How smart data helps design and refine heritage experiences


5 minute read
Alumni: Charlie Harman

Alumni: Charlie Harman

Marketing Manager

Digital Placemaking

Arts & Culture

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all.”

Ode on a Grecian Urn, by John Keats, 1819


Don’t worry, we’re not going to hit you with a treatise on Romantic poetry, it’s just that at Calvium we find as much beauty in the ‘truths’ behind our heritage apps as the visitors find in the sites themselves. Let us explain…

By ‘truths’, we mean data. Heritage apps can gather, utilise and generate vast quantities of data, from visitor email addresses to complex three-dimensional movement data.

When we take time to look at this data with our clients, new beauty emerges – opportunities to improve the visitor experience, to enhance their appreciation of the heritage sites, and to build a relationship that extends beyond their visit. Before the beautiful truths can emerge, it’s important to know these three types of data – app, live and personal – and understand how they can contribute to the experience.

App data

These days, even the cheapest modern smartphone is bristling with sensors, capturing dozens of data points every millisecond – everything from altitude to light levels. Your app, be it mobile based or otherwise, could slurp these up and report them back to you – this is the era of ‘Big Data’ after all – but bigger isn’t always better. We find that the beauty lies in smart data.

Before building an app, it’s essential to define your goals. Are you showcasing new exhibits or drawing attention to existing ones? Is your aim to increase dwell time or improve footfall? Clear goals can be translated into meaningful and measurable KPIs, and KPIs are something an app can easily track.

For each app we build, Calvium develops a bespoke analytics dashboard, much like Google’s (above), to highlight performance against the KPIs identified by our heritage client. These data sets could emphasise areas of the app that visitors find difficult to use, or shine a light on exhibits that are not catching the eye, thus offering insights into the overall success of an experience.

They can also inform iterative improvements to both the app and the experience, in turn improving performance against the KPIs and ensuring that the client’s goals are met.

Live data

While data generated by the app is most useful for the exhibitor, data captured by the smartphone whilst the app is in use can actively guide, shape and enrich an individual visitor’s experience. A mobile app does not have to be as linear as a guidebook or traditional audio tour – our Lost Palace experience is a great example of how live data was used to provide a seamless encounter with a hidden heritage location.

With the app, visitors were led on a sensory tour of Whitehall Palace in London, a building that hasn’t existed for 300 years.

Even a basic app can take user behaviour into account when offering up information, organically tailoring the content to their needs. Some visitors may dwell a while at each exhibit or area – an app can take advantage of this by offering richer, more in-depth information. If, on the other hand, user movement indicates that the visitor is moving quickly between sections or displays, the app could instead show the key points in an easily digestible format.

The visitor’s viewing behaviour could allow the app to make live recommendations. Is the user dwelling at – or seeking further information on – a particular type of exhibit? Grecian urns? Suits of armour? Scenes of grizzly deaths? A smart app could direct them to the next one, or offer Amazon-like recommendations; “Visitors who enjoyed this exhibit also enjoyed…”

Personal data

Both app data and live data can extend the visitor experience beyond their visit, when combined with personal data like an email address.

Looking to encourage return visits? Drop visitors an email highlighting parts of the experience they may have missed, based on their movement data. Perhaps there are app activities they did not trigger because of the path they took through your exhibit, which you could drive them to on a second visit.

Got an event coming up coming up that’s linked to one of the exhibits a visitor dwelled on or interacted with? Let them know. Perhaps there are books or even other apps that could shed more light on the on the areas of the experience that appeared to interest them.

By continuing to develop the relationship the visitor has with the location or event, even after they have left it, heritage sites can promote memberships, encourage positive reviews on social media and grow visitor numbers.

An important consideration

Using your customer’s personal data in this way represents a powerful opportunity for heritage organisations. But doing so comes with a big proviso – permission. Visitors to your site should be encouraged to opt-in to receiving email (and snail mail), but should also be given the opportunity to opt-out at any time.

It is important to be very clear about what the customer will receive if they give you their info and choose to opt in – the key is to make it worth their while. If what you send them adds value to their experience, they will be more engaged, more likely to return and less likely to hit the ‘unsubscribe’ button.

Through the judicious use and smart interpretation of data generated by your app, be it app interactions, tracking data or the old staples of name, age and (email) address, heritage sites can reveal the Keatsian beauty in the truth of their visitor experiences, maybe even inspiring an Ode on a Heritage App.

For a great example of how live data can be used in a heritage app, read our Tower of London case study.

Calvium circle logo