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How to conduct mobile app market research

Last updated

1 April 2024

Reviewed by

Hugh Good

The mobile app market is huge, and it’s still growing. It was worth $197 billion in 2021, but research estimates that it will grow to $583 billion by 2030.

However, it’s also a very competitive space. The quality of mobile app market research is often the difference between an app being popular and successful or seldom bought or used.

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What is mobile app market research?

Market research for mobile apps helps you identify your target audience and lets you know what your potential customers want in an app. You can use it to get the answers to questions such as:

  • Is there a significant market for your app?

  • Who are your ideal customers?

  • What kind of competition exists for your app?

  • What sets your app apart from the competition?

  • What features do your customers value most?

  • Will the app be free? Or will you charge users for it?

Why is mobile app market research important?

Market research for mobile apps is essential for the reasons below:

  • It lets you learn about your customers. Without knowing your customer’s needs and preferences, you are mostly relying on guesswork. Mobile app developers may have advanced knowledge of their industry but aren’t necessarily in touch with their audience’s current needs. Market research lets you close this gap.

  • It helps you minimize risks. Releasing a new product always involves risks, but you can increase your chances of success with market research. You can avoid wasting time and investing funds into projects that lack sufficient interest from potential users.

  • It makes you aware of your competition. No one releases apps in a vacuum. You’ll almost certainly have competitors who offer products or services in a similar space—no matter how original your idea may be. Market research tells you where you fit in the marketplace and what you need to do to set yourself apart.

  • It informs you of the latest trends. The marketplace changes rapidly due to factors such as the economy, technological advances, and changing consumer tastes. One purpose of market research is to help you stay current so that your products remain relevant.

Aspects of mobile app market research

There are several aspects of mobile app market research:

  • Identifying your purpose: every app has a purpose, whether it’s to solve a problem or entertain the user. The first step is to identify the app’s purpose and who will be motivated to use it.

  • Collecting and analyzing data. All apps generate user data (e.g., session length and areas of engagement) that can be analyzed to identify their strengths and weaknesses. You can use these insights to create strategies to improve the app.

  • Creating a strategy based on your findings

  • Pitching your app to the relevant stakeholders

Types of mobile app market research

There are two main types of market research: primary and secondary.

Primary research

Primary research involves collecting original data using methods such as:

Some of these methods can be done either online or in person. The advantage of primary research is that it’s up-to-date and specifically targeted to your needs. The downside is that it can be time-consuming and costly.

Secondary research

Secondary research involves gathering pre-existing research. You might find this research from websites, data collection agencies, or print publications.

This type of research is inexpensive to gather and often easy to find. On the other hand, it may be outdated and not targeted precisely. You might not be able to find answers to very specific questions and how they relate to your unique user base.

Your budget and time constraints will determine how much of your research is primary and how much is secondary. If you rely mostly on secondary research, be aware that this approach may be too general to apply to your specific product.

What does mobile app market research aim to achieve?

Market research for a mobile app may have several goals, such as:

  • Learning if there’s sufficient demand for an app

  • Identifying the right audience

  • Providing evidence of the app’s value to investors and stakeholders

  • Learning what features your app needs to make it useful

  • Understanding who your competition is

How do I find users for user research?

You first need to identify your target audience so that you recruit users who will be relevant to your research.

Be sure to qualify potential testers or interviewees in any outreach you do. For example, you might advertise with wording like: “If you are a college student in the United States who enjoys streaming music, you can earn a $25 gift certificate in exchange for an hour of your time.”

You can find users in a number of ways, including:

  • Using a recruitment agency that finds users for you (the simplest but costliest option)

  • Contacting existing customers via phone, email, or social media

  • Using paid ads on Google, Facebook, or other platforms

  • Providing incentives - depending on your budget, you can offer cash, gift certificates, or products/services from your business

  • Asking for referrals - when you find users, ask them to refer others who may be interested

  • Guerilla testing, where you set up in a public place such as a busy street or college campus, or at an event, and approach participants (note that you might need to pay a fee or get permission for some locations)

Best strategies for mobile app research

Let’s look at some effective strategies for conducting market research for mobile apps.

Mobile app idea validation

Not all ideas are marketable. Your idea for an app might be interesting and creative, but market research will help you decide whether or not it’s worth pursuing.

Here are some points your development team should consider to validate an idea for an app:

Identify the app’s purpose

With so many apps to choose from, users will only download a new one if it serves a purpose.

Many apps are designed to solve a problem or make a task easier, such as making a purchase or an appointment. Others are more for entertainment, which can also be valuable for building your brand and increasing customer loyalty.

Ask yourself if you would use this app. Pose this question to fellow team members.

Compare it to similar apps

If there are already apps that perform very similar functions, you need to consider why users would choose your app instead of them.

There’s usually an advantage to being first or early in the marketplace. A new app should have some unique characteristics that set it apart. However, an app doesn’t have to be completely unique to be useful and popular. For example, a small business such as a spa or gym might create its own app that allows members to set appointments. The function will be very similar to other apps, but it’s unique to that business.

On a larger scale, social media apps operate in a very similar way but still appeal to users who want to access a particular platform, such as Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter. On the other hand, an app that isn’t connected to a well-known brand needs to differentiate itself in some way. For example, if your app just counts steps, it will be competing with many other similar apps that millions of people already use.

Identify your target audience

To identify your app’s target audience, you’ll need to consider factors such as:

  • Age range - does the app appeal to people of a particular age or in a certain life stage?

  • Sex - do you expect more men to use it or more women?

  • Income, education, and professional status - even if the app is free or low-cost, it may appeal to people with certain levels of education or within certain income brackets.

  • Lifestyle - what are the user’s interests, hobbies, and routines?

  • New or existing customer - an app can be a good way to attract new customers. It often helps if the app has features that can be used by non-customers.

SWOT analysis

SWOT analysis means looking at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats your app has or is likely to face.

For an app that hasn’t yet been released, this is partly speculative. However, you can use your business’s existing features as the basis for conducting a SWOT analysis for an app.

  • Strengths - look at your business’s strengths, such as areas of the market where it’s doing well. You may be able to incorporate app features based on your best-selling products.

  • Weaknesses - consider aspects of your business, as well as the app, that need attention. In some cases, an app can help improve aspects of the business.

  • Opportunities - look for ways to channel strengths and weaknesses into opportunities. For example, you may be able to use the app to attract younger or more tech-savvy customers.

  • Threats - may include competitors, economic conditions, or disruptive technologies that are on the horizon.

SWOT analysis template

Competitor analysis

Take a close look at apps that compete with yours. Go beyond carrying out an assessment—include research into the company itself. Apps are generally integrated with other channels, such as websites and social media pages, so you want to observe everything your competitors are doing.

When analyzing a competitor’s app, you can look into the following areas:

  • Look at how the app is ranking on app stores.

  • Look at reviews of the app—positive and negative reviews can provide valuable insights. For example, they might point out a flaw or issue with a competitor’s app that you can use to inform your strategy and help you offer an alternative.

  • Check out their website’s SEO using a tool such as SEMRush, SpyFu, or Ahrefs.

  • Research the company’s social media presence, including video channels, podcasts, and any other channels where they are active.

  • Perform a SWOT analysis of the competitor, similar to the one you do for your own app.

Competitor analysis templates

Create a buyer persona

Once you have identified your target audience and created a buyer persona, it’s time to consider how to tailor your app to their needs.

After identifying your audience’s general characteristics, get more specific by creating a user persona. You can create more than one.

For example, if you are creating a fitness app, your user persona might be: “Sue is a 31-year-old professional woman who goes to the gym three times per week and wants to track her workouts and calorie intake.”

App store optimization (ASO) keywords provide helpful clues to what your audience is searching for. It’s largely about how to optimize listings for existing apps, but you can also use ASO in the planning stages. There are both free and paid ASO research tools, such as the App Store Keyword Suggestion Tool.

Social media listening

Social listening (or monitoring) is another useful tool for understanding your audience. When creating buyer personas, consider what social media sites they are likely to use. Monitor these sites, paying attention to posts, stories, groups, and other content that’s relevant to your app.

Pitching your strategy

If you need to pitch a mobile app, you need to give a clear and concise summary of why an investor or other stakeholder should support your project. Here are some points to emphasize:

  • Define the app’s purpose and benefits—you need to be able to explain the app’s main purpose (such as the problem it solves) in a couple of sentences.

  • Why it’s a market fit—describe the nature and size of the market, your target audience, the expected number of users, and the projected growth of the market in the future. Solid data is especially crucial for this part of your pitch.

  • Monetization—is your app going to be free or paid? According to Statista, around 94% of apps in Apple’s App Store and 97% of Android apps are free. There are several ways for free apps to make money, such as ads and in-app purchases. Stakeholders will want to know about your plans for monetizing the app.

Revamp your app as necessary

Almost all software and applications are regularly updated and improved over time. Mobile apps are no exception. You may need to redesign aspects of an app even before it hits the marketplace based on user feedback and other research.

Don’t think of a revamp as a failure. It’s an essential part of the process.

It’s always best to consider revamping rather than scrapping an entire project. Tweaking or adding certain features can take your app from not being market-ready to being a big success.

Conducting ongoing market research can help you identify appropriate changes.

How to conduct market research for a mobile app

Here’s a summary of the steps for doing market research for a mobile app:

  • Know your target audience

  • Gather relevant data using primary and/or secondary research

  • Research your competition

  • Do a SWOT analysis

  • Pitch your strategy when you’re ready

  • Redesign and revamp your strategy and app as necessary

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