Posts in Product Development
Why reading comments and reviews of your competitors' products makes complete sense.
customerexperiencedesign

A Case Study

How do you start building a product? How do you decide what’s relevant and what’s not necessary? Every time you develop a service or a product, you should always think about the user experience first. Mostly, when doing research, companies look at what’s been written about their potential competitors on various media outlets. Nevertheless, the really interesting source of information is somewhere utterly different.

Sure, qualitative interviews are great, but if you don’t have the resources to invite a number of people to discuss your competitors’ products or the features of the product you’ve developed, you should look for the relevant information online. I believe that where you can really learn more about your users is when you look through the reviews on the App Store or the comments on your competitors’ Facebook pages. Tweets, mentions and what people say on Instagram when you look for hashtags is helpful too!

While media research seems okay at first, you can’t really say if the content was sponsored. It’s much harder to recognise what people value a product for. When you read the sentences and look in detail how people talk about certain features of a product, you’ll learn far more about the relevance of certain features. You’ll also recognise quickly what it is people get annoyed by.

Sure, it takes time to go through hundreds and hundreds of reviews and analyse patterns, but it’s the user research that will provide you with more insight than a journalistic piece could ever provide.

For Badger and Winters, I’ve delivered reports to highlight a user-centric perspective on digital products to help prepare for client pitches. If you need an analysis of what your target group is interested in or who the target group is in the first place, please don’t hesitate and get in touch.

What’s important when building digital plugins for partner websites?
sched

It’s not unusual to handle the most diverse tasks when working with startups. When Taylor asked me to support him with the concept for a SCHED plugin for Eventbrite.com, I was very excited about having another opportunity to work directly on a digital product, and so, we kicked off January together.

For everyone who doesn’t know what SCHED is, it's the perfect software for every event organiser who wants to give their attendees a personalised schedule on their mobile device. When SCHED was founded, their MVP was to give every event organiser a mobile app. Now, years later, the service SCHED replaces the need for a separate web presence. Their product is sophisticated, customizable, and simple to use. In short, SCHED offers everything you need when organising a conference, educational gathering, or any other event. 

When Eventbrite approached the team at SCHED to provide a plugin, it was an incredible opportunity for SCHED to grow their user base by doing what they do best; building a great service for people in the event business. SCHED was asked to provide two features – the iconic feature for organisers to upload thumbnails of speakers to make their event pages look better and a customisable toolbox to visualise session calendars. While both of these features eventually make the event pages look better, they serve a different purpose. When Taylor and I discussed SCHED’s product features, we figured that it didn’t make much sense to provide both of them under one and the same name in the menu, originally planned as the “SCHED plugin.”

When building digital products, names play a significant role. They must be intuitive and immediately give the user a clue what to expect. I didn’t see much sense in trying to combine both of SCHED’s services. Can you think of a digital service that succeeded because it could do it all and could do it all from the beginning? 

When you start building a digital product, it’s important for it to have one feature that works really well. You need to be able to summarise the use of your product in one sentence. On Wunderlist, you can create to-do lists. With Mailchimp, you can send beautiful emails to a large group of people. On Kickstarter, you can realise creative products. Do you see my point? These companies don’t try to pitch to you all the small services they provide: when you see their name, you know what these products are useful for.

Ok, let’s go from a macro-perspective and look at the micro-perspective of digital products, such as a website’s directory. When you click on ‘about,' you expect to get a description of what a company does. When you click on ‘references,’ you want to know who the team has worked with in the past. You have expectations and probably no patience to ‘search’ for content you cannot find immediately. 

For the reasons described above, when Taylor and I conceptualised SCHED’s plugin for Eventbrite, we decided to make two single purpose plugins. We knew that the Eventbrite team might not want to give us two menu referrals immediately, but we had a clear explanation why it made more sense to only focus on one feature at a time. 

Knowing we would build two separate concepts, it gave us the opportunity to focus on one thing at a time – “SpeakerList by SCHED” and “Visual Schedule by SCHED”. Two names that immediately tell you what to expect even before you click and read the copy. And let’s be honest here, how many of us really read the descriptions on websites? 

With the possibility of having a permanent link to one’s service on such a great website such as Eventbrite, we knew we wanted to be one of the teams Eventbrite always mentions when explaining why they collaborate with third-party services. There were several other companies Eventbrite could mention in their announcement, so what did we do to have Eventbrite choose SCHED as one of their top plugin partners? 

It’s a very simple idea…we did everything to make them look better: our entire approach to building a feature was to make it as seamless and as native as possible. It was important to us to give Eventbrite everything that would make their users feel even better about using Eventbrite. Every decision we made was completely user-centered while respecting this user to be Eventbrite’s user and not SCHED’s user (yet). If you follow Eventbrite’s blog or their newsletters, you might have already noticed that our approach has worked. 

When you build a plugin for a third party service, you of course want to increase your user base, too. Everyone who installs SCHED’s plugin on Eventbrite and agrees to share their details with SCHED automatically creates a free account on SCHED. In the first instance, our aim was to have as many people as possible install SCHED’s plugin. Our next aim was to have a number of these new users upgrade to the paid version of SCHED. We decided to follow up with everyone via email and showcase how upgrading to SCHED’s full version would benefit them and their attendees. We knew all our efforts paid off when Eventbrite suggested another collaboration that will eventually benefit both sides. Of course, also financially.

I am still plugged into SCHED’s back-end and receive daily reminders of the increasing number of signups. Another project we have worked on together with Taylor was a communication cycle to keep these users looped in, which I’ll blog about another time. Now, to summarise what I’d recommend to consider when building third-party plugins, here are three bullet points:

x) When choosing names, make it obvious for the user what to expect. Your company’s name won’t make the cut.

x) Make your plugin look as native as possible to the website where it’s featured.

x) Whoever the partner website is, make them look better to impress their users. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

I hope my take on building digital products for third-party websites has inspired you in one way or another. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out: monikanicolettaATgmail.com

Questions to ask when launching an app
teamwork

A case study

What does it take to launch an app? How does one create an app people love and use repeatedly?
If you ask me, I’d say the time where one could launch any old app is long gone. The app market is oversaturated, as people are no longer enthusiastic about checking out the latest thing and are in fact decreasing the amount of apps they keep on their phones.

So, the question remains, how does one successfully launch an app?

Recently I worked with a team in London on launching their new app. It was an investor backed venture, which enabled the founders to build the product with a design and development team they trusted. After finalising a working version of the app, they needed someone who would help to spread the word and I was the person they hired.

When they first contacted me, their app had not been submitted to the App Store. They were not sure if hiring a marketing person before the launch made sense but as you cannot launch an app overnight we agreed that I would come to London immediately. Our aim was to launch mid-December but for several reasons, explained below, we decided to postpone the launch to spring.

When I agreed to join their team as an online marketing consultant I assumed that the app was market-ready and that they just needed someone who would draft a communication strategy, hire the right people and train their interns to be able to work independently.
Upon arrival I learned that the testing phase had only started that day, which then changed my role from being a marketing strategy consultant to someone who does a lot of grassroots work and helping people to build the voice of the brand. As a community manager I see myself as the person who bridges the gap between user, product and the communication team. Being there during the testing phase had proven extremely beneficial.

I believe it’s getting harder and harder to get the attention of people online. Every day we are confronted with so much information that it becomes hard for upcoming startups to spark the interest of their target group. We started with no signups and had to find a way to talk to our target group directly. We needed to find people who were really into football and then had to find a way to interact with these people offline and build a community, ensuring that this wasn’t just another anonymous app. I figured the best place to start was in London’s pubs, with big screens and a good selection of draft beer.

I immediately registered the brand on Meetup and launched a group where I invited people to watch football in different pubs in London. We scheduled Meetups for all televised matches, which gave us a reason to go to pubs every single weekend. Because we had our own Meetup group, we could slowly but surely grow our online, and offline, community. If you need to find like-minded people Meetup.com has an amazing algorithm to help you reach your target group.

Our first step was to print stickers and cards we could give to people. Everyone loves free stuff, however small. We also had some shirts and hoodies made for our team to make it easy for people to find us.

When I was a teenager I used to do a lot of promotion work, so I know how much easier it is to approach strangers and talk to them about something when you wear a garment that gives you some sort of an identity. Additionally, because we were all wearing the same hoodies, people often approached us and asked what we did; a reaction I’d call a double jackpot.

After talking to about 80 guys in different pubs, I began to identify certain patterns; I also asked the team after every match whether they've used the app, whether they rated the players as the app "asked" them to do. After the response of “no” several times, I decided to gather everyone for a product session.

If you want to build a successful app then I don’t want to hear: “I’m not really the target group. I don’t use many apps.” Because truth is, the majority of people don’t really use apps and if you cannot build an app you’ll use yourself several times a week, you’ll not only have a hard time getting people to use your app but you will have an even harder time convincing people that using your app is worthwhile.

If you want to build a great app, then you have to consider ‘yourself’ as the target group and start asking what types of apps you use and why you use them.

Take a piece of paper and a pen and write down every app you use and also why you use them and how often. I guess the majority of apps on your phone are there because they either save you time, money, help you get organised or show you how to better connect to the people who matter to you or because your mates use the app.

Our product meeting turned out to be a ‘truth and honesty’ session. Here are some of the questions I asked:

  • What apps do you have on your phone and use?

  • Why do you use these apps? – I then asked ‘why’ for every app they named.

  • Why should people care about this app?

  • What do you offer to people that they don’t get elsewhere?

  • What would make your team use the app at least once a week?

  • What would make you use the app several times a week?

  • How do people usually solve what you’re offering when they don’t have this app? And what is their biggest problem with it.

When you have answers to these questions, you’re ready to start mapping out the improvements that are needed to build a better product. A product that has potential to get traction, what you really want is to build is an app people use over and over again, an app that creates a habit. I’d recommend reading Nir Eyals; ‘Hooked’ for further thoughts on this matter.

As soon as you spend £500 or more on trying to get people on-board who don’t return and if they don’t offer you feedback then it’s a waste of your money. £500 is already more than what’s necessary to prove if a concept works or not.

When you start testing your app with people you don’t know, look at how they use the app; listen carefully when they ask questions, watch what screens they skip and what screens confuse them. Also ask them how they currently deal with the issue you’re trying to solve and don’t forget to ask what their biggest criticism of the product is.

When you build an app, think about how you’ll re-engage users once they’ve downloaded it and also what you can do for them so they spread the word. Also, something that’s often forgotten is the way that you get people on-board. Don’t just write a bit of copy to explain how to use your app and why, figure out a way to engage them so they really understand what your app is for. Here are some good examples you can learn from.

I am a firm believer that word of mouth is the most valuable marketing strategy, much better than splashing out expensive advertising that takes a while for people to notice and has no guarantee of them actually buying the app.

Once you’ve built an attractive product that people like using, you should start looking into hooks you could implement to encourage people to spread the word amongst their friends. No-one will ‘share’ that they joined an app immediately after they’ve signed up, there is no social leverage and no one wants the potential embarrassment. Sorry to disappoint you but I think the ‘share button’ will be skipped if you don’t give the user the possibility to properly engage and find value in your product.

If sharing is an essential part of using your app that’s great; just make sure that when people see something that’s been shared using your app, add a hook that adds value to other people so they will also download your app. The biggest apps have not grown because of advertising but because people who were using the app were happy to spread the word; build a product people want to talk about!

Now you might ask what you should use your advertising budget for; I’d say that after you’ve found a way to connect with your users offline, you should do all you can to show your appreciation. Engage with your community and give your early users and testers something in return for their feedback; buy them a beer, crisps and raffle tickets to events they might enjoy. Make sure that the people who have already bought into your product find value in it and have a reason to spread the word for you.

My initial goal in this project in London was to make myself redundant. I wanted to take away insecurities, help create a voice and train interns to help them grow into their new role. Even if I’m not with the team for the launch I know they’ll be fine without me because they now know how to advertise on social media, what type of content to use and most of all, how to ask the right questions. Also, they know how to reach me if they need advice or have any questions. If you have any, here’s my email address: monikanicoletta@gmail.com