Mobile use is on the rise, along with a growing base of app users that are willing to embrace new products. Analysts estimate that in 2013, 56 to 82 billion apps will be downloaded; in 2017, that number could be as high as 200 billion. With such a wealth of potential customers, many businesses have attempted to achieve success by jumping on the mobile app bandwagon. But many businesses fail in their mobile ventures, losing the fight for survival on the bridge between vision and development. This abyss, where ideas are made reality, tends to suck the vitality of an app's potential before it even reaches the market. An app's best weapon against the overwhelming odds during this phase is defining a user base. Simply put –- apps need users in order to succeed. So in order to survive, app creators must harness the power of their audience, which begins with defining their niche.
Most failed apps made the same mistake: they failed to target a specific audience. The key to generating downloads in an overcrowded marketplace is to define a niche. According to mobiThinking, Portio Research estimates that 1.2 billion people worldwide were using mobile apps at the end of 2012, a number which is forecasted to grow at an annual rate of 29.8 percent, reaching 4.4 billion users by the end of 2017. For app creators, this provides ample opportunity, but it also presents the challenge of carving out a market within a wide and diverse consumer base. No app will succeed if its aim is to be used by anyone and everyone — different audiences use apps differently. Without clearly defining the audience you are trying to target, you cannot create an executable plan to reach them.
Once you have a solid understanding of your app’s audience, the next step is to engage with that audience. With so much competition out there, user acquisition can be a challenging feat. An app's user base tends to grow organically, so often the most challenging portion of this task is the initial, out of the gate, marketing campaign. Focus your marketing campaign on reaching your core customers -– the niche market you've defined -– and message, advertise, and interact with them exclusively. While you are building loyalty within a strategically targeted group of users, your competitors will be wasting time chasing too many different audiences with no clear engagement focus.
With a solidified user base under your belt, the real work begins. It's just as difficult to sustain your user base as it is to capture that initial download. In order to combat this challenge, it is important to accept your audience as a part of your business's core. Think of users as system testers — your audience will help you perfect your app, creating a better product, which will inherently aid in its popularity. Your app should never be in its "final" version. The first version of your app is a work in progress. You should embrace the notion your app will grow and evolve as your user base grows and as you observe how people react to it and use it. For each iteration, the goal should be to incrementally improve your app and grow its user base.
Darwinism rules the app industry –- only the strongest survive. Thus, it is important to arm yourself with the best defense mechanisms from the get-go. Having a clear, definitive handle on your audience will help position an app more positively within the marketplace. While there is no foolproof recipe for success in these ventures, identifying a potential user base will energize any mobile campaign. With so many players in the race, it's imperative to target an app audience strategically in order to move forward or risk getting left behind.
Bobby Gill is co-founder of Blue Label Labs, a New York based iOS, Android, and Windows Phone mobile design and development lab.