How micro-location can boost your content marketing

Neil Shewan, managing director at Reading Room’s Melbourne office, discusses the capabilities of GPS’ more accurate cousin, micro-location.

It is an exciting time in the world of content marketing. Technological changes to the way people accessing content will make it so much more relevant and useful over the next two years. In this article, I will look at the tech that is making it possible and a few examples of how it is being used. I will also share a few ideas to get you thinking about how it could work in your sector.


Useful first

Before looking at the technology, it is critical that you don’t get so excited about it that you forget the underlying objective – to deliver relevant, useful and timely content to target audiences. Technology can help make content useful, but should not be used in itself to demonstrate how innovative we are. Remember – useful content first, technology second.


The tech

OK, having set our priorities, we can now jump into the technology that is driving a new level of context to our content.

The trend focuses on what is being called ‘micro-location’. It revolves around being able to locate a person relative to a specific place, at a given moment, then providing useful and relevant content. Many of us have used GPS in our smartphones for years, providing access to content based on our geographic location. For example, asking SIRI on your iPhone, “Where is a good coffee around here?”. GPS is good, but not when you’re inside a building, or trying to pinpoint your location within a few centimetres.

That is where micro-location steps in using NFC, RFID or iBeacon technology. Below is a quick overview of the technology to get you up to speed.

GPS (Global Positioning System) has been around since the 1960’s. It is a key feature of most smartphones, and is now a mature technology. Marketers have been able to tap into the geographic location of their audience for the past five years using smartphones. Nothing new here. It is accurate to about four metres, but only works reliably when your phone can see a few overhead satellites.

NFC (Near Field Communication) has been around for about 10 years, and most consumers have experienced it in their local retailer by using tap-to-pay. NFC requires you to be within a few centimetres of another device or NFC tag for it to work. It is currently available on 20% to 25% of smartphones, but predicted to increase to 64% in 2018. NFC is not currently available on Apple devices.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) has been around since the 1970s and is commonly used to tag objects. In retail you will know it as the tags founds on clothes and books, which are passive RFIDs. Active (battery powered) RFIDs have a range of a 100 metres and are used in applications such as collecting road tolls when a vehicle is tagged.

iBeacons are the newest technology, introduced in mid-2013 by Apple. iBeacons use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to transmit a unique identifier up to 50 metres. The power of iBeacons is that they provide real-world location within an indoor (and outdoor) environment such as a shop or stadium. An iBeacon-ready smartphone can identify how far away it is from nearby iBeacons and provide the user with relevant content. iBeacons are battery powered and last for over a year of constant use. All modern Apple devices now come with iBeacon support. Other smartphone platforms are starting to support the standard.


So what’s the big deal?

Being able to pinpoint your location means your smartphone can be ready to provide you with relevant and timely content as you need it.

Retail and entertainment businesses have been quick to jump on the bandwagon, providing ticketing, product information, specials and ordering options using this technology. Some major players are rolling out micro-location installations, including Disney, USA retailer Hudson’s Bay, and the MLB (Major League Basketball).

Having major brands adopt the technology will help permeate micro-location into the mainstream, spreading the use into health, education, membership and broader sectors.


A better experience

The focus for retailers and entertainment venues has been on enhancing the brand experience. Below are a few recent examples.

Over the past year Disney has been rolling out its MagicBands. Using RFID technology, rubberised arm bands are sent to patrons in the mail, ready for their arrival at Disney Resorts and Worlds. Guests simply tap their MagicBands on Mickey Mouse-marked readers to gain entry into theme parks, access hotel rooms, and check in for ride, show, parade, fireworks, and other attraction reservations. Link your MagicBand to your My Disney Experience app on your smartphone to access contextual content about your visit based on where you are in the entertainment park.

The MLB have a mobile app on iPhone and Android called ‘At the Ballpark’ which, once installed, is used to check patrons into each ballpark. The San Francisco Giants ballpark has 19 iBeacons at entry and exit points. The app provides maps, concession info, video clips and the ability to upgrade your seat. Content is send via push notification. San Francisco Giants’ chief information officer, Bill Schlough, said to Engadget: “We don’t want to turn this into some sort of SPAM engine”. The MLB is experimenting with the use of the technology to ensure it improves the game day experience, not detract from it.

In July last year American retail owner Hudson’s Bay Company announced that it was rolling out an iBeacon shopping experience across 130 of its US and Canadian ‘The Bay’ and ‘Lord & Taylor’ department stores. Using iBeacons, the retailer will automatically deliver branded content and personalised offers to in-store shoppers through its smartphone app. Early tests indicate that the system is delivering an increase up to 20 times in sales intent, and representing an increase up to 500 times in average mobile ad engagement.


Idea kickstarters

Taking the insights from the above pioneers in micro-location where we can see this technology making a difference. Here are three ideas to kick-start…



Consider a university or school where potential students are guided around the campus on open day using their smartphone app to book into information sessions, and access contextual information based on what interests them, and what is in front of them. Then, when they become a student, micro-location is used to track attendance and participation, access resources in the library, access course material, guide them to lectures, help participation in tutorials, and increase involvement in the campus community.


Consider a not-for-profit membership organisation that provides its members with relevant and useful information whenever they check in to an event or volunteer their time. Micro-location could provide thanks, advice, encouragement, and virtual badges for participation.

Health and fitness

Consider a national gym that provides you with detailed information on your workout using micro-location within the gym. The equipment you spend most time on, and the number of repetitions would be tracked against your targets. Virtual badges would be awarded for checking in to other gyms in the network when you travel. This could extend outside the gym to events sponsored by the gym where you check in using micro-location to unlock useful content.


Time to experiment

Micro-location is just one of many tools used to add context to your communications. Like any new tool we recommend you experiment with it. At Reading Room we are big supporters of working in an agile, iterative way. No need to hit the market with a risky big bang. Start by prototyping how it can add value to your content, get customer feedback, then refine and improve it.