Hello world is usually the first application developers code in a new language they learn. When it comes to choosing your audience, hello world actually means the death of your project in most cases. Targeting the WORLD has its costs and challenges that are usually too big for any new project to handle.
Several years ago I was invited to lecture to mobile operator employees about innovation in the mobile market. I asked the HR manager about the background of the participants and I was told they are engineers from the R&D department. The lecture I prepared focused on the future of mobile technologies, devices, peripherals, connectivity, proximity, content, and the role of these technologies to enable new mobile services. Long story short, I never used the lecture I worked on because the participants were the CRM and billing engineers of the company. Needless to say this is not the audience to hear the lecture I prepared. I had to transform the lecture to an open discussion about future challenges of mobile operators’ IT departments. Of course you do not need me to tell you to make sure your service has an audience and that it fits its needs. When planning a mobile service the definition of adjusting your service to the relevant audience has a much broader impact than just its relevance. The decision on the service audience has a direct impact on expenses, operations, technological challenges, and other aspects. Based on the targeted audience, you are required to choose the product specification, the supported OS, the devices, the geography etc.
Working on strategy and innovation at moblers, my work is basically to incubate new projects and to meet potential clients and partners. I don’t use a reference handbook but there are questions I ask every company I meet with in order to get the feel of the market, of the service, and of the team. So when I ask them about their initial targeted audience I hear too many times the answer “global, everybody needs our service”. If I care about the company and the team, I recommend them to read this book:
It is good to have big dreams and I really wish everybody I meet with that their dreams come true but unless you have unlimited resources, you should make sure you target an audience you can actually support and provide good value to. This is the essence of this article and although it seems trivial, many companies are tempted to feel they are so good, they don’t need to focus.
In order to demonstrate the mistakes companies make in choosing their audience, I bring you “Tagged”. Tagged is the imaginary start-up I created for this article. Our product is simple, use our app and your smartphone camera to “tag” every home appliance and consumer electronics you own. You get a detailed list of your devices and the price we charge to insure them. This is not the standard theft or fire insurance but a supplementary service of fixing electric malfunction. We work with local technicians who registered with us and they fix the devices in accordance to a simple clear SLA.
Basically, “Tagged” audience is huge, do you know anyone who doesn’t have any devices!? So before we do the mistake and state that we want to target everybody, here are some points to consider.
- Your service is only a list of features based on assumptions and some research. Yes, I am sure many of your friends, your family, and even people you asked on the street told you great stuff about your planned service. You never know what your service should be until you actually have a product and you test it in the market. The kind of feedback you get from actual users who actually use your service is the only real feedback that you need in order to shape your product.
- Is the cost of insurance (the cost of fixing * statistical probability of malfunction + your fee) the same on a global perspective?
- Is it a cultural property to insure home appliances and consumer electronics? Is it a cultural tendency to fix rather than buy new products?
- What is the capacity you can handle of the listed service providers? (you need to verify all is working well)
- Can you enforce the SLA which is the way YOUR clients are treated by the service provider?
The list of questions gets longer the more you truly think about the viability of such a wide audience. The answers should aid you in getting your real initial target audience which in most cases should be very small and very relevant.
Concept vs. real product
Because your product is likely to change (a lot) after its launch, managing a complex project of continuous development for iOS and Android is very problematic. The better options you should take are either develop the application on a hybrid framework to get the mvp to the market or choose one OS to start with. [Wait, don’t say that you need it to be slick and on both OS, we are not talking about your final product. One thing I can advise you is to stabilize the product and only then with that perspective implement your final product the way you want. Your product will be a patchwork and managing the project with two unstable versions and feature lists will always be more expensive and more risky]. The choice between Hybrid or just one OS is based on your product and your audience’s demographics. In the case of Tagged, the choice will probably be a hybrid app because we do need to work with both OS and we do not need features that will be problematic to implement. The audience is not young users (they don’t own the devices) so there is no need to have rich graphical user interface or the quick response they are used to.
Your audience should be the type of audience that can provide you with significant honest and prompt response. You want the audience to be almost a captive audience, the kind that needs your product and feels dedicated to assist you with insight and suggestions. In the case of Tagged, it is logical to get an audience where Tagged personnel can access by car in order to monitor or assist when relevant.
Learn from Icarus
Make sure you expose your initial immature product to audience that will not have a dramatic impact on your reputation. The initial audience is the sand box in which you test your assumptions so make sure they don’t “burn” your name and influence your potential growth with the mature product. Tagged, as an example, should address a local suburban area and make sure there are no residents who are close to the subject and may have access to significant media exposure.
Choose an accessible audience and market that you can easily help or fill the gaps for in time of need. Your product and your procedures get tested for the first time and are most likely to experience difficulties so choose an audience that lets you monitor these situations and fix them. Be with your audience when things break and have the resources, the creativity, and the agility to assure things still operate. Tagged, for example, needs to be launched in a place where there are enough technicians or even Tagged own technician can easily assist if needed. Tagged also needs to be able to change servers easily and get support in Tagged office hours so the audience should be in a close timezone for instance. There are more byproducts to this direction but I hope you got the idea.
Allow yourself to improvise
This is very general and dependent on your type of service but it fits most services. You need to be able to have alternatives for components in your product. Choose the audience that uses the service in an ecosystem that is familiar to you. Tagged for example needs to operate in a place its management knows of electricity technicians, insurance companies, investors, and device models in order to be able to alternate resources and evolve according to the feedback.
The summarized advice
The above points are summarized only to make them more accessible to readers but there is a lot more to say about each of them and many more elements that should direct towards the right audience. Every influencing factor you consider will serve you in isolating the targeted audience you should approach. There are many companies who only use a single factor of product relevance but they usually suffer from the lack of planning when they need to face the outcome of the lack of focus. Make sure you think thoroughly about your targeted audience and choose exactly the kind of audience that fits your service and your circumstances. You will find that the right choice can really be the difference between failure and success.
Knowing your audience in the planning phase provides you with valuable input to the process and allows you to plan effectively. Follow the next article in the series to avoid another common mistake many companies and entrepreneurs do with mobile apps development.