

A milkshake with the words "not a milkshake; a crumb-free portable breakfast."

In the previous post in this series, I said this: “The best brands in the world don’t reflect their owners’ tastes. The best brands always come from the question, ‘What do our clients want?'”
The high-level insights here come from Clayton M. Christensen’s classic book “Competing Against Luck.” In the book, Christensen introduces the concept of “jobs to be done” with this story:
A couple of decades ago, Christensen was hired to help a fast-food chain sell more milkshakes.
The chain had tried making the milkshakes thicker; then they tried making them smoother. They had tried adding little chunks of fruit and chocolate. They had tried different temperatures. They had doubled their advertising spend. All their focus groups agreed their milkshakes were the best. But nothing they tried really helped them sell more.
Christensen set up his staff at the chain’s drive-thru. Anyone who bought a milkshake was questioned while waiting: “Why did you choose a milkshake? Why this milkshake?” 24 hours a day for the entire week, the researchers interrogated milkshake buyers.
The research team was astonished to find that a third of all milkshakes were sold between 7 and 8 a.m. “Who bought milkshakes in the morning?” they wondered. So they started digging deeper.
It turns out that morning-milkshake buyers were looking for something that they could drink on the way to work, that would fill them up, that wouldn’t leave crumbs on their work clothes. The buyers were “hiring” a milkshake to do those jobs. Fruit didn’t fill them up; cereal was too messy; eggs took too long or would leave their hands greasy. So they hired milkshakes.
Christensen spent the next decades teaching businesses how to identify the jobs their clients were really hiring them to do. His “jobs to be done” concept is the subject of books from dozens of authors and many YouTube videos from other experts. Christensen’s team charges hundreds of thousands of dollars to do client research. But there’s a cheat code. Here it is:
Ask people what they want.
Don’t guess.

How to Find out What Job Clients Hire You to Do

I wrote about “Seed Clients” in “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief.” Here’s the exercise:
First, identify who your best clients are. You don’t want to duplicate your worst clients.
I share that part of the exercise in the book.
You’ll probably find three to five Seed Clients. Take those people for coffee, one at a time.
Ask them these questions:

  1. What led you to my gym in the first place?
  2. What frustrates you most about the fitness industry in general?
  3. What’s your greatest challenge outside my gym?

Note that you’re not asking them survey-style questions, like “how would you rate your experience?” or “what could we do better?” The answers to those questions will leave you chasing your tail. What you’re really asking with these three questions are:

  1. What should I say or do to get more people like you to join?
  2. What should I avoid saying or doing?
  3. How can I serve you more?

When I first did this exercise at Catalyst around 2015, I was shocked by the responses. I thought my clients would say, “CrossFit attracted me to your gym.” I thought they’d say, “The workouts are hard but feel like a game.” I kinda hoped they’d say, “Because Chris is the best coach in town, widely renowned for his knowledge and spreadsheets.”
They didn’t say any of those things. Instead, they said:
“I can turn off my brain when I come here. You tell me exactly what to do.”
“I feel better when it’s done.”
“This is the only place all day where I hear ‘good job!'”
They also told me how else I could serve them (adding a nutrition program, which has made me many thousands of dollars since).
Performing the exercise was an epiphany for me:
My clients don’t want what I want. They’re hiring me for a different job than I think they are.
I’m not good at guessing what others want (ask my wife and family.)
It’s better to just ask them, and then build my service—and my brand—to match.
What job are your clients hiring you to do, really? If you ask them, they’ll tell you.

Other Media in This Series

Branding 101: Are You Poisoning Your Brand?
Branding 101: Clarity Is Greater Than Art
StoryBrand: Can It Help You Acquire More Clients?
Branding for Farmers, Founders, Tinkers and Thiefs


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.