Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen's Jobs To Be Done theory discards user personas. It instead focuses on the underlying social, emotional and functional needs resolvey by the product. A criticism against the theory is that there may be times when personas are helpful.
I was drowning in user personas. As an illustrator, I've worked for a range of clients. SMBs, Academics, Fortune 500s, Non-profits, indie musicians, Design leaders. If I were to build marketing tools to reach each segment using personas, how would that work? It's not like I'm selling Huggies diapers to an easily generalized group. So this helpful tool, became a hindrance, a source of confusion—even paralysis. For me, there are too many meaningfully different categories.
Ok, so Jobs To Be Done is more about the human needs that are commonly shared. By focusing on that, I began to notice patterns more clearly. "My customers want to be inspired and to inspire," gives a meaty basis to structure what I can build. Marketing as a team of one depends on intuition and luck. But it makes me my own bottleneck. The need to scout, assemble, hire and direct teams becomes a market of increased sophistication. Teams need clear communication to succeed.
The resources and time just aren't there to do full ethnographic digs into every world customers inhabit. Even if I could and uncovered great insights, I wouldn't have the capability to make 3+ versions of everything. It would feel Schizophrenic. So, I did informal research just asking people dumb questions—themes emerge. No need for personas.
The amazing thing I find about JTBD is that it's abstract like philosophy. But putting broad parameters around how you understand your role, your perspective changes. Marketing can also be an improvement of the product. It can extend into research and development. Not just presentation. This is so much more freeing for me than the legalism of slicing people into false mono-cultures. Does every cat lady enjoy blue cheese in the moonlight?