One of my favorite marketing articles is "Marketing Malpractice: The Cause and the Cure," written by innovation guru Clayton M. Christensen, Intuit cofounder Scott Cook, and Taddy Hall of the Advertising Research Foundation.

Published in the December 2005 issue of Harvard Business Review, the article teaches important lessons about developing and differentiating products in today's crowded markets, including crafting the most effective messages.

Wrong From the Start

Christensen and his coauthors point out that product developers and marketers often set themselves up for failure right from the start by defining target segments in terms of customer types (contractors, homeowners, small businesses, large corporations) instead of customer needs. To develop and promote products that make headway in crowded markets—or even expand markets—companies should focus on the "job" that customers want accomplished.

Their article expands on the legendary observation made by Harvard Business School marketing professor Ted Levitt: People don't want a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.

Almost every marketer has heard this maxim, but many fail to act on it.

The Right Approach

Look at the "job" performed by McDonald's shakes, the authors write. Observing and interviewing shake buyers and sales patterns, researchers found that a surprising number of shake sales were made during breakfast hours. Researchers discovered that many people who bought these morning shakes had long, boring commutes and needed something that would last most of their commute so they wouldn't be hungry again at 10 a.m.

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Kathryn Roy is managing partner of Precision Thinking (, a consulting firm helping B2B technology companies boost the effectiveness of their marketing and sales organizations. Reach her via or Twitter (@karoy1).