The National Trust puts the focus on cause marketing with digital revamp

The National Trust is shifting its digital strategy to encourage people to see their membership as a contribution to the charity’s cause of preserving historic buildings and landscapes rather than as a season ticket to a number of attractions as it looks to boost engagement.


National Trust ipad

The National Trust said last year it would invest £30m in this digital transformation, which includes an overhaul of its mobile apps, website and digital infrastructure. It hired Tom Barker, who previously worked at the BBC’s digital lab project, to oversee the project.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Barker said the digital work is in line with the Trust’s new 10-year strategy, launched earlier this year, that aims to communicate the cause and why it exists.

“One of the charity’s problems is that people view us as a day-out option and not a conservation charity, which is actually what we are. Our aim is to preserve places for everybody but that is an open ended challenge.

“As we move forward we will present ourselves as a much more cause-based organisation that is about protecting beautiful places for the nation.”

With that in mind Barker has revamped the charity’s content strategy and given content training to its 500 web editors across the country to ensure that message is getting out in its marketing, both in terms of blogs or content they write for the website and the brand’s social media.

“Conservation must be seeded across everything we do – at retail, hospitality, the website and when people visit. The way we structure content in the future will be about managing that message and making people aware we are not just about stately homes for the middle classes.

He admits changing that brand perception isn’t an “overnight” job, hence why the charity has a 5-year digital roadmap.

national trust website

The initial focus has been on “getting the basics right” including making the website responsive, updating the mobile app so it has a full list of National Trust locations and rebuilding its CMS to make it easier to upload content. It has worked with DigitasLBi to achieve this.

“My first job was to get the house in order. The way the organisation was running people were allowed to do and create their own content at a local and regional level with no guidelines in place. The website wasn’t responsive. People were saying ‘let’s do some innovation with beacons’ but my response was we have to get the basics right first,” he explained.

Driving visitors

Despite the focus on the charity’s conversation work, Barker says its online presence does still need to drive people to its properties. A significant proportion of members sign up when they visit their first National Trust property and then don’t visit any more that year, meaning they are unlikely to renew.


With that in mind the app has been updated with a geolocation feature that serves people suggestions of nearby places to visit. Users can input their preferences – whether that is for houses, gardens or coastlines; disabled access; a place they can take their dog – and the app filters the results.

Its tills and databases have also been revamped so that everything links up. Prior to this its online and real-world presence operated in isolation meaning the charity had no information on which properties people had visited and that it therefore couldn’t personalise its marketing.

“We are trying to get people to visit more of our locations more often,” said Barker. “We are a charity and all our work is based on fundraising so we have to do a number of things with the website: get people to understand the cause and its charitable nature, donate, join as members and visit places. That keeps the organisation healthy.”

Building a more agile charity

Barker said that while he is interested in newer digital innovations the charity won’t be trying out the latest fads. Facebook and Twitter remain its most important social channels, with its followers on the former up 30% year on year, suggesting a “huge appetite within that community to engage with The National Trust”.

However, Barker said he won’t ignore newer platforms because the charity has to be future-proof.

“It is wrong for us to be trying to be at the bleeding edge of things. We have to be relevant and contemporary and able to adjust to changes in the landscape but we are a not-for-profit and we have to spend money responsibly. I am highly accountable for every decision I make as is everyone else.

“But we are experimenting within other areas. Instagram is our fastest growing platform and we are playing around with Periscope live streams. We will be ready should any new channels take off.