The Natural History Museum in London is one of the top museums in the world. It’s currently the third most visited attraction in the United Kingdom with 5.3 million visitors annually, more than half of which come from overseas.
One of the reasons the museum is so popular is its commitment to research, education, and the visitor experience. The museum has long used new technologies, including interactive exhibits and stunning 3D images, to bring its displays to life. To further enhance the visitor experience, the organization recently developed an interactive museum app. Created using Adobe Experience Manager Mobile, the app provides a multi-language, contextual experience for the museum’s visitors. David Thomas, Head of Technology Solutions, and Celena Bretton, Digital Media Strategy Manager, talked to us about their vision for laying a digital foundation that enables personalized, relevant experiences.
Adobe: Why did the Museum launch a new visitor app?
Thomas: First and foremost, our new app comes from a desire to improve the visitor experience. We wanted an app that could grow to serve the entire customer experience. It’s not just about what’s in our galleries. People should also be able to buy tickets to exhibitions and events, find places to eat, and check out the latest offers from the gift shop from a single app.
We looked closely at native apps, and even produced our beta using a white label solution, but neither route could provide the sustainability, agility and future-proofing that we required. We decided that we needed something with a completely new look and feel that we could update more easily and more frequently. For us, it was about offering more useful features to motivate visitors to download and actively use the app.
Adobe: Why did you decide to work with Adobe Experience Manager Mobile?
Bretton: We had already laid a digital foundation in support of our new user-focussed digital strategy with Adobe Experience Manager Sites for our website, so it was easy for us to start using Adobe Experience Manager Mobile. Most of the content can be created just by dragging and dropping assets and adding text, so our content managers don’t need coding experience.
Our website uses responsive design that displays well on mobile phones, but the app is designed to highlight information that people will want while they’re at the Museum, such as interactive maps and guides for popular displays. Although a lot of this content is exclusive to the app, we can reuse dynamic information, such as events calendars, across both the website and app quite easily.
Thomas: We worked closely with technology solution consultants at Ensemble to develop the first release of the new app. Now that development is complete, we’ll handle all future updates in-house. Because we won’t have to coordinate with a developer for every change, we’ll be able to make updates more frequently. We’re expecting to reduce app development costs by 50% moving forward.
Adobe: How is the app improving the visitor experience?
Bretton: The geolocation services in Adobe Experience Manager Mobile are the real game changer. The Museum is quite big; even regulars may stumble upon galleries that they didn’t know existed. Using signal information from our wifi network, we can pinpoint where visitors are standing in galleries, what they’re looking at, and where they’re going. Based on this information, we can deliver contextual information about the display that they’re looking at or highlight the location of other interesting exhibits. We can even upsell the museum experience by suggesting relevant paid museum exhibitions or events to visitors. Being able to offer these features could give us new ways to highlight attractions, encourage people to explore, and keep them coming back.
About 58% of our visitors are international, so we wanted to include multiple language options to help us reach more visitors in their native languages. Adobe Experience Manager Mobile makes it much easier to manage a multilingual environment so that we can keep our international visitors up-to-date with the latest information. Currently we’re focussing on the four most commonly requested languages, and will explore further additions depending on customer uptake and feedback.
Adobe: What has the reaction been to the app?
Bretton: We’ve just officially launched the app, after seeing about 64,000 unique downloads of the beta version and we’ll be rolling out full marketing in the coming month. It’s very encouraging to see that people are searching out the app which bodes well for greater adoption and new functionality in the future.
Thomas: In the longer term, we’re looking at how Adobe Experience Manager Mobile could give us a more detailed view into how people are using the app, their path through the museum, and what decisions they’re making after viewing the app or a push notification. With this information, we can further optimize the app experience and ultimately drive better business results.
Adobe: What are your other plans for the app in the future?
Bretton: We want to keep expanding the app to provide a complete visitor experience in a single app, including dynamic maps and personalized messaging. If someone expresses an interest in fossils, for instance, we could send them a push message to guide them to other exhibits with interesting specimens, or to find additional content such as audio guides.
Thomas: We’d also like to explore how to use the Adobe Mobile Apps framework to support interactions with amateur science communities outside of the museum. It would be great if people could use their phone to identify a type of bird or mineral in their back yard, using information from our collections. In this way the app has the potential to become an evolving gateway that brings science, education, and discovery closer to our communities.
Download the Natural History Museum app here.