Combining a Jobs and Brand Lens to Optimize Your Product Lineup

A collaboration between Design Resource Center and Collaborate.Biz

Jobs Theory can be a powerful tool to organize and focus new product innovation, but it can also help inform a brand’s interactions with consumers in order to achieve business goals.  One of the most important challenges brands face is helping consumers navigate their product lineups on shelf, which grow in complexity over the years as brands constantly launch new SKUs.  When a brand’s lineup becomes too difficult to navigate, it also becomes an impediment to reaching the brand’s full potential by confusing shoppers, turning off new users, and even preventing brands from trading up its loyal consumers.  The following article suggests an approach to organize your brand’s product lineup so that it makes sense to your consumers and is true to your brand’s aspirations.

First, Assess The Business Impact of Your Current Line-Up

Perhaps one of the most important first steps when optimizing your brand’s lineup is to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the lineup in its current form, and how it impacts your business.  For example, are you inadvertently steering consumers away from higher margin products?  Are first-time buyers not repeating because they picked the wrong SKU for their needs?  How often does this happen, and how much money are you leaving on the table each time this happens?  A frank assessment of your lineup’s strengths and weaknesses is essential to ensure that a) you don’t break more than what you fix, and b) you focus your efforts on fixing problems with the greatest impact.

So how do you assess the impact of your current lineup?  First, mine existing data sources that could help point to your situation.  If you have syndicated data, that is a usually good place to start.  Panel data in particular can help uncover issues with trial, loyalty, and repeat purchase for which your lineup can play a role.  But you probably do not want to stop there.  In order to identify the root cause of your problems, and truly confirm any issues related to your lineup, primary research, where you specifically talk with users and non-users, is often essential.  Shop-alongs and simulated shelf exercises, where you ask deep probing questions to your target consumers, can help shed light on important lineup issues that may be holding you back.

Mine the category and consumer to understand the jobs to be done

Jobs-to-be-done defines the tasks or outcomes a consumer is looking to fulfill in their lives, relative to the specific context in which that job occurs.  This approach considers the motivations that drive your consumer to this category, the outcome he or she desires, and captures any workarounds or barriers to fulfilling that job.  It extends the “Who” and “What” understanding of your target to include “Why”, and enables product assortments that better reflect how consumers actually engage with a category rather than the benefits or features that already define the space.   When brands organize solely on “Who” and/or “What”, the resulting architecture may be clear and even shoppable, but it quickly becomes rigid.  It can result in product groupings based on superficial demographics (Health Seeker) or on similar features (Organic).  Future innovations are more difficult to place because benefits can compound and the race to generate new news creates multiple layers of communication.  While your consumer may be a health seeker (who), who likes organic products (what), they are hiring organic products to help them achieve their best self (why).  In this scenario, the motivational “Why” is bigger than just the original products considered, enabling for future brand stretch, or capturing more consumers under a similar “promise.”

Always Deliver Your Core Brand Promise

Any good brand lineup optimization must be rooted in what your brand stands for, its primary “points of difference.”  All products in your brand lineup, regardless of price point, form, or category, must deliver on this core promise or they don’t belong in your brand lineup.  For example, P&G’s brand Gain must deliver on a core promise of “scent of clean,” regardless of whether it is selling detergent, fabric softener, dish soap, or floor surface cleaners.  Some variants may be more premium than others, but even the basic, entry-level SKUs deliver on this core promise.  Therefore, your core brand promise provides an important filter when identifying potential new jobs for your brand.

Understand the Category Landscape

Of course, brands do not exist in a vacuum, so when you work to optimize your lineup, you need to be aware of the category trends and competitive forces that have an impact in shaping your brand’s lineup.  Often times, brands launch new SKUs directly in response to a competitor’s actions or to fulfill a retailer’s request.  Over time, if these SKUs aren’t consistently evaluated and pruned, they can force your lineup’s complexity to balloon, affecting both how your brand comes across on shelf and your company’s bottom line.  At the same time, when rationalizing your portfolio, it’s important to model the proposed changes under the current category context.  How will changing the brand’s lineup affect competitors?  How are they likely to react? How does it impact the retailer’s business?  Is there an opportunity to jointly create value for the retailer and the brand from optimizing the lineup?  The best lineup optimization efforts proactively consider all these factors upfront.

Articulating the right price/value proposition for each of your offerings

Among the many insights that job theory provides, two of the most important are the gains a consumer expects to get from completing the job, as well as the problems or pain points that they are looking to solve.  Quantifying the impact of these pains and gains is extremely useful in understanding the value of these jobs to your consumers, and can serve as a key input to price your various offerings.  It also helps your consumers understand why each offering exists and which offering is best suited for a particular occasion.  What is the cost (in time, effort, or money) when a product doesn’t fully deliver on the consumer’s “job to be done?”  Are there more premium products outside the immediate category that we can use to reframe our value proposition?  On the flip side, if you are launching a lower-priced version of your product to attract new consumers, it’s important you “demotivate” your current users from trading down by clearly articulating the trade-offs, and how each product is best suited for a different set of jobs.  Your lower-priced product should lack important features or benefits that are important to deliver the higher value jobs that are better addressed by your more premium products.

Bringing it all together with the right language

A strong lineup helps consumers navigate the various products within a category or brand portfolio.  A well-crafted design architecture brings to life the promise of the brand, and leverages the most appropriate visual cues to connect emotionally while driving ease of navigation.

When designing product groupings within a portfolio, look at each grouping to ensure the distinctive benefits and jobs of this grouping are clearly conveyed.  Also step back and consider the lineup as a whole, to ensure that your core brand promise, and brand equities are remaining cohesive and consistent.  A visual strategy should be developed to inform core brand equities and assets and how they work to unify the product lineup, while also defining where and how to vary the system to best capture the promise of each product grouping.

For example, at shelf, Campbell’s has a very specific set of assets that define their brand as a whole.  And when that core brand promise extends into one-handed consumption, the design of the label is very consistent with that of their iconic can.  Campbell’s instead relies on the new form of the container to do the work of communicating convenience whereas the consistent graphic design reassures the consumer that the classic Campbell’s experience is what is inside.  By contrast, Campbell’s Chunky line, signals a differentiated benefit, and therefore a more intentional derivation of the core design is appropriate, to better reflect the job – A richer, more filling experience.  

In summary, jobs theory, combined with a thorough understanding of your brand and its category landscape, can guide your brand lineup choices and help you achieve important business objectives.  Just like an inefficient lineup can result in lost business, a bold but data-driven lineup optimization effort can unlock growth opportunities for your brand and help it achieve its full potential.

Ramon Rodriguez is the Founder/CEO of Collaborate.Biz, a Chicago-based, innovative company that helps businesses unlock revenue through strategic, brand-compatible partnerships.  He is a classically trained marketer with 10+ years of brand management experience at top consumer goods companies, such as Procter & Gamble, Abbott, and Conagra.  Ramon has helped grow businesses ranging from  less than $300K to over $2Bn in annual sales, leading long-term innovation, brand development, and P&L management on numerous brands, categories and markets.  Ramon holds an MBA from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, as well as Bachelor and Master’s degrees from MIT.

Chris Ertel is the Director of Strategy at DRC, a branding and design firm in Chicago, IL.  For over twelve years, Chris works with startups and Fortune 500 companies alike to unlock brand potential that is rooted in consumer insights and activated through cohesive strategies and executions. Chris has served some of the most respected brands for Procter & Gamble, Kraft/Heinz, General Mills, 3M, and Tyson.