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Imagine being able to vastly improve your chances of launching a successful mobile app without writing a single line of code.

The good news: Though a well-coded app is a must-have for mobile success, you don’t have to be a programmer to help make sure your app gets a great start. In fact, simply having the right knowledge before you build a prototype can increase your chances of success.

That’s exactly what I’m going to share with you in this post: the three key pieces of information you need before prototyping your mobile app. These are the questions we’ve leveraged consistently over the last few years to ensure that when we design and develop mobile apps, we are equipped with the right information to deliver a product people want—before we ever write a line of code.

Let’s get to it. Here’s what you need to know:

What Industry Trends Are Shaping Consumer Expectations?

Before you dive into building your prototype, it’s important that you do a little bit of investigation to understand what consumers have become accustomed to in your industry. For example, if you’re looking to launch an app that is going to compete in the travel industry, it would make sense to download a handful of applications that are already popular in this category.

Dive into these different apps to get an idea of what the competition has already done. Analyze what you feel the competition is doing incorrectly and what the competition is doing well. As you examine the various apps, look for trends and features that seem to be must-haves across the industry. As much as it’s important to question everything your competition is doing, it’s also important to ensure that you’re not missing out on a functionality that could make or break your app.

Who Exactly Is Your Consumer?

When we kick off a new project, we spend a lot of time helping clients study their target audience to gain a better understanding of just who that audience is. Just like the characters in any film worth the price of admission, the characters you have in mind when building your app should be well thought-out. As you create your prototype, the decisions you make ought to serve a specific type of person. You should always have their attributes, demographics, psychographics, user challenges and user needs in mind.

Often we recommend that clients write out a description of the type of person that would download their app. By doing so, they are able to narrow their focus and are more likely to serve and satisfy a specific audience.

As you’re creating these consumer profiles yourself, it’s important that you backup your ideas with research. One great place to start gathering intelligence about your target audience is the ratings and reviews of similar apps. As you scroll through users’ feedback, look for trends and anything that stands out among this group of reviewers to shed light on them as a distinct group.

For example, if you were analyzing the Google reviews for an app and noticed that thousands of people from the same state left glowing reviews, it would make sense to investigate why citizens of that specific state were so interested in the app. To get a better idea of this potential user group, you might want to start diving deeper into data from a source like Facebook Audience Insights. Using Facebook Audience insights, you can create an audience profile based on location and uncover trends related to those individuals’ interests, psychographics, demographics and media habits.

Another great tool for uncovering insights about your audience is MyBestSegments from Nielsen. Using this tool, you can type in a ZIP code and within seconds receive a snapshot of residents’ behaviors, demographics, interests and more. For example, this is what the site delivered for a subsection of New York:

In addition to these two tools, you can gain insight about your particular audience by finding online communities where your potential users spend time and asking for feedback on your idea. If you’re targeting bodybuilders, find an online forum where bodybuilders hang out and ask them questions related to your app and the key benefits you’re looking to offer.

PRO TIP: As you gather this data, consider developing an Empathy Map. An empathy map is a great way to take all the information you gather through research and paint a clear picture of your target audience. Here’s the framework:

Which Features Are The Most Important?

One final critical step you can take before prototyping a mobile app is discovering which features matter the most to your users. The consumer profiles you develop will help you prioritize the features of your mobile app as you take the time to interact with your target audience.

Prior to developing a prototype, you’re likely to create mockups in the form of wireframes. Use these wireframes to show your target audience what you’re planning for the app and ask them questions like: What would be the most important thing for you to be able to do with this app? What do you wish [competitor’s app] had that it currently does not?

As you develop a list of features, it’s important that you don’t jump straight in and try to create everything on the list. Instead, you need to be able to gauge which features are critical and which features can be pushed until a later date. A great framework to remember when deciding which features should be immediate priorities is the Value vs. Complexity Framework:

As this framework illustrates, you should be thinking about both the complexity of the features from a technical standpoint and the value they offer the company. If a feature has been only minimally requested by users and would be very complex to implement, that’s a feature that probably shouldn’t be on your road map. On the flip side, if a feature would only take a week or two to execute and every user is asking for it, that’s a feature worth pursuing.

If your mobile app already exists and you’re looking to prototype a second version, you will want to embrace both quantitative and qualitative data when prioritizing features. Analytics monitoring can help you quantify which features matter for an existing product. Use analytics to track and monitor how your users are interacting with different features or even to conduct a few tests by making slight adjustments and gauging their impact on user behaviors.

Conclusion

It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to create an app simply because you think it’s a cool idea. We’ve seen people fall into that trap before, and it can be a drain on both time and money. While we’re considered a top app agency in Canada, we’ve only reached this point after years of hard lessons and struggles. Many of these struggles stemmed from grabbing onto assumptions rather than embracing research.

It’s not a fun road—and it’s one I hope you can avoid.

Which is why we believe gaining knowledge before writing a line of code is so important. These are the steps that can save you heartache down the road and reduce the likelihood of needing to do an about-face when your app fails. Not to mention that knowing your stuff will decrease your chances of building up technical debt that you’re unable to shake.

So ask these questions and use the answers as you begin planning and building your prototype. Of course, there’s no way of knowing for sure whether or your app will be a thriving success. But having the right knowledge is sure to decrease your chances of landing in the app store graveyard.

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