Picture a night out to see your favourite band. The excitement doesn’t start when the guitarist strikes their first power chord, it begins long before.
From the moment you book your tickets, anticipation mounts, and in the days leading up to the gig, you’ll have listened to the tracks you love, you’ll have shared your excitement on social media, you’ll have chatted to people in the queue outside – all before setting foot through the venue’s door.
Not only that: a good event will linger on in the memory long after the encore.
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The same goes for experiential apps for heritage sites. An app can offer new ways for visitors to interact with your site, and breathe new life into places; but it can cover so much more than the in-visit experience, both before and after the event.
Before the event
A gig would end up half full without any promotion: a heritage experience needs to build an audience before the event. Visitors must be aware that your app exists, so shout about it from as many existing touchpoints as possible – your website, your social media feeds, your newsletter, tourist information websites.
This isn’t only about marketing the app; the app itself can work to build up interest in the big visit. A successful heritage app is all about storytelling: capturing the imagination and bringing an experience to life. Narrative about special events you’re hosting is a great way to engage users before they arrive, giving their experience a prologue that builds the excitement. Consider push notifications too: these can herald special offers and events taking place on particular days, which may nudge them to relive your historical moments..
We don’t recommend bombarding your audience with all the practical info: things like details of toilet facilities, opening hours and more are better suited to a website than an app. Blending experience and utility can be a little messy, and can mean that your users will be over-swamped with information. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t include any of these more pedestrian logistics, though…as long as you include them in new and interesting ways.
Instead, consider smart utility: useful, up-to-the-minute updates for those who are there. Let them see how many spaces are available in the car park, so they can stop off for a coffee en route if your site’s too busy. Give them an area where they can see how busy the café is, so they can decide whether to have a lunch break now or keep exploring for another half an hour. It’s another way to increase interaction with your app, and to gamify a less exciting part of the experience.
Most of our AppTrails also include armchair settings, giving users the chance to listen to content remotely for a feeling of inclusion, intrigue and enthusiasm…without even needing to leave their homes. These settings make it possible for those who can’t visit your site in the flesh to live the magic of the experience from their own home, as well as setting the scene and building excitement for those who’ll be joining you in the near future.
During the visit
Your app works hardest when your visitors are fully immersed in your site’s stories.
Media richness and total immersion can add a whole new dimension to a heritage site visit. Take The Lost Palace project we worked on, which brought together our app designers with theatre makers, interaction designers and Historic Royal Palaces. Together, we forged an experience that blended a bespoke handheld device with haptic technology and binaural 3D sound, fully immersing visitors in an environment that no longer exists in real life.
Competitive elements add an extra level of intrigue and entertainment: heritage apps are the perfect vehicle for the magic of treasure trails (such as those in our Tower Bridge app), built-in quizzes and other ways to gamify the experience. These are particularly captivating for younger visitors – especially if there is a prize at the end!
While apps may seem to encourage screentime rather than taking in the surroundings, there’s more to it than that. Apps are all about creating a wider sense of fun, and encouraging communication between family, friends or even complete strangers – a shared experience.
Linking your app to tangible aspects of your site will also add an extra breath of life: it’s a way to uncover the hidden history of a visit in real time. This could be something as simple as delving into museum exhibits in more detail (as in the app we created for Jewish Museum London), or as complex as overlaying a modern map with an ancient one to show how a city has transformed over time (such as in Hidden Florence).
After the experience
Just as a heritage app can set the scene pre-visit, it can also extend the experience after the event. Our Tower Bridge app was built so users could enjoy the its activities even after the visit is over, reliving their journey, keeping them entertained – and keeping you top of mind.
Push messaging can encourage visitors to revisit again and again. There’s plenty of scope for creativity here: giving visitors the chance to relive their memories of the day will create a sense of nostalgia and make them want to enjoy the experience all over again. On the day, give them the power to take a selfie with a historical figure which you can then email to them at a later date, or share their high scores on your quiz and let them know if they stay high on the leaderboard. Memories are a fantastic way to create an experience that truly lasts.
Before, during and after their experience, your visitors are on a journey: not only with the site itself, but also with your brand. Your app should be one element of that journey that keeps them captivated and entertained throughout. Delighted customers will pass on their recommendations to friends and help guarantee you that all-important footfall.
A standout heritage app may even spell the difference between a visitor and a supporter: the difference between a transactional, one-off encounter and real emotional investment. A supporter is a true devotee to what you do: someone who truly loves your site and your brand, shouts their support from the rooftops, and possibly even becomes financially invested to ensure their experience is still around in the years to come.