Case Study: How to perform market validation using a social voting application
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In 1909, Henry Ford commented on the first affordable automobile, the Model T produced at his plant: “A customer can have a car painted any color he wants as long as it’s black.” Doesn’t sound as customer-oriented as 2017, does it?
In the modern-day business environment of intense competition and fast market transformation, assumptions that entrepreneurs make about their potential customers’ needs and challenges may be inaccurate.
To avoid creating a product that needs to be constantly adjusted to fit the market – that’s sophisticated to use or, in the worst case, just fails – a modern entrepreneur has to investigate the market and validate his or her idea first.
Nothing works better to ensure you build a product that addresses your customers’ actual needs than listening to your potential audience, understanding your customers, and acting based on what you’ve heard.
Validation helps us refine ideas and learn more about our users. But how about the tools for performing this validation? How can you reach your audience globally and gather valid feedback quickly? And even more importantly, how can you encourage your potential customers to share with you not only sincere feedback on what they need or like and what they don’t, but also to share their time with you gladly?
In spring 2016, a company from San Francisco approached RubyGarage to address exactly these issues with us: the need to help marketers perform their field studies and thereby assist businesses in accelerating the market validation process and achieving efficient outcomes.
In search for a concept that would help us cope with the issues our client challenged us to solve, we decided to refer to the outside-in strategy. This strategy is about putting business owners or marketers in the position of their customers so they can view themselves from a different perspective. It's also about focusing on the value provided to customers and having a firm vision of what that value is.
Based on this outside-in concept, we searched for insight: What should this marketing tool look like? Together with our client, we came up with a value proposition for how exactly we were going to build a market validation tool. We decided to wrap this tool into a social voting application and named it Vootex.
Vootex was meant to gather users' opinions about a wide variety of things, events, and ideas. However, to get a comprehensive understanding of what exactly Vootex is, we should look at this application from a number of angles.
What's the business purpose of Vootex?
The core idea of Vootex is to perform market validation quickly, efficiently, and globally, gathering loads of data and managing it. In fact, Vootex allows companies to implement their outside-in strategies by testing their ideas before releasing them as well as by gathering real market feedback on existing products to see areas for improvement.
How does Vootex work for businesses?
After installing the application and setting up your business profile, it’s time to give Vootex a try and start a poll. Creating a poll and getting results can be accomplished in six easy steps.
Step #1 Start a survey
To start a poll or a survey, a business owner can post an image or video with a question. Another way to create a poll is to put two images along with text and ask respondents to choose which one they like more.
Step #2 Choose a voting option
Vootex offers several voting options. Based on your preferences, purposes, and target audience, you can set up any of five options, four of which are varieties of yes/no questions and one of which is for a/b questions.
Step #3 Segment your audience
After preparing a survey, businesses can segment their audience by demographics, lifestyle, geographical location, profession, interests, and other options depending on their particular needs.
Step #4 Choose public or secret mode
Vootex also offers businesses the opportunity to create public polls accessible for everyone or to make secret polls that can be seen only by a specific group of users whom the company targets for a particular survey.
Step #5 Choose whether to use incognito mode
Another feature Vootex offers companies is the opportunity to choose incognito mode when creating a poll. What’s the difference between incognito mode and a secret poll, you ask? An incognito post allows companies to remain anonymous in order to gather less biased opinions as well as to conceal their ideas from competitors. Incognito mode means that respondents participating in a survey don’t see who the actual creator of the poll is.
Step #6 Set survey duration
The length of time a survey runs depends on the duration of the campaign within which it’s performed. Depending on the time that a company needs to get prepared for their product or service release and based on the desired number of respondents, the duration of a survey may vary. In particular, surveying a focus group of carefully segmented respondents may take less time, while a public poll may collect opinions for several weeks.
Step #7 Get results
After everything is set up and ready and a company posts its survey, here comes the stage of getting responses. First, a company gets real-time notifications.
Along with getting notifications on real-time activity regarding the poll, a company also gets final statistics.
What business opportunities does Vootex provide?
Delving into detail, using this tool gives businesses the following opportunities:
Audience reach. Vootex is built as a social network application. The idea is to offer businesses a platform that provides quick access to an active global audience that’s open to participating in polls and surveys.
Audience segmentation. This tool allows companies to reach their broad global audience and segment their online focus groups depending on business needs. Compared to offline marketing validation techniques, Vootex makes it way easier to segment participants by criteria such as demographics, lifestyle, geographical location, profession, and interests. Segmenting allows businesses to engage only specific groups of potential users whose opinions are of the utmost importance in testing particular products and services.
For example, an American shoe brand may target a group of millennial women (aged 18–34) who are trendsetters in style and fashion and who are located in San Francisco, enjoy travelling, sports, and entertaining events, and live bright lives that they actively highlight on social media.
Increased survey completion. The way Vootex gathers information is easy and entertaining for application users, which in turn ensures that a high percentage of polls and surveys are completed. The voting process in Vootex is built on focus groups, surveys, and interview research principles, allowing companies to focus on products or services based on positive feedback from their audiences.
For example, polls can be used for restaurants (to get feedback on meal presentation and impressions) or flower delivery services (to measure reactions to particular bouquets).
Audience motivation. Similarly to traditional market research sessions, Vootex helps companies engage respondents by motivating them. Specifically, the application allows companies to promote their reward options such as discounts, promo codes, special offers, gifts, or payments. This rewards-based approach convinces respondents to participate in the company’s polls and share their honest opinions.
For instance, a flower delivery service may offer their respondents a discount on a bouquet, while a shoe store might offer a free pair of shoes or a special price.
Data and analytics. As a result of surveys and questionnaires, Vootex provides companies with statistical data. Based on this data, companies can perform further analysis of their products and services in order to extract business insights. How does it work? Vootex offers companies an analytics system that allows them to track results in real-time and get automatically calculated data right after each survey ends.
To ensure that the purpose of each survey or poll is achieved as efficiently as possible, we started thinking about solutions to meet each challenge.
To make sure we were searching in the right direction, we first outlined the main tasks:
- Define how Vootex solves market problems and provides value to its business clients and other users.
- Determine model of the market problem.
- Prioritize based on type of user – businesses or their potential customers (respondents).
Product Concept Design Tasks
- Design application structure, user flow, and logic to create UX prototypes.
- Develop a human-oriented user interface.
Product Development Tasks
- Develop a fully functional web application, implementing a strong database and an efficient API and integrating third-party services
- Implement a scalable architecture capable of quickly implementing new features, scaling development, moving from a monolithic to multiservices architecture, and scaling apps.
- Build an iOS application that follows the principles of the top App Store applications and that has all the features necessary to meet the initial business goal.
The whole idea of creating a marketing research tool sounded exciting to our RubyGarage team. The next step was to find solutions.
Solutions: Product Concept Design
To ensure that the product we were working on corresponded to the initial idea and purpose, we built our product design strategy on a marketing science-based approach from the very beginning. We began with a design concept and an application architecture.
Design thinking is an approach used by designers to solve complex problems, find desirable solutions for clients, and create new opportunities. Design thinking brings together many different elements and involves lots of collaboration and frequent iterations.
The process of design thinking may be split into two parts. One considers the creative process, and is about finding vision and inspiration, learning by doing, visualization, and other mindsets connected with this approach. The second part is the design thinking process itself, which involves a more systematic approach that moves toward the problem solution.
The end goal of the design thinking process is a product or experience with real potential and use and that can easily and conveniently be built in practice. We came up with the idea of building a social voting application at the end of our design thinking stage, and this core concept seemed appealing and efficient to us. The tool we were working on was for idea validation and testing. Now it was time to test our own assumptions. Let’s briefly look at the principles and ideas that we offered first.
Since our team was working on the iOS application, it goes without saying that we ensured that our product reflected the visual identity specific to iOS apps to help maximize its impact and reach. Here are some of principles we kept in mind:
- Consistency – following standards and paradigms regarding interface elements, icons, text styles, and terminology familiar to iOS users.
- Aesthetic integrity – balance between the application’s appearance and functions by using minimalistic graphics and predictable behaviors with complex functions, such as analytics or calculations (or a more captivating design for a game or entertainment application).
- User control – giving users the feel that they’re in control by letting them make decisions regarding warnings or suggestions, keeping interactive elements predictable, and making it easy to cancel operations.
- Metaphors – since users interact with screens physically, it’s important to ensure that virtual objects and actions are metaphors for familiar experiences (scrolling, dragging and dropping, flicking, etc.)
Based on these and other best practices for iOS apps, we strived to create a great design concept.
Product Concept Testing
To ensure that the application we had planned would bring the expected outcome for our client and their business users, we applied a Hypothesis-Driven Development approach (HDD) to test our concept and its implementation. The HDD approach involves a series of experiments, making changes based on results and iterating until a desirable outcome or desireable feedback is received.
We took the following steps to perform our product concept testing:
- Formulated a hypothesis – we suggested options for the color pallette, logo, voting kit, analytics visualisations, etc.
- Designed an experiment to test our hypothesis – we selected decision rules and engaged a focus group of potential customers to test suggested UI and UX elements (using product surveys, beta testing, a/b testing, etc.).
- Evaluated the results of our experiment and accepted or rejected hypotheses – we chose solutions based on statistics and positive assessments we gathered from our focus groups and implemented the winning strategies into the app.
We also applied a behavior-driven approach to perform user behavior testing on the basis of a clickable prototype. We let a group of potential users surf through the prototypes and registered their interactions and gathered feedback about their experiences.
Based on this feedback gathered during testing, we offered a general concept, brand identity, color palette, content placement, and other suggestions.
Solutions: Product Development
After the design concept was confirmed, our team started working on developing application functionality.
Vootex was intended as an application for businesses that require a reliable market validation tool. The consistent market validation process we implemented allows businesses to:
- create surveys;
- build portraits of the audience of respondents, segment that audience, and gather focus groups;
- engage the target audience to find out their opinions;
- perform marketing research globally through surveys and polls;
- get valid and detailed analytics about products and services.
We used a number of technical solutions to ensure that Vootex fulfilled its business and marketing tasks and in particular allowed companies to successfully do all of the things mentioned above. You can find all the technical details in the Notable Challenges section.
Vootex had to be a reliable and appealing platform where businesses and their potential customers could successfully interact. We created two types of profiles: business profiles (for companies, entrepreneurs, and brands) and personal profiles (for respondents). Having two types of application profiles makes it clear who’s using an app and for what purpose. Besides, each profile type gets its own set of functionality, which differs for business and personal use.
Depending on a company’s goals, needs, and size, a business profile owner may need a single account or may need separate accounts for different brands in order to run campaigns. Using one account is always an option, however. Still, different surveys within one company might be conducted by different marketing professionals. To make Vootex convenient for corporate uses, we created a function that lets businesses manage team access.
Vootex allows businesses to perform their research globally and also provides an option to reward respondents for participating. As we’ve mentioned above, rewards can be in the form of payments, discounts, gifts, special offers, or anything else at the discretion of the company. We implemented a reward module that allows businesses and their respondents to agree on rewards, give rewards, and track reward transactions.
There were several challenges that we had to overcome. We needed to keep in mind the business, technical, and design requirements to meet. Here are several challenges we faced and managed to solve elegantly.
Since Vootex intends to cover numerous users actions and interactions, we needed to build a scalable architecture model that would cope with the high data load. Along with that, we had to ensure that implementing features, scaling development, scaling the application, and moving from a monolithic to multiservices architecture could all be done quickly.
To make sure that we could quickly implement new features, shift to a multiservices architecture, and scale development, our team built Vootex using Domain-Driven Design (DDD) and The Clean Architecture principles.
For fast application scaling, we used the cloud-based Amazon Web Services (AWS), which allows us to upgrade memory and boost performance of the application in accordance with the growth of users and increase in load. AWS is all set to perform automatic scaling through a toolset including EC2 Auto Scaling (for web applications).
Though Vootex was built by a US company, its aim is to help businesses validate their products and services globally. For this reason, we had to make access to media content and all data across the application fast and reliable. To ensure global access to data, we used RDS and CloudFront with Amazon S3.
These services provide scaling of stored data, fast load speeds, and accelerated content delivery. Due to globally distributed servers, RDS and CloudFront allow Vootex users to get data from the edge point nearest to them, meaning they can get it really fast. For database storage we used MongoDB.
Fully Functional Application
To make sure Vootex fulfils business requirements and completes business processes, we implemented the number of functions.
- Single-page application (SPA). As with many other apps we’ve built, Vootex is a single-page application. This ensures dynamic and asynchronous page updates. Single-page applications operate with no interrupts or re-uploads of user content. They also ensure fast app performance.
- Security. Another crucial function we implemented was data security. The main issues were related to safely storing and transferring data. We ensured secure transfers using the proven HTTPS protocol. As for safe data storage, we chose an encryption method. Encryption allows us to protect data and prevent it from being hacked. Along with encryption, we implemented several best practices aimed at securing the application.
- Video and image processing. Surveys and polls are created using videos and images, and we had to make sure that this media worked quickly and efficiently. For that, we implemented a backend solution that allows us to quickly process videos and images to ensure that all content keeps its quality while being light and in the right format.
- iOS watermark library. Another notable challenge related to editing videos and images for surveys. As we’ve briefly mentioned, the Vootex app supports image and video content in polls. We needed to build a solution to let users efficiently use the app on the go (take a shot, push a photo to the app, merge two images, add text). We investigated a number of ready-made tools and finally came up with our own. Our iOS team created a MediaWatermark library that was easy to integrate and worked perfectly as an image and video overlay solution, which in turn ensured that survey and poll creation is instant and efficient.
Responsiveness. While the web version was designed to give users general awareness of the app and a chance to get oriented to its main functionality, the mobile version was developed as the application with the full set of features.
To make sure the app looks good on every device (laptop, smartphone, tablet, etc.), at every screen size (iPhone 6, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6 plus, iPad, etc.), and for each pixel density (regular, retina), we implemented web version responsiveness by setting breakpoints in the code and storing different versions of media files.
- Search. Needless to say, convenient and intuitive search is a must for efficient navigation and a positive experience with an app. For Vootex, we implemented a unique search algorithm built on a user’s Facebook profile details and social behavior as well as on geolocation data. The algorithm we used allows companies to target their search very carefully, set up specific user portraits of who they want to participate in their polls, and then find these targeted users.
Activity Stream. One more challenge we took on was implementing an activity feed. You might be imagining millions of users, following and followed by thousands of other users who ceaselessly interact with each other, creating polls, voting, leaving comments, messaging, and so on.
It took us a while to build a solution that would track each interaction and display it in a way that was relevant to each user. After much investigation, we chose a MongoDB database, which allowed us to gather all the interaction data and then aggregate, update, and display this data.
- Users analytics. One of the benefits the Vootex application offers its business users is real-time analytics. With regard to real-time analytics, our team faced the challenge not only to collect but also to display complex analytics clearly and appealingly. With the right technology stack and system architecture, which allowed use to cope with a big amount of data seamlessly and efficiently, we managed to set up the analytics system. As well, we applied a design concept to display analytics in a clear and useful way.
Integrations: Social Authorization
We integrated the Omniauth Facebook gem to give users a convenient way to join the app. Omniauth allowed us to make the sign-in process fast and easy, as authorization for both business and individual accounts can be done simply by signing in via Facebook.
We also integrated the Facebook Graph API and Atlas API tools to collect further details about users from their Facebook profiles so that this data can automatically fill out their profiles on Vootex and can be used by businesses to segment their audience of respondents.
What’s more, we used the power of the Facebook Marketing API tool, which helped us to provide business users with additional opportunities for engaging their target audiences. The Marketing API is a Facebook advertising platform that lets you post targeted ads that are seen by a custom audience. This did a lot to engage target audiences right from Facebook, leading potential app users all the way to Vootex and inviting them to take a poll or survey.
After about 3 months of cooperation, daily calls, suggestions, and searches for the best ideas and solutions, our client had an application prototype that was completely ready for launch.
Our client has benefited from Vootex, a tool that is effective for product testing and solving crucial tasks such as performing market validation, reaching users globally, and gathering valid feedback and analytics quickly. Vootex helps business make their product testing valid, time-efficient, cost-efficient, and easy.
Are you a marketing automation company looking to build a tool like Vootex? Let’s discuss your idea and bring it to life!
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