Groundhog Day: The never ending cycle of NPD for apps.

Posted by Andy Lack, on 05th October 2018

As mobile apps continue to play an ever-increasing role in our lives, we’re experiencing a rise in app-development research we do for our clients here at Jigsaw. Whether it’s part of a number of possible delivery channels for a client’s product or service, or the sole focus of a project, we seem to be researching apps constantly. Consequently, we have learnt quite a bit about what works and what doesn’t in the process. One might think that carrying out research which feeds into app development is a narrow field, but we’re finding it encompasses a huge variety of approaches, all of which add a different nuance to the process. The approach we take is dependent upon where the client is in the process. Typical questions we might ask our clients include:

In the last 12 months alone, we have addressed all of these questions (and more) via a variety of approaches, including:

But what about testing what your users (and potentially non-users) think of apps you’ve already launched? Here’s where we’re seeing something interesting emerging. Assuming you’ve established there’s a need for your app, you’ve tested it ‘in the wild’ and successfully launched it, what next? We’re finding that the changing nature of an app’s user base can have profound implications for both its shelf life and its evolution. Essentially, later adopters are different people to early adopters, with diverse attitudes and needs. This doesn’t simply mean you wait as your app progresses through the adoption curve, like a physical tech product should do, it means you need to constantly evolve the app to adjust to your ever-changing user base. Sometimes this can mean the very reasons that underpinned the initial launch and made your app so successful, have to be scrapped and replaced with a whole new set of principles. At the very least, if you’re looking for scale (as many mass market brands are), you will ultimately need to look to that late majority’s set of needs and make sure they’re well understood – or your app may never get out of ‘niche’ territory. The other aspect feeding into this is the pace of change. Apps are never finished and app users accept that they’re never finished. In fact, a lot of the work we do suggests an app that changes little and often, creating a sense of dynamism, creates stronger ties with its user base than apps which appear ‘fixed’. In short, you’re better off being quick to market with a  simple app which you update, than you are launching an all singing, all dancing app 12 months’ later. This has implications for the typical NPD process, which is often seen as a linear prior to launch, followed by evaluation – as illustrated below:

Instead, we think mass market clients looking to launch and sustain an app need to think about its development in more iterative, circular terms:

Research can help at all points here, as long as the guiding principles are based around speed and a commitment to act on customer feedback as it comes in – and of course a recognition that at the heart of any new technology is the user. It’s critical to recognise that the user profile will change throughout the app lifecycle and the brand which recognises and reacts to this the fastest, will be the brands whose digital channels evolve most successfully to meet the changing needs of its customers.

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