What Is the Job to Be Done by Your Event?

The Jobs to Be Done theory about serving customers may not be new but it’s worth re-exploring to find fresh applications to the business events industry.

Author: Juliano Lissoni       

people mingling at expo

Using the Jobs to Be Done theory shifts the metric of success from quantity to quality — like were your event attendees able to make meaningful connections. (Adobe Stock generated by AI)

A large home-improvement store wanted to boost its tool department sales. Through careful observation and customer interviews, company execs uncovered that a significant percentage of their customers were homeowners engaged in DIY projects, who often felt overwhelmed by the variety of tools available and uncertain about their exact needs. This insight led to a strategic overhaul: The store began to group tools into project-based kits — like “Set Up Your Home Office” and “Build Your Patio” — complete with clear instructions and online tutorial support.

Additionally, the company launched in-store workshops focused on common home-improvement projects. This approach not only simplified the purchasing process but also created a supportive learning environment, empowering customers in their DIY projects. By shifting their focus from merely selling tools to enabling successful and satisfying DIY experiences, the store significantly enhanced customer satisfaction and sales, evolving from a simple tool retailer to a valuable and trusted partner in home improvement.

Juliano Lissoni

Juliano Lissoni

This is a commonly cited example of how the “Jobs to Be Done” (JTBD) theory can be put into practice. Introduced by late Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, the JTBD concept has revolutionized our understanding of consumer behavior based on this premise: We don’t just purchase products and services; we “hire” them to fulfill specific tasks in our lives.

Here’s another example that demonstrates how using the JTBD framework effects change: Two newspapers, long-time competitors in the same market with similar shares and demographics, compete in a red ocean, vying for the same subscribers. Then, one newspaper decided to go beyond using demographic data from the past, focusing instead on how their readers had specific interests in travel, culinary experiences, fashion, design, and cultural events. Applying the Long Tail principle — companies can profitably cater to niche interests and diverse tastes by offering a wide array of specialized products, rather than focusing solely on high-demand mainstream items — they created daily special sections devoted to these niche interests. The result? Within a few years, their subscription and readership levels far outpaced that of their competitor. There was a job to be done waiting for a solution.

While innovation often zeroes in on practical and functional needs, it’s crucial to recognize that the social and emotional requirements of consumers often play a more significant role in their choices. According to the JTBD model, the context in which a product or service is used reveals more about its true nature and value than its mere specifications. It’s the holistic understanding of these dimensions — functional, social, and emotional — that truly defines the effectiveness and appeal of a product or service.

How to Apply JTBD to Events

What does the JTBD model have to do with the business events industry? In short, it can be nothing less than transformative. Often, event organizers focus on surface-level attributes: the number of speakers, the variety of sessions, or the attributes of the host venue and/or destination. However, the key to organizing an event that provides a meaningful experience for participants lies in understanding the deeper job they hire the event to do.

The first step is to fully understand your audience’s needs. Are they attending your events to learn new skills, to network, and/or to find inspiration? Each of these needs represents a different job your event is being hired to do. For instance, if networking is their primary goal, an event packed with back-to-back sessions would miss the mark. Instead, structured networking activities or interactive workshops would serve the job better.

An event isn’t just about providing content, it’s about designing an environment where functional learning, emotional engagement, and social interaction are harmoniously integrated.

At MCI, using the JTBD model, we’ve worked with event organizers to shift from traditional keynote and breakout sessions to formats that prioritize learning from industry leaders, hands-on creative problem-solving, and purposeful networking. This transformation involves reimagining the concept of a curated agenda, and goes beyond the attendee choosing from a list of session topics or following a particular program track.

One solution we implemented was to include an “internal trade show” within an event. This was in response to a JTBD, identified through collaboration with our client, which was to facilitate awareness among employees of the diverse initiatives and projects across the organization’s different business units, enhancing peer-to-peer learning opportunities. Another example of taking a JTBD approach resulted in an “unconference” format for another client. This addressed the participants’ desire to break free from an industry silo mentality and embrace cross-disciplinary dialogue and idea exchange. With an unconference format, spontaneous discussions and idea cross-pollination were not only encouraged but were central to the event’s success.

By using the JTBD framework, you can focus on bridging unrelated concepts to discover novel solutions, challenge the status quo to uncover real participants’ needs, and attentively observe behaviors to identify service gaps. Experiment, refine your offerings, and learn from both successes and failures. Additionally, try networking with a diverse range of experts and professionals across various fields to enrich your strategies with broad perspectives.

Success should be measured not just by attendance or feedback scores, but by how well the event did the job it was hired to do. Did your attendees leave with the new skills they came for? Were they able to make meaningful connections? This focus shifts the metric of success from quantity to quality.

Juliano Lissoni is managing director of MCI Canada, and a member of PCMA’s U.S. and Canada Advisory Board.

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