Anna Lowe, Co-founder of Smartify
Anna Lowe, Director of Partnerships at Smartify talks to MuseumNext and introduces cutting-edge mobile guide strategies for use in-gallery and at home as well as new eCommerce developments.
What is Smartify and what benefits does it provide museums and cultural organisations?
Smartify is a platform that provides all the tools needed for museum staff to create, publish and monetise audio and multimedia guides. The platform contains the fastest image recognition technology to scan and identify objects, as well as all the features you would expect; easy-to-use drag and drop tools; guides available on a web-browser with multiple languages and offline mode… It also has a lot of extra benefits that make it pretty unique: like linking museum content to shop items; interactive wayfinding.
At Smartify we believe collaboration between organisations is an area of huge untapped potential for building on-going relationships with visitors. The platform already has an active audience of over 2.5 million users who use the app at home as well as in-gallery.
Having a shared active audience means we can send targeted push notifications about new exhibitions and events and share data insights with partner museums. Each venue has all the benefits of its own mobile guide, plus a built-in user base of millions of art lovers. It also means not having to build, maintain and update an app which is a huge cost saving.
How did your relationship with Smartify begin and what does your role involve?
As one of the CoFounders of Smartify I’ve been involved from the start. We started working on Smartify because we all loved visiting museums and wanted to make it a more accessible and engaging experience. We are inspired by platforms like Spotify and Netflix but always wanted to build something with and for the sector, so we set up Smartify as a Community Interest Company (social enterprise). My role at Smartify is to listen to what museum staff are struggling with and find solutions. Our product roadmap comes from listening to our community of partners. I get to work with over 300 museums – it’s the best job in the world.
What is your background in museums, education and technology?
My background is in museum education and prior to Smartify I’ve worked at the Anne Frank House, York Castle Museum and National Museum of Fine Art in Argentina in young people’s programmes. Outside Smartify I also volunteer as a Trustee at Hope in Tottenham and at Tate.
Mobile phones showing the Smartify platform
What are the aims and objectives of Smartify and how do you go about achieving them?
Our dual mission is to help people make meaningful connections with art and culture and to support the resilience of cultural organisations. We achieve that by making an elegant, information-rich product that meets audience expectations and functions across mobile and desktop. We are focused on content, personalisation and e-Commerce. Essentially we try to get the basics right and benchmark the product against the world’s most popular apps.
How has COVID-19 affected the company and what lesson have you learnt?
In 2020 all of our partner museums recognised the value of Smartify as an online platform with a global audience and focused on creating content while the physical sites were closed. We saw our usage numbers soaring as people were looking for fresh, educational and inspiring content. Now museums are back open again we are busy helping venues with mobile guides delivered to visitors’ own devices.
During COVID-19 we conducted a lot of research into content driven eCommerce at the request of five partner museums who were looking for ways to maximise their online shop income. We found that integrating products into audio guides and artwork pages saw a 10% conversion rate to cart. To give that some context the average eCommerce conversion rate is usually 2-5%, so we were pleased with the result especially as products were discovered organically, with no marketing push notifications or paid ads. This research led us to develop a full version of the Smartify marketplace that launches this October.
What have been some of Smartify’s main achievements so far?
We all feel a huge sense of achievement every time someone messages us saying how much they enjoy using Smartify. We get thousands of great reviews on the app stores and read every single one. Recently Hannah Thompson, a vision impaired Smartify user wrote on her blog Blind Spot about how much the app has changed her experience of visiting museums – it encourages us to keep making the platform even more accessible and inclusive for everyone. Other highlights have been launching the multilingual guides for the Obama portraits at the Smithsonian or the very first time we tried scanning an artwork with image recognition and thought ‘wow it works really well!’
How does Smartify differ from other apps available to museums and how can it aid digital learning?
The fact that we have more than 2.5 million users and thousands of reviews on the app stores speaks for itself. It is a massive statement of confidence in the product from the most important audience of all: the visitor. But I also think the way in which we facilitate cross-cultural and intra-museum dialogue is going to become increasingly important.
Moving forward, we are very interested in seeing how different features – discovery, guiding, donations and e-Commerce can be enhanced through personalisation and building an ongoing relationship with audiences.
Anna Lowe will give a talk at MuseumNext’s Digital Learning Summit taking place from 18-20 October 2021.