Cloud Computing, Milkshakes and the Future of IT

by Asif Khan

Last summer, the CIO of a large law firm I had once worked with wanted to meet for lunch to discuss cloud computing. He was worried that the increasing use of “shadow IT” at his firm could lead to a serious security breach. He figured that if the IT organization could develop and demonstrate a cloud computing proof of concept, that could buy him some time to transition to a Service-Based IT model over the long term in order to mitigate the threat of his firm’s intellectual property being exposed.

He seemed to have a good grasp of what a transformation to an IT-as-a-Service model would involve he just didn’t know how to get started. He was worried about technology refresh budgets, the difficulty of rethinking existing processes and cultural resistance to such a major change. In other words, people, process and technology. Nice work.

When he asked me what he should do, I suddenly had a Benjamin Braddock moment. I replied, “One word. Milkshakes.”

Strawberry_milkshakeThe Setup

Clayton Christensen, Harvard Professor and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma (a must read!), discusses a real life case study with his HBS Marketing Class. A major fast food restaurant chain set out to improve milkshake sales at their restaurants. Their marketing department followed the classic marketing play book: they conducted focus groups to ask consumers what they wanted in a milkshake. After extensive testing, they came up with new flavors, new sizes, new pricing, new promotions, etc.

A Faster Horse

As you probably guessed, the efforts of the marketing department barely moved the sales needle. So the company asked for help. Professor Christensen brought in some researchers who employed a different approach, remembering what Henry Ford once said to a reporter when asked how he came up with the idea for the Model T (“if I asked my customers, they would want a faster horse”).

The researchers applied lessons from the professor’s 2003 book, The Innovator’s Solution. They employed a technique the professor calls “Jobs-to-be-Done Marketing.”

NOTE: If you are not familiar with the JTBD concept, please read my previous post, Marketing 101: Jobs-to-be-Done Theory, which I wrote as a primer to this discussion. Go on. We’ll wait for you…


Instead of asking customers what they wanted in a milkshake, the researchers analyzed why people buy milkshakes in the first place. What job are they “hiring” the milkshake to do? What they discovered from observing and interviewing customers is that the majority of milkshake buyers fell into two distinct demographics.

  1. Customer A was an adult male who bought his milkshake in the morning primarily as a distraction to boredom during his long commute to work. He used the drive-thru because speed and efficiency was important to him.
  2. Customer B was a mom who visited the restaurant to buy milkshakes for her kids as an after-school treat. Her main concern was that she wanted the kids to finish their shakes quickly so they wouldn’t be late to their after school activities.

The researchers analyzed the jobs that these two customer demographics “hired” the milkshake to do and devised a marketing plan to fulfill those requirements.

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