Research what you need to do before you build your mobile app

Market research is a critical step in developing your mobile app. It tells you who your customers are, who your competitors are and how to succeed
Jul 28, 2020 • 8 minute read
Kym Dunbar @whiteshepherd
Technical Co-pilot
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To build a great mobile app, you need to know the market, your users and your competition

With the mobile app market booming, maybe you have an idea for a mobile app but don't know where to start. Worth $106 billion in 2018, indications are it'll skyrocket in value to $406 billion by 2026.

You think your idea for a new mobile app will solve a world problem or fit into a niche market. You're excited. But will it really? Before building your mobile app do your research or you could fall flat on your face and waste time and money.

Without researching the market, users and competitors to discover the truth, your app can fail. Research gives you direction and helps you nail what users want that's not already available. And if you need investors to help bring your mobile app dream to life, they'll want to see the research that makes the project viable before handing over their cash.

The impact of research

Completing research is critical to all stages of developing mobile apps. Understanding your end user and what they want and need allows you to pay attention to the details during development. So, when it hits the market, users scramble to buy it. You need to know what excites people.

It's research that helps make the mobile app building journey successful. Keep in mind the market is flooded with apps, so you need to do your research to know what gaps there are in the market. And only by researching the market, competitors and users on an ongoing basis will you know how to make an impact.

You want to reach as many users as possible. The only way to do that is to do your research for in-depth insight to hook users into buying into your app.

Market research is critical

Market research is critical, but it's not easy. Whether you choose to research the potential market the old-fashioned way on paper — which is time consuming — or the quick way using an app, it's essential to identify the target market, competitors and how your idea fits in.

Start with the problem

Before you do anything, you need to know whether your idea is viable. Start with the problem your app will solve. Search the market to see what and how other apps already solve the problem. Download similar apps to your idea to discover what others are doing to address the same problem. You want to know which apps work and why others don't work. Even talk to a professional to find out if what you have in mind is technically possible.

Consider the following:

  • Does your app idea solve pain points in the target market?
  • Will your app improve people’s lives when they use it?

Only once you answer these questions will you know if your app is a value proposition or not.

Assess your target audience

You need to identify and assess your target audience. This is crucial to building a strong user base. When assessing your target audience consider:

  • How often will they use the app?
  • At what time of the day will they use it?
  • What type of devices do they use, Android or iOS?

Understanding your target audience helps you build a mobile app that specifically meets their needs.

User research

The whole point of developing a mobile app is to solve problems for users. Before you start building an app you need to develop a strategy focused on end users right from the start. User research should continue throughout the whole development through to its final stage. Why? You want to understand the user experience during different app development phases. And it guides your vision for the end product.

User research involves different methods, such as quantitative and qualitative research:

  • Quantitative research is analyzing mathematical, numerical or statistical data obtained from questionnaires, polls and surveys.
  • Qualitative research collects data through interviews and users testing prototypes for in-depth understanding about whether your app is on the right track.

Doing user research lets you measure their behavior and the type of experience they expect from a mobile app. This allows you to realistically analyze your app throughout the whole building process. What you should consider includes:

  • Does it meet target audience expectations?
  • What features do users want?
  • Is it fit for purpose?
  • Is it easy to use?

User research helps to create a relevant mobile app

Completing user research before you start building an app helps you to create a truly relevant mobile app, because you understand your end users. When you do not understand end users, how do you know if it is relevant and whether they will use it or not? If it is not relevant, your app will fail. User research is important. Researching the target market helps you form a development plan to meet user needs.

Use the research to develop an easy to use app

Understand not all app users are tech savvy. Researching users helps you learn whether your app prototype is user-friendly and simple to use. People will not use an app that is hard to use. Apps are supposed to solve their problems, not create more. If there are technical glitches or it's hard to navigate, for example, people will not use it and get an app from your competitor.

It's all well and good that you have no problems using your app. You created it and know exactly how to navigate and use its functions.

Having usability guidelines before you start makes the development process run smoothly. Test your app throughout the development process to get the best results. Testing your app once you finish it can cause all sorts of problems and expensive changes. And changes may not be possible at such a late stage which means you are stuck with an app no one will use.

Produce an appropriate design

User research gives you insight to what end users want and will help you create a design they love to use. Understanding what your target audience likes allows you to design to meet unmet needs and even meet needs they didn't know they had before your app hit the market. Good user research looks at different perspectives so you can design with empathy.

Develop fun, easy to use features

App features need to be fun and easy to use to attract a wide audience. Why? Because if your app is frustrating to use, people will dump it.

As Apple cofounder Steve Jobs said, "If the user is having a problem, it’s our problem."

To discover and understand user problems, you need answers to the following questions:

  • Who will use your app?
  • What social class do they fit into?
  • What is their level of education?
  • What type of work do they do?

This will tell you the user demographic and how they will use your app. While your users may be well educated, if they can't use it properly then they'll use an app that does work.

Not all users are tech savvy

Not all users are tech savvy and you shouldn't expect them to be experts. You have to develop your app from the point of view of end users. Making it too technical to use means people will not use the app you develop.

Results of your research drive the end product

Be consistent in how you carry out your market research, but be realistic. Avoid boring users. They expect your app to be easy to use, unique and to solve their problem. So, keep testing your app throughout its development to get the results your target audience expects.

Research competitors

Now you understand your end users, analyze your competitors to see how it stands up against them. You need to know your point of difference and why people will buy your app over a competitor.

With more than 2 million apps available at Google Play and 1.83 million in the Apple App Store, you need to understand your competition. Researching competitors is essential for a competitive edge.

What is your unique value proposition?

Completing an in-depth analysis of the market gives you valuable insight into competitors, such as what strategies they use and their strengths and weaknesses. This helps you avoid making the same mistakes. After all, building an app the same as others on the market won't encourage many people to use yours.

A unique value proposition (UVP) is at the heart of your competitive advantage. It's what sets your app apart from the rest and makes people want to use it. The UVP is the first step in considering how to optimize loyalty from users for the app’s success. When analyzing competitors look for their UVP to understand what values their app offers customers.

To develop a Unique Value Proposition, look at users' needs first. Then look at which of those needs are being met by a competitor. Any part of your app that addresses the needs that aren't being met by a competitor is your Unique Value Proposition.

Identify your competitors

Now you have a UVP, identify your competitors. List at least five or more apps in direct competition and use keywords to discover their strengths and weaknesses. Look at the market they're targeting, the product, its features, marketing strategy and customer support.

Check out app store offerings

Check out competitors’ app store offerings. How are they doing? Look at the average rating for their products, past and present versions. This gives valuable insight into what their users think.

Also analyze competitors' reviews. This will tell you what customers like and dislike about an app and what bugs they've reported. Also look at what users are asking for in the next release. What you find will allow you to resolve customer issues with other apps to give you an edge over competitors.

Pay attention to how they brand their product, keywords used and the product description. This is an opportunity to find ways to create a point of difference.

Talk to potential users

Start a conversation with potential users. Ask their opinion of other products on the market. This is a great way to get honest feedback about your direct competition to use in your app development and marketing strategy.

Ask industry experts

Ask industry experts their opinion when developing an app for the industry. Ask questions such as:

  • What worked in the past?
  • What didn't work?
  • What future trends can they see that will affect the industry?

The answers to these can help you make smart decisions during product development.

Watch your indirect competitors

While you may think indirect competition isn't important, it can be a threat when targeting the same customers. An indirect competitor may not be offering apps, but they still offer services and products that attract your target audience. Don't get too hung up on the services and products they offer. Instead, analyze how they target their audience and keep their customers returning. Look at:

  • What they do that makes them successful
  • Is there any chance they will become a direct competitor?
  • How do their products and services compete with your business?

Remember, you're both competing for the same target audience so you need to analyze their branding and marketing strategies as well as their products and services.

Read industry reports to stay up to date

Read industry reports to stay up to date with the latest technology and statistics. What was popular the previous year can give you new ideas. These also reveal key facts and information about competitors and what they're doing. This can send you in a new direction with new ideas as it reveals competitive threats in the market.

In conclusion

Research can set your app up to succeed. It helps you create an app relevant to users with user-friendly features. Neglect the importance of research and you can fail.

Doing your research is not about copying competitors but it is for insight into how app users interact with brands directly and indirectly. Knowing your competitors gives you the edge as you can avoid making the same mistakes and exploit any market gaps.

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