Strategy & Consulting

A digital transformation lesson from a museum: visitors first

Written by Pim van Helten on 24, Seth 2020

What do you think when you hear the word “museum”?

Digital savvy is probably not one of the first things that pops into your mind. I think we are all familiar with the stuffy reputation that museums have acquired over the past decades. But, to be honest, this is changing for the better. Heck, in 2018 the first digital art museum even opened in Tokyo and was a straight off hit, attracting more than two million visitors in its first year.

It’s obvious that no industry can longer ignore the call for digitalization, COVID-19 made that absolutely clear. This also holds up for museums, as they need to create a sustainable future and take care of their assets and collections while remaining valuable and relevant to upcoming generations. Not exactly an easy task.

Naturalis is a national museum of natural history and a research center on biodiversity in the Netherlands. The museum has one of the world’s largest natural history collections, counting more than 41 million objects. They closed down for an extensive renovation and wanted to take this as an opportunity to digitize part of their collection and experience in preparation for the new opening.

The digital transformation challenge

Deciding to digitally transform your organization and actually triumph is harder than you might think. A digital transformation goes much further than simply launching a new portal or app and calling it a day. Contrary to popular belief, digital transformation is less about technology and more about people and processes. 

This is especially true for well-established institutions like Naturalis. When we started working with the museum to develop a holistic digital strategy, we knew it was important to involve all departments and the whole organization. 

There were different challenges, but two main ones stood out. Firstly, Naturalis has a very wide target audience with different needs and expectations. Researchers, donors, employees and the government all needed to be taken into account, as well as families, schools and other museum visitors. Which of course led to completely different customer journeys.

Secondly, while Naturalis attracts a large audience and is known as the natural history museum to visit, there is still a lot of competition for people’s leisure time. They basically have to take on the whole entertainment industry from zoos to festivals all the way to playing sports and restaurant visits. 

A digitally matured museum

While crafting the digital strategy for Naturalis, we worked closely together with the management team as well as stakeholders from different departments. From our experience, it’s always good to start with internal workshops. Workshops are a great tool to keep all involved aligned and gather insights and inspiration from different levels within the organization.

It was key to bring everyone involved together, pinpoint the stakeholders, listen to the different perspectives and take a critical look at what needed to be digitized and what not. By using the design thinking methodology and the five following steps, we came up with a solid digital strategy:

  1. Context & empathy map: who are the key stakeholders within Naturalis?
  2. Touchpoint analysis: which products has the museum already developed?
  3. Customer journey mapping: what are the functional and emotional needs and wants of the main target groups?
  4. Service blueprinting: how do we implement a vision for digital transformation?
  5. Strategic program: how can we initiate change across the whole organization?

But, coming up with a strategy is one thing, implementing and executing a strategy is a completely different ballgame. Normally one of the biggest obstacles for a successful digital transformation is the organization itself and the processes that have been put in place. Of course, Naturalis also had to deal with some internal politics as any organization, but they had good overall momentum to implement the needed changes. The extensive renovation and deadline of the reopening surely helped with that.

A digital future

Part of any successful digital transformation is extensive research into the needs and wants of the target audience. Given the broad diversity of Naturalis’ target groups, this was quite a sizable undertaking. We crafted different target group personas by using the design thinking methodology, industry research and input from interviews with Naturalis’ employees. The insights were used in the customer journey mapping and incorporated into the user experience for the online experience.

A website is the beating heart of your customer experience (CX) and one of the most important touchpoints of your online experience. You need a site that reflects your brand, differentiates you from competitors and, as the icing on the cake, is easy to navigate and user-friendly. Which is exactly what we did for Naturalis.

The award-winning site was completely redesigned in line with their newly developed brand identity, appeals to a diverse target audience, and guides and educates visitors on biodiversity. We also developed a museum app with interactive tours and an intriguing virtual exhibition for when the museum was under renovation with the most beautiful and special masterpieces of Naturalis. It’s still online today and functions as an extension of

To facilitate the digital customer journeys Salesforce CRM was implemented, which makes it easier for employees to manage interactions with potential and current museum visitors, improve relationships and ultimately increase conversions. After all, museums are businesses too. 

The success of the digital transformation translated into a stronger brand and an increase in visitor numbers. Fun fact, Naturalis has even been breaking all visitors records since the reopening, with nearly 6,000 visitors in the opening weekend alone! 

The importance of collaboration in the success of Naturalis’ digital transformation can’t be emphasized enough. Bringing all relevant departments to the table and making sure that the digital strategy worked for each and every one of them, was key to success. The foundation for a strong digital future has been laid, now it’s up to Naturalis to continuously innovate and improve their CX.

Pim van Helten

Pim van Helten


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