Are you selling detergent, lifestyle or clean clothes?

Caldrea-Laundry-Detergent-LifestyleHere is a nice answer to question of environmental impact of our consumptions. The article link is from The Christian Science Monitor (and thanks to Joe Senft)

e360: How do you think about the tension between growing a business and lightening our collective environmental footprint?

Lowry: I think the answer is moving from products of consumption to products of service. Ultimately we need to get to close to zero resources used in order to get the job done, in order to be truly sustainable. But for me that is not a business that depends on selling more and more liquid no matter how concentrated. It’s a business that makes money every time somebody’s clothes get clean. It’s probably a format where a laundry detergent lives in a washing machine. When dirty, soapy water comes out of the back of the machine, the soap and the water get separated from the dirt and the soap and the water go back in the front of the machine and the dirt that comes out is compost. And we would get a little fee for the usage of the detergent.

This is a great thought and it mirrors what Ted Levitt wrote about customers buying holes vs. drill bits. You can also see the parallel to the newer “Customer Job to be done” metaphor. That is customers have a need to fill or a job to be done. It is that need/job marketers should focus on and build offerings that do that job far better than alternatives.

In that context you can see what Adam Lowry means by selling detergent vs. selling clean clothes. Customers are hiring detergents to get cleaner clothes. That is the primary job for detergents. And he suggests getting a fair share of the value created  in the form of service fee vs. price for detergent. This is very concise and cogent description of what customers want, why they hire products and how marketer gets paid.

Then Lowry goes on to suggest a technology that can achieve the end goal. That is not as important. Technology and service innovations can offer any number of ways to fill the primary need of clean clothes.

That said let us not forget that customers do not buy products for just one reason. A product won’t be hired in the first place if it does not do the first order job better than alternatives. But  first order jobs, like cleaner clothes, is table stake. A product is never hired for just one reason.  It is  hired for a basket of  reasons. Here is a quote from 1967 issue of Journal of Industrial Economics,

First, he tries to identify these desires. To do this he now has all the aids of marketing research. If he only researches into which detergent the consumer considers to wash cleanest, he may miss the fact that the consumer now also wants her detergent to be pleasantly perfumed.

Detergents as consumption products are not just about clean clothes. It was perfumes in 1967 but it is lot more than that these days.  Thanks to marketing magic these detergent brands have become lifestyle brands. Clean clothes have become utilitarian job and premium brands are hired for higher order jobs they promise to do.

Thinking of detergent as providing cleaner clothes is great ‘Job to be done” thinking, but it will be successful in the market only if it can address some or all of the higher order needs. Unless of course the marketer changes the reference with positioning,  may be appealing to greener motives is the new higher order job, and that explanation is for another day.



5 thoughts on “Are you selling detergent, lifestyle or clean clothes?

  1. I agree that the (visual) metaphor is anything but new.. other than that I believe we disagree, but that’s fine. I like the way I think, like you like the way you think. It’s human nature 🙂



  2. Wim
    We are are not arguing the definition of marketing but what a new fangled phrase
    “job to be done” mean and who gets to define it.
    I for one do not believe this is not new and nothing more than a helpful and visual metaphor.


  3. Excellent! We are now entering a discussion on the definition of “marketing” (tongue in cheek)..

    I see where you are coming from and we disagree (partly). I’d rather take the more holistic approach to marketing. Within this holistic approach it fits that we not only think where/how to advertise, sell and price our value proposition, but also how we come up with it and how we design it for a specific Customer segment. This is where jobs and outcome thinking comes into play.

    Limitation to the Christensen way of thinking is that it ultimately leads to thinking in terms of jobs your product is designed to do, or what your Customers are (perceived to) hiring it for. His way leads to the discovery of one of the jobs a Milkshake is hired for in the context of a commute and designing a communication strategy to help other people to discover they have the same job to be done.

    But if McDonalds was really so interested in helping people getting through their commutes a completely new world of opportunity for the design of services opens up to them. A world of opportunity they did not explore, for all they were interested in is selling more Milkshakes.

    Marketing’s job should be about more than selling stuff you have on stock. It should cover discovery of opportunity (under- or overserved jobs) segments, the design of end-to-end solutions & experience which includes the ways Customers can customize (or not) on the point of exchange and in use, how they pay for it and how Customers will be informed about all this.

    What do you think.



  4. Wim
    The basic premise that needs most commonly exist and products are hired to fill those needs. Using the term “job” and “job to be done” is just another nomenclature. That is how I read Christensen’s Milkshake thesis and his jobs based segmentation. And if that is not how it is being interpreted then we have a point of contention. Let me return to that in a moment.

    First even with what Christensen defined it is not radically different from what we know as marketing. Need based segmentation and methods to do the segmentation predates the article. That said, job to be done is a better metaphor pointing out the needs will change and that other alternatives will arrive that are better candidates.

    Now to the interpretation Strategyn you pointed out in your tweet takes and what you mention as tasks and outcome change a marketing concept into a time and motion study that will get stuck in local minima.
    The tasks are distractions, actions necessitated by choosing to fill a need in a particular way. Take the quarter inch drill bit vs. quarter inch hole metaphor from Levitt. In your definition and Strategyn’s definition you will end up focusing on how easy to store the drill bit, attach it, operate it vs. the real job to be done – getting a quarter inch hole. That is more important.

    If you define the quarter inch hole as the outcome of tasks you are not solving a marketing problem, you are solving a time and motion study.

    For the clean clothes case, if we focused on tasks we will be only thinking detergents and washing machines, not other disruptions like “clothes on demand”, say someone delivers you a different set of clean clothes each week.


  5. Hi Rags,

    Thx for opening up the comments again 🙂

    You seem to be mixing up jobs and outcomes.. and needs..

    Premium brand detergent could be perceived to meet more desired outcomes than non premium brands. E.g. dosing without spilling, easier to stock in house, better looking, and even cleaner & fresher clothes. These are not higher order jobs involved, just more or better outcomes getting the job (of cleaning clothes) done.

    Some of the higher order job of cleaning your clothes are looking good at a party, or at work.. And those higher order jobs could be jobs supportive of an even higher order job of finding a partner for life..

    The job-to-be-done is a descriptor of what you are trying to achieve. Outcomes describe how you measure success of getting the job done. According to Strategyn the average job carries 50 to 150 desired outcomes.. The job is not a need, it’s a task, something one needs to do/get done. The outcome is a result and/or achievement of doing what needed to get done. These can be considered the Customer definition of needs.

    Just to ensure we keep talking apples and apples, not apples and apple-juice 😉

    Thx again.


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