A Job-Based Approach to Segment Research

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What jobs are our segments trying to accomplish and why?

Over the past several months I’ve experimented with various approaches to better understanding the people we are designing for, and each time have slightly tweaked to better meet my need and context.

Each exploration always starts with me facilitating a meeting with a cross-functional team, and the goal of identifying all the assumptions we are making about our target markets, so that we could later start our validation process.

Who am I designing for?

For the most part, the base segments of my projects are higher education students, instructors and administrators for a variety of disciplines. Depending on the course, the amount of variance between students is pretty huge, which obviously makes understanding our target audience challenging.

Ad-Hoc Personas

My first attempt at personas was straight out of the Lean UX book. That book really helped me in gaining a better understanding on what is possible, and I would recommend it to anyone that is looking to bring Lean UX into their organization.

This type of persona has 4 quadrants:

Top Left: A quick sketch of the person you are designing, along with name, role, and descriptive name.

Top Right: Is some basic demographics which might lead to some behavior.

Bottom Left: Here is where the needs and frustrations of the person are added.

Bottom Right: This is where we start thinking about desired outcomes that the persona is interested in achieving.

This is a quick way to get the ball rolling allowing you to get a snap shot of the demographic that we are targeting.

A couple problems that I ran into with this style of persona, is that I am constantly working with new people, such as subject matter experts that come from outside of the company, and are completely new to the process. Because of this, they tend to get stuck on meaningless demographics, and I find myself constantly trying to stop them from writing solutions rather then desired outcomes in the bottom right quadrant.

This style of of persona also seems a bit challenging when your demographic is as broad as the entire student population in an introductory course. This leads to the time for these types of activities needing to be very focused.

At this point I really wanted to find something with more scaffolding for the participants.

Value Proposition Canvas

My next meeting had slightly different context. There was already a solution that was well into it’s definition, however the business wanted to back track and make sure that we had a tight value proposition.

For this, I decided to give the Value Proposition Canvas a try. What made this canvas extra interesting where all the scaffolding questions that the canvas includes.

This canvas is used to find Product-Market Fit, by first defining your market segments, and then aligning them to product features. I really like how this helps in better articulating why certain features are being included, and more importantly, why certain features might need to be removed since they aren’t associated to any market pain.

This example is not so much a persona as it is a segment description, but the intention is similar. Gaining a better understanding of a variety of people that we are designing for.

The three main sections of the segment part of this activity are:

Jobs: What is the specific customer segment trying to get done?

Pains: What negative emotions, cost or risk does the segment experience before during or after getting the job done?

Gains: What benefits does the segment expect or desire?

When i did this with a group, they quickly latched on to the questions and started on their way to designing their segment representations. This worked well, however after a few tries at this, I noticed that participants would write a pain, and then move right up to the gain and make a gain. It seemed a little redundant at first, but it actually does make sense that pains and gains have a tight relationship.

The other thing that I felt was missing was motivation. Identifying a pain is great, but it is meaningless if the segment is not motivated to address it. This inspired me to make my own version.

Value Proposition Segment + Motivation

Taking from what I learned above, I decided to add a Motivation activity that would help me get at the motivations that a segment would have on various problems. For this I looked at marketing psychology, and their thoughts around customer wants, needs, fears and desires.

NEEDS are simply things that we think we must have. If we’re hungry, we need some food. If we are sick, we need some medicine. If you must go to work, you need a car — but you don’t need a Lexus, any reliable car will satisfy this need. A Lexus would satisfy a different type of motivation, as described below. Buyers often unconsciously wrap up different motivations into one general motivating statement: “I’ve got to get a car.” If you don’t bother to unwrap this statement into its different, specific motivations, you will miss a golden opportunity to target your appeals.

WANTS are things which we would like, but which aren’t really necessary. Wants are things which we can get along without. You may want an ice cream cone or the new Tom Clancy book, but you don’t need them. You may want a new dress or tie, but you have a dozen perfectly good dresses or ties in your closet now. We sometimes convince ourselves that we “need” something, when it is really just a “want.” Many purchases are made to satisfy this type of motivation. It is important to recognize the difference between a buyer’s “needs” and “wants” because the resulting psychological stimulators used in your advertising are different.

DESIRES are like daydreams. They are things you hope for. Sally may wear a sexy perfume with the desire that a handsome man may ask her to dance and sweep her off her feet. John may buy a Corvette with the desire of feeling special and attracting admiring looks from beautiful women. Winning the lottery is a desire, as is making every traffic light on the drive to work. Desires are seldom met, but they are powerful motivators, which are usually kept to oneself. Taping into a potent desire is a vein of pure gold, as Chanel has shown for decades.

FEARS are things which we do not want to happen. There are two classes of Fears for the marketer: The fear of not doing anything, and the fear of making a choice. If a company is losing money, the boss fears the status quo, but also fears that he may select the wrong remedy and be even worse off.
Fears help us to make wise decisions by considering negative possibilities. But fears also hold us back from making decisions which could meet our needs, wants or desires. Sally wants to meet a new man, so she considers buying a new miniskirt and a halter top. She sees the outfit as a stimulus which could create the response she desires: “Hi, I’m Bob and you’re gorgeous.” But she also fears that her outfit could stimulate an unwanted response: “That woman looks like a tramp!” Like weights on two ends of a teeter-totter, her desires and fears compete to dominate Sally’s final decision.

This worked really well, and did a great job at getting the participants of the meeting to really think about what is going on in the segments head. Because of this, I will definitely always make this a part of the process from now on.

There was something that I felt got overlooked. The segment’s “job”. Participant constantly gravitated to identifying problems and outcomes, but the jobs didn’t have much action in terms of amount of thought that went into identifying them, and really thinking about about them, much like people where now thinking about problems via motivations.

Starting with Jobs

My most recent delve into this has made “Jobs” a spotlight of the activity. Based on my context of dealing with students, instructors and administrators, most if not all the desired outcomes and problems that they might experience stems from trying to successfully complete some sort of “job”. For example, if a student has a problem with time management, it might stem from having to deal with many jobs like handing in homework on time, and having social life (yes this is a student’s job).

This has lead me to a more concept map approach that allows the participant build on the knowledge they gained in each subsequent activity. They already naturally did this with Pains and Gains, so why not build the entire activity to focus on that natural tendency.

To help further scaffold this I decided to use a Mad Libs style approach that helped them generate mini stories to help describe their segment better.

Another main thing that I added was “context” for doing a job. This approach is being used in Job Stories, although it is lacking in some of the information that I am interested in. Just like motivation for solving a problem worked to help participants think deeper about the segments and their relationships with problems, my hope was for context to help people think deeper about the jobs that their segments are trying to accomplish.

Light Blue: This is the job that needs to be completed

Orange: This is the situational context for completing a job

Purple: This is the desired outcome, which is heavily dependent on the situational context

Yellow: Is the segments motivational drivers. Depending how true these are will let us know how “desired” the outcomes are.

In the end, this essentially give us our “Gains”, and answers what it is that our segment want to accomplish, and what results they are looking for. Nothing is that easy, so here is where “Pains” start to emerge.

Red: This is our problem hypothesis that we are claiming based on the job and it’s described context

Pink: This is the assumption that we are making regarding the problem.

Where I’m at

As of right now I am favoring the Jobs based approach, for a couple of reasons. Being that I am making it a Mad Libs style activity, there will be some great artifacts that allow the team to state exactly what they believe is true, and set up extremely targeted validation experiments to make their claims solid. I also like the way “Gains” get identified prior to divining “Pains”, this fixes the issues with redundancy that i was experiencing in the Value Proposition Canvas.

In my experience building on a previous activity lends itself to the modularity of a concept map. That means that it would be possible for me to build some sort of data visualization, paired with some pathfinding algorithms that allows the data to be accessible and be helpful to team when making design decisions.

In theory, what I should be able to do with this approach is point to a job, and see all the segments that need to accomplish that particular job, and in the varying context that they complete the job in. This would be extremely helpful to a UX designer, helping them make much more informed decisions throughout the design process, and have a mannor to point back to the exact data which informed them.

This is still something that I am putting some thought into now, but will be sure to report back once I have something to show.

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Alex Britez

Alex Britez is a product designer, full stack developer and maker. Currently Alex is the Director of Digital Innovation of Macmillan Higher Education.

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