Many businesses, when faced with a dissatisfaction with their current digital offering, or when finding themselves itching to reach new customers and appear up-to-date, will sit down in a meeting and utter the phrase: ‘Let’s make an app’.
This in itself is no bad thing. According to comScore we have now passed the ‘tipping point’ where the majority of consumption of digital media takes place via mobile (60%) as opposed to desktop (40%). App companies like King and Zynga post revenues over $1 billion showing the insatiable appetite we have for quality entertainment on our phones and tablets.
Brainstorming app ideas can be a fun, creative experience and inject excitement into otherwise tiresome production, sales and marketing meetings. However, this can occasionally lead to putting the cart before the horse and diving into the detail of an app before the crucial question is asked: “Should we build an app?”
To answer this question fully you need to look at both your business’s reasoning and motivations behind creating an app, but more importantly you have to spend time researching and discovering whether your existing customers want an app. If you can’t entice your loyal customers with an app, it’s unlikely that you’ll win over a vast number of new customers with your digital offering.
What is your business’s reasoning for wanting an app?
There are some key ‘red flags’ to watch out for when looking at the motivation behind your app development:
- If you are looking for an app to further promote your business or provide a brochure of the products and services you offer.
- You haven’t researched, experimented or tested whether the same offering could be made via a mobile version of your website
- You don’t know enough about your customers and the numbers that currently engage with you via mobile
Approximately 10% of the apps created are responsible for 90% of app usage, so you will be entering an extremely competitive, crowded marketplace. There are over 1.3 million apps on Google Play and over 1.2million on iOS. So if your motivation is simply to get noticed, then increasing your marketing budget will pay for greater dividends. Around a quarter of all apps are only used once so if you want to build ongoing brand awareness invest in advertising. Ultimately you may be far better off looking at improving how your website works on mobile before going anywhere near app development
Is it worth it?
Supporting multiple versions of software can be a pain with apps. Testing on multiple devices can become an absolute headache and fixing, tweaking and releasing new versions of the app can be time-consuming and this all adds up to a greater cost with potentially limited budget. To counteract this you really need to be sure that:
- You know your customers want an app
- You are clear about the function of the type of app they desire
- You know the platform(s) that the majority of your mobile customers use
- You are certain that customers will be engaged and eager to use your app.
You can’t answer these questions from within a planning meeting. You need to go out and actively talk to your customers, to listen to their problems and to discuss your app-based solution and gauge their genuine response.
The successful entrepreneur and academic, Steve Blank, penned the Customer Development program: a scientific method which can be used by entrepreneurs and start-ups to better understand their customers and thus increase their chances of success. Many of these techniques are extremely relevant for your first foray into an app store, for even if you are an established company, if you are building your first app then you are effectively a well-funded app-start-up heading into the unknown and hyper-competitive world of the app stores.
Customer development has four key stages:
- Customer Discovery
- Customer Validation
- Customer Creation
- Company Building
The overall methodology is too large and complex to surmise in a single blog post but full details can be found at Steve Blank’s personal site: http://steveblank.com
What I find really relevant for the process of app creation is the phase of Customer Discovery. In this phase a business will:
- Stop selling and start listening
- Test their hypotheses
Before creating any digital offering, a business should know about their customers’ key problems. Through listening to these it’s possible that technical solutions will present themselves. However, each of these solutions will make key assumptions about their users and their environment. These assumptions and hypotheses need to be tested as quickly and as cheaply as possible before committing to any development. There are many tools that can support you in doing this (surveys, workshops and paper prototypes, for example), but ultimately you need to be listening to your customers and gauging the severity of their problem and the passion they have for your solution.
Failing to test these assumptions early can lead to expensive failures:
- You might have a great idea for an app that lets users know which nearby pubs are offering happy hours, only to find that finding pubs with happy hours has never been a problem or of interest to your customers.
- Creating an app-based remote control may be no good if your customers rarely lose the remote control.
- A baking recipe app won’t do well if your core customers tell you they hate having to unlock their phone screen when their hands are covered in flour.
Some of this advice may seem obvious, but the passion and excitement for building a new app or digital product can often blind businesses to seeing where they have made risky assumptions. A methodology like customer discover can ensure you take effective and efficient steps towards success. Through listening and testing and then repeating the process after each iterative phase you build up a body of knowledge that allows you to confidently take sensible decisions, knowing that the end result will be welcomed by eager and engaged customers for your product.