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Understanding Your App’s Target Audience

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This post is part of a series called iPhone Design 101.
The Pros and Cons of Apple Default vs. Custom Graphics
Killer Tips for iPhone and iPad Icon Design

In Part 5 of this series, “The Mobile App Design Process”, I touched briefly on the the importance of identifying and exploring “who is” the target audience for your application. In this article, we’ll go beyond identifying the “who is” and take a closer look at how your audience should affect everything about your app from concept to launch.

Understanding Your Target Audience

The Audience Matters More Than the Idea

It’s easy to get excited about app ideas. I hear great ideas every day, but in most cases they’re ideas that originate around a task or function, rather than a specific audience. The target audience is considered as an after thought, only important when formulating the marketing plan. The more apps I design and launch, the more I’m convinced it’s better to start with a specific target audience and create ideas based on the needs of that audience.

Why Start With the Audience?

"But my idea is great! Even I need this app!" I’ve said this myself. I AM my audience, so why do I need to think about who I’m targeting with this app? Simply put, the "I am my target audience" methodology is flawed. Speaking from personal experience, if I had spent more time researching and polling my audience, I would have either brought some of the apps I’ve published to market much differently, or, in some cases, perhaps not at all.

A perfect example is our app, Doodle Bright. When the idea originated, the iPad had not even launched - I was using a wooden prototype to draw and test ideas. The problem is we identified our initial target audience as previous Lite Brite users, a novelty, retro app that adults who enjoyed the original toy would buy. Right, but mostly WRONG. Those people were buying the app, but they were buying it for their kids! If we had taken a week or two to poll the idea for the true target audience we would have very quickly narrowed down a very concise and targeted plan around:

  1. Pricing - What are parents expecting and willing to pay for an app that is fun, but not educational? Maybe the pricing should be less than an educational app.
  2. Upsell Opportunities - What is the value to parents? Does it keep the children entertained for 15 minutes or 15 seconds? If the value is high - perhaps they would be willing to make an in-app purchase to amp up the entertainment level even further.
  3. Design - Our original design was not targeted towards children. It was targeted for adults who got into the original toy. Once gameplay begins, the playful colors have eye catching appeal for a child, but if presented with a choice of our design versus a very kid-centric design, Doodle Bright would have a tough time competing.
  4. Interaction Design - The app was not designed specifically for a child’s mind. We did not do research on the most successful apps for kids before designing Doodle Bright. Not to say that the interface doesn’t work for kids, but we certainly made tweaks to the interface once we realized who made up the bulk of our audience.
  5. Marketing - We first market to the parent, but build the app for the kids. This is an insight we did not have during the "idea phase" because we started with the idea, not the audience. If we had taken extra steps to reveal the entirety of the audience, our marketing efforts would have been more successful. Instead, we marketed to adults in general, not parents.

Notice how knowing information about your audience touches many pieces of the product development? It doesn’t just impact marketing. It it a critical piece of the entire process.

How to Fine Tune Your Idea

If you’re reading this article, you probably already have an idea or perhaps have a client with an idea. You need to find out who is going to go crazy for your app idea. Or, even if you don’t have an idea, answering the following questions is a useful exercise to help you narrow down audiences that are a good target for mobile apps.

Does Your Audience Need an App?

Businesses with an existing customer base are the first to fall into the "we’ve gotta have an iPhone app!!" brouhaha. People want to "stay up with the technology" without considering if the product will bring value in the mobile context.

As an example, a company called me a few months ago that helps doctors offices generate more revenue by making phone calls to patients to remind them of appointments. Great, maybe they can make an app that reminds their patients of their appointment! Problem is, 99% of their patients do not own a smartphone. Which leads me to our next point.

Is Your Audience on iPhone?

You would think this is a no-brainer, but I’ve had dozens of calls from people with ideas like the above example. Think about how many ideas you’ve had or heard about that include an audience that simply isn’t on iPhone! I hear great ideas for apps all the time that are perfect for Blackberry users.

Does Your Audience Use Apps?

When I first began polling friends and family about the types of apps they use, I was surprised to learn how many "regular" people do not use a great quantity of apps. I then reflected on my own habits, which include testing apps for "work", but for my own personal use revolve only around 3 - 4 apps! Do some asking around to make sure the people you have in mind to use your app are in the habit of using more than just the Mail and Phone applications!

Is Your Idea Mobile-Centric?

porting to mobile is a natural next step for growth of that product. Sometimes products are a good fit for mobile, but sometimes they aren’t.

For example, WebMD is in the process of porting their content to mobile. Is this the right move? Let’s think about their audience. People are at doctors offices waiting for appointments, a perfect time to surf their smart phone for more information on their health problem. In this case, the content is very mobile-centric.

Another example is a company that wanted to devise a lie detector test based on books they have written on the topic of deception detection. We sliced and diced the idea a million ways before deciding that there wasn’t a way to create a real, working lie detector for iPhone because using their methodology relied heavily on human evaluation of the subject.

Who is on iPhone?

Once you have narrowed down that your idea is mobile centric, and your users have iPhones and have needs, it’s time to learn more about their physical and emotional makeup and surroundings. Two components to research include demographic and psychographic information.

The iPhone Demographic

What is the iPhone demographic? It depends. Are you talking about iPhone and iPod touch or just iPhone? Generally speaking, iPod touch users skew younger than iPhone. You have kids whose parents buy the iPod touch for music and text messaging, before the child is old enough to own a phone. Do your research for the latest reports of iPhone to really understand who is using the device and how they are using it. Or, better yet, do some independent polling of your own on Twitter or with friends and family. The results might surprise you!

The iPhone Psychographic

Audience demographics are a common consideration defining a product’s target audience, but what about psychographics? Psychographic variables are any attributes relating to personality, values, attitudes, interests, or lifestyles. Although not "iPhone" specific, a study by Mindset Media found that Mac users are: superior, arrogant, open, perfectionists. Oye that hurts!

Seriously, it’s important to think about the emotional impact your app will have on its audience. Does it give a sense of relief because they don’t miss a plane? Or a sense of accomplishment by checking off an entire to-do task list? I’ll list out some brainstorming questions below that will help you identify some of the psychographic characteristics of your target audience.

Questions to Ask Yourself

The below list of questions will help you to fully explore the demographic and psychographic makeup of your audience.

  • Are they male/female?
  • How old are they?
  • Where do they live?
  • Do they have children?
  • Are they married?
  • Where are they when they use the app?
  • Do they love a competitive app? Why?
  • What do they do?
  • What do they have in common?
  • Why are they interested in the topic?
  • Who are they trying to impress?
  • Who impresses them?
  • What are their biggest fears?
  • What are their biggest hopes?
  • What Internet tools do they use most every day?
  • What Internet tools do they not use ever?
  • What drives my target to make decisions?
  • Can they afford my app?
  • Can I reach them with my app? Are they accessible?
  • Are there enough people in your target to be profitable?
  • How does your idea resonate with your audience on an emotional level?
  • Do you need to break your target up into niches?

Conclusion - Who Cares?

If you have only one takeaway from this article, it’s to ask yourself one question: "Who Cares?" Sounds a tad cynical, but a simple phrase to keep in the back of your mind during the app development process. Will anyone really care about this app? If the answer is yes - Godspeed!

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