Research 101: How to Conduct Market Research for Your App

Market research app

When starting LoyaltyLion, my mantra was, “Find a big problem that’s just going to get worse, and fix it.” We quickly found that when you’re tackling that kind of big problem, audience research is absolutely imperative. Since there are so many different approaches to tackling a big problem and evolving your product, it’s important to do research to know what route to take.

As software developers, it’s easy to get carried away with building products based on our own experiences and opinions. That’s why it’s so important to keep checking in with your customers—whether that’s merchants using your app directly, or agencies using it on behalf of their clients.

In this blog post, we’ll look at how the market research you need to undertake changes as your app develops, the most effective ways to conduct that research, and how to implement it in a successful road map.

Why bother with research?

In the long run, curiosity-driven research just works better. Real breakthroughs come from people focusing on what they’re excited about.

Geoffrey Hinton hit the nail on the head. To solve problems, it’s important to understand what people are excited about. In our experience, the things people get most excited about are often the things they are most concerned about.

By finding out what your customers are excited about, you can validate your thinking when creating solutions for them. Find out what occupies the thoughts of your target audience. What keeps merchants awake at night? What keeps them from increasing revenue? Where are they losing efficiency? Only when you have the answers to those questions can you know whether or not your product will offer them a genuine solution.

How does research change over time?

In the early stages of building, identifying challenges and problems at a high level will help you shape your product so that it truly answers the overall challenges that merchants face. Keep those merchant challenges as your north star. If a feature doesn’t address it, don’t invest time or development into it—even if your competitors do.

However, as your app evolves over time, so too should your research. While your north star remains the same (subject to industry or customer feedback telling you otherwise!), the challenges that you seek to address should become more granular.

"Keep those merchant challenges as your north star. If a feature doesn’t address it, don’t invest time or development into it—even if your competitors do."

Rather than investigating just the business challenges, start looking into the operational challenges that your stakeholders are facing. For example, is a lack of APIs reducing efficiency? Is a lack of documentation making it hard to adopt features? Is there too much reliance on a developer to customize?

Narrowing your focus to address day-to-day issues will increase the lifespan of your users, especially as they see you visibly evolving in line with their needs.

How to go about getting the answers

Market research app data

There are a number of approaches you can take to conducting research, but it can be difficult to know where to start. Not only do you need to consider who to talk to, but also how to ask the right questions and how to collect the answers. Below are five aspects of market research you should be sure to consider.

1. Speak to people in every part of your target customers’ business

If you want to validate an idea or discover the next problem to solve, you should be looking at the top challenges your target customer is facing—ideally, challenges that they’re willing to pay to address.

A common mistake people make when conducting this kind of research is to assume that only one person per business can help you identify these challenges. In reality, there are multiple contributors who could each highlight very different experiences.

In the early stages of research, you’ll want to target the decision makers in the business, so that you can understand their strategy and what success looks like for them. This works when you’re building up a general understanding of a merchant’s requirements. This can be done through user testing, such as with a contextual inquiry.

However, when it comes to the challenges around execution, you’ll need to speak to the person actually executing, whether it’s the marketer using your app or the developer helping them customize it. Ensure that when you start digging into the operational challenges, you get direct feedback from those logging into and using your product every day.

2. Don’t miss out on the middle men

Merchants may be the end users of your product, but for many of us, it’s agencies who recommend, implement, and integrate our platforms. They may do this several times over for different clients. As a result, they are one of the richest sources of feedback out there.

Interview account managers and developers to understand which challenges they’re trying to solve when pushing clients to your platform. At the same time, find out what challenges they regularly encounter, and what would make life easier for them.

3. Keep things focused

They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was any Shopify App. This means that if you open up the floodgates too far, you could end up with more feedback than you know how to sensibly act on.

"They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was any Shopify App."

Before you get started, put your ear to the ground and use your existing customer feedback to identify where to begin. You can then design specific questions for your user surveys that are more likely to give you useful answers.

When you build your survey, get things moving with a couple of open-ended questions. But to keep things focused and ensure that you get the specific answers you’re looking for, progress to narrower questions with a limited number of responses. This will make it quicker and easier for your respondents, and will also help you consolidate the feedback into meaningful findings.

An example of a narrow-focused question could be: 

Market research app html/CSS
An example of a closed question with responses provided.

4. Make it as easy as possible

This might seem like an obvious one, but you’d be surprised how many convoluted feedback forms are floating around out there. Making it as easy as possible for people to answer your survey will dramatically impact your response rates.

We recommend Typeform for collecting responses, as it provides a simple way of creating attractive and easy-to-use forms and surveys. However, whether you use Typeform, Survey Monkey, Google Forms, or another tool, find a way to collect all your feedback in one place.

"Making it as easy as possible for people to answer your survey will dramatically impact your response rates."

Don’t be afraid to reach out directly, either. If you’re not getting a response from someone but you can see they’re on Slack, ping them a note and see if they can give their feedback directly to you. Even better, if you have the resources, ask someone to hold calls with merchants and agencies to collect feedback. We can’t recommend this highly enough, as people love to talk and are much more likely to open up on the phone. Keep those calls short and to the point—no more than 15 minutes at a time.

Making it as easy as possible for your audience to respond to your questions means you’ll get more valuable feedback to inform your decisions.

5. Don’t forget to say thank you

Once you’ve completed your research, make sure you keep in touch with all those who took part. Thank them for giving their feedback, and when you’ve figured out what you’re going to do with it, keep them up to speed on your progress. Once you’ve implemented their feedback, you might even want to ask them for more—people will be far more inclined to help you out if you’ve shown your appreciation for their help in the past.

You might also like: 7 Insights From the Shopify App Review Team to Set Your App Up for Success

How to apply your research

How to use a market research app

By this point, you’ve figured out your questions, you’ve asked your participants, and you’ve hopefully received some helpful feedback that will shape the growth and development of your app. But how do you sort through that feedback and turn it into a tangible action plan?

1. Identify common themes

In our experience, there is usually a common thread that runs through the responses you receive doing audience research. The trick is identifying it. Whether you export all your responses into a spreadsheet and apply clever filtering, or use a more traditional print and post-it technique, it should be possible to group responses that relate to specific themes.

By counting the number of responses falling into each area, you will get a good idea of which elements of feedback are the most common and which are most urgent, helping you to prioritize and build a realistic road map.

However, be careful that you don’t just act on the issues that people shout about the loudest. Finding the common themes that balance importance and urgency is challenging. Be careful to draw out all the themes you see, for a well-rounded view of the feedback you’ve received.

You might want to consider prototyping as a way to bring ideas and problems to life, so that you can identify whether you’ve picked the right area to focus on, or opened up a can of worms you’re not yet ready to deal with. We recommend Balsamiq Cloud for a quick and easy way to mock up an app.

You might also like: 5 of the Best Prototyping Tools to Test Out Your Web and Mobile Designs.

2. Break things into manageable chunks

Some of the areas highlighted in your research will be larger and harder to fix than others. If that’s the case, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Instead, break the feedback down into more manageable chunks and tackle it one piece at a time. That way, you also get more successes to celebrate as you work your way through!

It’s important to remember that following customer feedback to the letter won’t always help you realize the vision you have for your product. Keep things manageable, and keep your north star in mind as you examine the feedback you’re receiving.

3. Build in a way that works for the future

There might be some quick wins to come out of your research, but realistically your users—both merchants and agencies—want to know that you are growing with them.

"Your users—both merchants and agencies—want to know that you are growing with them."

You may find yourself at a crossroads, where you can continue building on the framework you have, or re-architect to make it easier to build the things your users want going forwards. The latter is more often than not the right approach. Though it can be time-consuming and intimidating at first, you’ll be building in a way that opens you up for far greater success in the future.

Ongoing feedback and iteration

Market research app data analysis

Your app might be live, but your research is never really done. Open up multiple channels so that you can keep the feedback coming, whether that’s through webinars, forums, a Facebook group, or feature request walls. Remember, feedback will show you things that you haven’t thought about—and if one person requested it, there are likely ten who want it.

You might also like: 9 App Development Business Trends for 2021 Predicted by Shopify Staff

What we’ve learned about feedback

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to conducting audience research. The solution will look different to every app and every developer. To wrap up, here are our top four learnings from the audience research we’ve undertaken at LoyaltyLion:

  1. Accept that your baby might be ugly: Never trust your friends and family when they tell you your product is great. They won’t be the ones to tell you if your baby is ugly. Push yourself to go out there and get honest feedback from the people that matter—your customers and clients.
  2. All feedback is good feedback: As software developers, we should be constantly challenging ourselves and questioning our market fit. Good feedback is great, but it’s the bad feedback that will push you to innovate and improve.
  3. Relationships drive the best research: Feedback comes from people. By building and nurturing strong relationships with merchants and agencies, you can be sure that when the time comes, they’ll take the time to answer your questions.
"Accept that your baby might be ugly."

By following these guidelines, you’ll be setting up your app business to collect useful, pertinent feedback to tackle new challenges and solve new problems.

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