Do I need a target market if my app is for everyone?

Your target users are not who you think.

Question asked by Mike on February 1, 2016
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Your Target Users Are Not Who You Think

When we have an idea for an app, we assume that many people think like we do, have the same pain points as we do, and want the same things as we do. Many founders think in big numbers too, so the app we are building will have a huge impact and be used by everyone in various ways. We’re right to think like this, but very wrong when it comes to the early stages of customer development.

typical mobile app user

App ideas have the potential to be applicable in many ways for all kinds of people. We have a tendency to think about our solution in this way because we see tremendous potential (it’s our creation, after all). This optimism is great, and is the catalyst for actually doing something with an idea. However, that’s where it should end, and our focus must immediately shift to target customers, or early adopters.

Aren’t target customers just the people that will use my app in some way?

Sort-of. Let's first focus on the difference between two types of people:

  1. People that I think will find my app useful in some way
  2. Target customers

#1 Most Users

The first item above includes all the people that will have a use for my app in all the different scenarios that I can imagine. The app I imagine is also feature-packed, simple to use, and awesome in every way. Of course everyone will want to use it!

#2 Target Customers

The second item above is a more strategic and well-thought-out group of people. They are the ones that have a specific problem on which I’m focused, and they will most likely find my specific solution to be good. This group of people is also accessible, and I can’t stress this enough. If my target customers don’t hang out anywhere together, I can’t go hang out with them. I can’t validate what I think are their problems or validate my solution to those problems!

So target customers like “people who want to save time and be more productive” doesn’t do anything for us. Where do those people hang out? Who knows — we need a better group of people. Instead, my target customers might be “auto mechanics who want to avoid the tedious task of finding OEM parts for their customers” (borrowed from a recent client). Well I can find auto mechanics, so this is better. Note that the solution for this problem might also extend to people who like to work on their own cars, and include after market parts. People who love cars are also accessible via common interest groups of all kinds, so they could be target customers too. But here’s where the early adopter comes into play.

#2.5 Early Adopters

There is a subset of target customers that we'll need to focus on. Early adopters are the target customers that can’t wait to get their hands on my solution because it attacks their problem so well. They are the ones who will tell other early adopters how great my solution is, and they are the ones who will pay for it. So to have the highest chance of success, I need to find a small group of people who fit this description, and build a solution specifically for them.

Wait a minute, if I build my app for fewer people, won’t there just be fewer people that want to use it?

No. Targeting a small group of people is a bit counter-intuitive, but makes sense when you think more about it. When we consider solutions, we pick the ones that we most strongly identify with (other things being equal). Also, we often pay more for solutions that attack our pain points in an elegant way over other more feature-rich solutions. So a product that targets many groups of people at once is less attractive to every one of those groups. Reducing the price or resorting to sales psychology is the only way to grab users, and this is a temporary win at best.

Targeting a small group also allows me to build products faster and spend less money in the process. It let’s me iterate and experiment more freely while getting feedback from potential and current users who are more likely to care. Small groups of people can be reached with fewer marketing dollars too, and I have to invest in fewer pathways to make it happen. The time and budget savings are significant, and this is especially important for startups!!

But hey, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can also read any number of the 328 million articles you find while searching on Google:

Good ‘ol social proof on this topic!

Users Vs. Customers

Sometimes ideas have two different types of target customers; those that use the solution and those that pay for the solution. I’m not referring to the “try before you buy” scenario. Some products have two entirely different groups of people doing different things. For example, a restaurant review app might have users that seek and write reviews, and customers who pay for their restaurant to be listed or to advertise. Or an app might have users that are seeking services from home builders and customers who pay a commission for leads from users.

In these cases, we have two sets of target customers, which makes our job twice as hard (or fun, depending on your outlook). In these cases, we need to find the early adopters for each group and focus only on them. So the process is not differnt, but we have to do it twice.

Reduce Your Targets To Win

The important take-away is that targeting smaller groups of people makes planning, creating, and selling a product much easier. That makes these things less expensive too, and for startups, it might just be essential to win.

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