Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CWF): Colonial Williamsburg Explorer iOS and Android Mobile App

Campaign Summary

Colonial Williamsburg is one of the largest living history projects in the United States and a national tourist attraction. With so much to do and see, visitors needed help finding their way around and ensuring they could make the most of their visit. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation created a mobile app to guide guests around town.


Objective and Context:

To keep the historic area true to its 18th-century heritage, the buildings and roads through Colonial Williamsburg have limited signage, making it difficult for visitors to navigate and find their way around. It needed a new mobile app that would help with getting around town and could notify guests of events and points of interest at the right place and time.

Target Audience:

The streets of Williamsburg welcome more than 1.5 million visitors annually, particularly young families and mature couples. But the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CWF) also wanted to attract young couples seeking unique experiences.

Creative Strategy:

To preserve the serendipitous nature of discovery and delight at Colonial Williamsburg, the brand designed and built a mobile app that helped visitors make the most of their visit. Since the historic area provides a full multi-sensory and multi-dimensional experience that transports guests back in time, the creative strategy was to allow visitors to be present in this unique environment and stay off their phones as much as possible. CWF embraced a “less is more” approach, limiting the features in the app to those that would encourage exploration and engagement with physical places and real people.


Overall Campaign Execution:

CWF had an existing mobile app, but it didn’t solve the brand’s navigation and content problems. The new app that was designed and built solved these problems, but also integrated with CWF’s existing backend systems to provide up-to-the-moment scheduling information. The new app was built using Xamarin, a Microsoft cross-platform solution that allowed CWF’s IT team to leverage existing integrations like SiteCore CMS.

Mobile Execution:

All features were designed to be used with as few taps as possible to keep visitors off their phones. Knowing that visitors would use the app primarily for wayfinding, CWF made the map the home screen for the app. The photography and iconography within the app helped visitors quickly recognize and connect content back to what they were seeing in the physical world. For instance, the map was custom-designed to display dimensional buildings with details like chimneys and gables, allowing visitors to easily recognize the buildings in front of them. The “Near Me” button also helped visitors identify three nearby points of interest, eliminating decision fatigue and the burden of planning ahead. In addition, CWF leveraged mobile notifications to provide timely and helpful alerts that allowed visitors to make the most of their physical experience. For example, visitors could “favorite” events and automatically receive a reminder (and walking directions) before the event’s scheduled start time. The desire to appeal to young families and couples also led to the creation of a “Colonial Camera” that allowed visitors to overlay pictures they took on their phones with fun graphics. This feature gave visitors the ability to create original content that was sharable on social media.

Results (including context, evaluation, and market impact)

CWF is continuing to work on new phases for the app, building additional features. The next phase will include ticketing and account access, allowing visitors to purchase and redeem tickets in the moment. In the future, it also plans to incorporate a scavenger hunt.

App analytics comparing the new app to the old app indicate that total users increased by 183 percent and the average session length increased by 42 percent.

Categories: | Industries: | Objectives: Location-Based Services or Targeting | Awards: Bronze Winner