Milkshakes in the Morning – The JTBD Story

How a fast food restaurant increased sales of milkshakes by identifying who it was really competing against in the customers’ eyes.

Perhaps the most recognizable application of the Jobs to be Done (JTBD) theory is the case study of its application by a leading fast food restaurant.

Here we share with you how, through the work of Clay Christensen and Bob Moesta, this fast food restaurant flipped the lens of how it viewed its consumers to unpack their switching moments and understand who they were really competing against, to ultimately unlock growth for the company.

The challenge with using ‘traditional’ customer data

When you first think about milkshakes, you might think that people buy them because they’re hungry, they like the taste or perhaps they like the consistency. If you asked them if they would like milkshakes with different thicknesses or flavors, they would most likely tell you “yes”.

However, you could change the milkshakes to meet what you think customers want – what they told you they want, only to find that this doesn’t cause customers to buy more milkshakes. 

The way to increase sales of milkshakes isn’t to introduce new flavors, it’s to improve the product in such a way it does the “job” better for the consumer.

“The way to increase sales of milkshakes isn’t to introduce new flavors… it’s to improve the product in such a way it does the “job” better for the consumer.”

People don’t buy things randomly, they hire products to make progress in their life.

Identifying the JTBD of the Milkshake Customer 

Clayton Christensen and his team were asked to help uncover why its customers were purchasing milkshakes. The fast food restaurant chain, like many other large and established organizations, had access to a wealth of data on their milkshake customers. Yet, despite attempts to interview their customers and develop improvements to the product itself, the overall impact on sales was minimal. 

Clayton and his team, including President of The Re-Wired Group, Bob Moesta, conducted a number of interviews as part of the Jobs to be Done process with customers to learn why they chose to purchase a milkshake. 

They undercovered two separate jobs they were looking to accomplish. 

What these milkshake buyers had in common had nothing to do with their individual demographics. Rather, they all shared a common job they needed to get done in the morning:

‘Help me stay awake and occupied while I make my morning commute more fun.’

We had identified the job for the morning milkshake buyer. However, we also found that other customers were buying milkshakes at other times during the day, outside of the morning commute. This was another job: the parent who wants to give their child a special treat in the afternoon.

In that moment, the milkshake isn’t competing against a banana or a Snickers bar or a doughnut, like the morning milkshake is. It’s competing against stopping at the toy store.


The key insight from the milkshake example is that “People hired milkshakes for two very different jobs during the day, in two very different circumstances. Each job has a very different set of competitors… and therefore was being evaluated as the best solution according to very different criteria.”

Our JTBD work on milkshakes is featured in Clayton Christensen’s latest book Competing Against Luck. If you’re looking to understand who or what your product is really competing against, learn more about What is Jobs to Be Done?

Watch Clayton speak about this case study below. Interested in learning more? Listen to the rest of the milkshake story.

Clayton Christensen discussing Milkshakes in the Morning