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Product Management

How to Build Mobile Apps Customers Really Want

Roger Snyder  //  July 11, 2019  //  5 min read

As I’m writing this article, there are 2,687,780 mobile apps available in the Google Play store, and there were 2.2M mobile apps in the Apple App Store as of February 2019. Consumers have lots of choices when it comes to picking a mobile application! So, as a product manager for a mobile application, how on earth can you build an application that stands a chance of becoming a well-used, frequently purchased application, let alone rise to the level of “top 10?”

Let’s consider then how to rise above the fray. How long does an application have to prove itself, before the user moves on to something else? Three days. “The average app loses 77 percent of its DAUs (Daily Average Users) within the first three days after the install” according to research conducted in late 2018 by Andreessen Horowitz general partner Andrew Chen and mobile intelligence startup Quettra. Gulp.

As a mobile product manager, you have three days to delight your user before they turn to one of your competitors. How do you maximize your opportunity?

Know Thy Customer—and Thy Enemy

According to 280 Group research and our experience working with product managers for over 20 years, you must become an expert on what your customers really need and how you can differentiate your product from the competition. Sounds simple, right? Sure, but to get into the top 100 apps in the Google Play Store, you and your application have to be in the top 0.004 percent of all applications.

Fear not—the whole point of this article is to provide some help! But, let’s understand the problem in a little more depth.

Recently, 280 Group conducted the largest survey of its kind amongst product management professionals.  With over 1650 participants, we learned which skill sets product managers score strongly on, and which are areas for improvement.  There were seven major findings in the resulting Benchmark report, which you can download here.

Two findings that are of particular interest to mobile PMs were areas of strength and weakness in product management skills. The survey found that across the 15 different skill sets product managers need to thrive in their profession, customer understanding was one of the strongest skill sets, while competitive analysis was amongst the weakest.

Three Strongest and Weakest PM Skill Sets compared to the average skill set score.

It’s great that most PMs are strong in the customer understanding skill set but troublesome that competitive analysis is a weak spot.

Six Tips to Finding Real Value

If you’ve got only three days for your application to prove it’s worth to the user, it better truly solve a problem or satisfy a need. To really understand how to do this, you need to deeply understand your customers and your competition. So, the tips below are designed to help PMs, new and experienced, up their game in these two crucial skill sets.

  1. Develop real personas that reflect your customers. Personas provide “stand-ins” for the customers that you expect will want your application most. As you segment your market, you develop at least one persona for each segment that represents the typical goals, behaviors, attitudes and background of users in that segment. To be valuable, these personas must be based on real market research—both quantitative and qualitative. There’s no room to go into depth here, but I recommend you start with qualitative research that includes direct and indirect contact with your customers. Spend as much time with them as you can to really understand their needs. To extend your reach beyond 1:1 contact, tools like the Apptentive Customer Feedback Platform can help gather more information faster, and provide in-depth insights.
  2. Identify the “moments that matter” with a Customer Journey. Once you know who your customers are, a customer journey helps you focus on the things they want and need as they discover, choose, use and hopefully re-use your app. This technique helps you prioritize your efforts on only these “moments that matter,” the ones that are likely to really fulfill their needs or solve their problems. Since time is short, consider how you can make the “first use” or “onboarding” aspects of your app as quick and easy as possible, while also providing a “quick win” to your customer. That is, knowing what your customer really values, can you give them some of that value in the first 10 minutes of use?
  3. Find the job your customers are hiring your app for. Another powerful approach to gaining a deeper understanding is to consider your customer’s Jobs To Be Done (JTBD). This is a particularly valuable approach if your customers are using your app to conduct their own business, but the approach does bring useful insights for consumer apps as well. In fact, one of the first applications of the JTBD approach was with retirees looking to downsize their homes.
  4. Focus on benefits in your competitive analysis. Now that you understand what your customers really need and want, you can up your product comparison approach to competitive analysis by incorporating two key fields—benefits, and customer value. You are comparing the feature set of your application against those of your top 3-5 competitors, right? Good. But now take this a step further by adding two more columns to your matrix. For each feature, what is the real benefit (problem solved, need met) that this feature provides, and how much does your customer value this benefit versus all of the others? Based on the first three tips, you now better understand what features actually matter, and can focus on only those features where it both matters to the customer and your competition is beating you, or you have a chance to exceed your competition’s weak spots.
  5. Establish benchmarks against your top competitors, and then track these relentlessly. Track your top 3-5 competitive apps closely using competitive analysis tools like SimilarWeb or Apptopia that can help you compare your own stickiness, DAU and MAU to that of your competitors. In combination with the product comparison, you should be able to better measure how effectively you are solving your customers’ problems or bringing a smile to their face versus your competitors.
  6. Perform a SWOT analysis from your competitor’s perspective. It’s very helpful to “step into someone else’s shoes” and look at the market and the customer from their perspective. Don’t stop though at just developing the four bullet lists of traditional SWOT analysis. Take it to the next level by building a second matrix that helps you consider what actions you should take to beat your competitor. As noted in the graphic below, focus on the weaknesses row as you look for areas to make your application more compelling than this competitor. Taking Action Against Competitors (from Optimal Product Management training)

Hopefully, these tips will spark some new ideas for how you improve your understanding of your customers’ needs and differentiate your product versus the competition. To gain a more in-depth understanding of these tips and other necessary core skills in product management, take a look at Optimal Product Management training.

If you want more specific help, you can find out how you stack up against other mobile product managers and get more specific recommendations on how to improve your skills, by taking our skills survey here. You’ll receive a personalized report that assesses your skills across 15 different skill sets, and lets you compare your skills against the Benchmark to identify how to leverage your strengths and where you need to improve.

About Roger Snyder

Roger Snyder is a Principal Consultant/Trainer, and Director of Product Marketing at 280 Group. He has worked in the field of Product Management for over 20 years, with experience in startups, growth companies, and various technology sectors. He specializes in improving product strategy development, implementing full product lifecycle processes, and roadmap development and evolution. 280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. They help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using the Optimal Product Process™.
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