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Want Customers to Love Your Product? Let Them Design It

Image-editing app PicsArt got to 60 million downloads by letting user input determine what its features should be.
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What's the best way to make sure customers will choose your product? Ask them what they want, and then give them exactly that. That strategy is how PicsArt, a photo editing and drawing app, grew to more than 60 million downloads since it launched in the Google and Apple app stores in late 2011. The app that was introduced back then is very different from PicsArt today, in large part because of suggestions and requests by the app's users.

PicsArt has more than 700,000 reviews on Google Play, with an impressive average rating of 4.7 stars. Here's how the company built its app into a product users love:

1. Ask for input.

"From the very beginning, users were writing us emails with suggestions, new approaches, and bug reports," recalls Artavazd Mehrabyan, PicsArt founder. "That's when we started to focus on asking them things."

PicsArt began emailing questionnaires to its most active users, and also posting surveys on its Facebook page and it continues surveying users on a regular basis. That's helped PicsArt get detailed information on what users would like to see and effectively crowdsource its product design.

2. Monitor conversations and reviews--and actual customer activity.

 In addition to asking customers for their input, PicsArt staff are careful to monitor user reviews, social media mentions and comments about the app, and all the suggestions, comments, and complaints that come in by email. Mehrabyan considers this so important that the company has a dedicated support staff of three whose full-time job is to read and answer customer emails, which can include support questions, technical questions, suggestions for new features, complaints, or praise.

In addition to all this, PicsArt collects detailed data on how customers actually use the app, which feature they use frequently, and which they use infrequently, and what they do with those features. "PicsArt is all about enhancing your photography and drawing, so we watch how people are using it and whether a new feature is helping them," Mehrabyan says.

3. Act on what you find out.

This is where too many companies fail in this process. They gather detailed user input and analyze it carefully--but then they don't actually make any changes in response to what they've learned. PicsArt incorporates user-suggested changes often--because the company isn't afraid of frequent updates.

"We never wait till we understand deeply whether something is going to work or not," Mehrabyan says. You never know whether it will be successful or not, he says, so give the users the benefit of the doubt, and just try it. "We add features fast and we react fast. If they don't like something, we change it. If they like it, we polish it and make it even better."

One example is PicsArt's social network. When Mehrabyan started the company, he envisioned an image-enhancing app that people could use to transform their photos and drawings that they might then share over existing social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. In fact, PicsArt supports 10 existing social networks. Mehrabyan never intended to create yet another, but PicsArt users had a different idea.

"People asked for a place to upload their pictures, so we gave it to them," he says. "Then they wanted to be able to follow their friends or favorite other users, so we added 'following.'" Next, users wanted to be able to like the pictures they preferred, so PicsArt added this feature as well. Today, PicsArt has a thriving social network with 6 million members, only because its customers wanted one.

"Modern users are very smart and very challenging," Mehrabyan says. "But if you prove you'll be quick to change or improve something according to their wishes, they will keep loyal to you."

IMAGE: Shutterstock
Last updated: Jun 17, 2013

MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, 'The Geek Gap'

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and former president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Like this post? Sign up here for a once-a-week email and you'll never miss her columns.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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