Keeping Your Brand as Engaging As Possible

engagement_hand holdingDeveloping and breathing life into a brand requires passion. Keeping that brand alive requires love. Much like two people promise to love each other for a lifetime, you hope customers and guests will do the same with your brand.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to exchange some thoughts with some fellow casino industry folks about the trends in casino gaming and how marketing must adapt to compete. Today, I’m sharing the rest of the exchange with is about keeping your brand presence as engaging as possible. Much of what we see in the future of casino marketing revolves around capturing the seemingly elusive millennial and incorporating the technology to engage with customers on a real-time basis. Technology is changing. Our target demo and the composition of our database is evolving, but the principles of good brand marketing seem to stay true.

Understand Who And What You Are

Maryland Live! Casino’s Senior Vice President of Marketing Mario Measano advises,

“Know your brand and know your brand promise. (The) Key is knowing what it is not. Focus on incorporating your brand promise in every aspect of your business and guest experience.  More importantly, have the courage to say no to anything that does not meet that brand promise regardless of financial impact.”

Jim Gentleman is senior vice president of account management and strategy at SK+G and has been advisor to a number of casino brands.

“Stand for something, stake a position and relish not being for everybody. Too many casinos today take the safe ‘we have something for everybody approach.’ That’s not what people want. They want experiences that are distinct and unexpected. With the proliferation of casinos throughout the U.S. over the past 15 years, gaming is a commodity. Build, develop and promote something unlike anything you can find next door. Casino resort brands that have done this – Borgata, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, and Bellagio for example – develop consumer preference and true brand loyalty that leads to long-term business success.”

Talk To Your Customers

I know the rush of creating something new that you think is the best thing ever to come to marketing, but through the years, my biggest lessons have been taught by customers. You need to touch customers to understand what they see in your brand and what might keep them playing longer or visiting more often. Talk to your customers and find out how they think about your brand.  Then decide how to message your brand to appeal to those thoughts. Make it simple, memorable and sustainable.

Stay In Your Lane

Stacy Spahle is vice president of marketing and PR for Chateau 20. She has built a career on creating brands and experiences. Her advice?

 “Resist the pressure to constantly reinvent the brand. Revisit the basics — review your brand positioning and make sure it is realistic, unique and defendable and test that it resonates with your target customers. Then make sure every aspect of your communication, advertising, and especially customer experience reinforce it. With turnover in management, competition and constant pressure to be fresh and creative, we as marketers are often diverted from the discipline it takes to continually reinforce the brand. The strongest brands have managed to stay the course and ensure their messaging and actions always reinforce their core principles.”

From Back of House to the Front Door, Be Consistent

Suzanne Trout, CMO of Rush Street Gaming says integration with all departments and all team members is the secret sauce to real brand engagement. “It’s not a marketing program but a property lifestyle that makes it real.”

Kim Ginn is Vice President of Marketing for L’Auberge Casino & Hotel Baton Rouge. She agrees and advises that in order to make your brand presence as engaging as possible you must do 2 items well and consistently:

  • Your brand must be consistent in every aspect and every channel. Some think of their brand as only advertising, but I believe the brand permeates everything we do from how our property looks, feel, smells (affects all the senses) to the team members attitudes and uniforms, to the giveaways we have and the special events we throw as well as our advertising.

  • As far as advertising, I feel it is important to have a cohesive look and message, look and feel in all channels as well as touch and use ALL channels. One cannot ignore traditional media and just use web and social or vice versa. They must all work together and they must all have messages that are appropriate for that medium.

Go All In

Jan Talamo is head creative strategist for the Media & Marketing Group. He has worked on behalf of over 100 gaming properties around the world including some of the most iconic brands in gaming. He has always said that marketing needs to be channel agnostic because you need to be where your customers are having their conversations. In order to do that, you have to think multi-channel. So before you start developing your message make sure you

Adhere to the principles of a fully integrated multi-channel marketing approach. The pathway to purchase has changed dramatically. And 5 years from now…will have changed even more. Plan for tomorrow TODAY!”

I was once taught to keep my points to five, but in this case I do have a sixth.

Keep it Simple and Memorable

Needs no explanation.

Keeping Your Brand as Engaging As Possible

Casino Branding 101

This originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Global Gaming Business. I’m reposting it here with a couple of new elements.

For years, I’ve been polishing old brands and creating some new brands. I have found that, no matter what the project, market or budget, the steps are the same. They are what one of my former agencies likes to call “The Jules Rules.” I like to refer to them as the five pillars of brand marketing.

Know Your Target/Market

Formal research unearths a great deal of insight. I always recommend it, but I also highly recommend spending time on the floor. When was the last time you worked your player’s club—answering questions about the latest promotion, redeeming offers, issuing comps based on the actual play in your CMS?

If you can’t recall, it’s time to hit the floor. Not only do you get to meet and learn more about your guests, you get to understand what your front-line employees have to face when trying to deliver on your brand promise. I’d also invite my advertising agency folks to meet some guests face to face. It’s amazing what everyone will learn and how that will affect the next steps.

Brands are Built from the Bottom Up

brand iceberg
Great brands are built from the bottom up. Source: StarGroup

I have used the old iceberg image as a longstanding example of what makes a good brand because it’s the best way to show your operations team how what they do is the most important part of the brand. All the things that happen below the surface are what makes your brand true (or not) to your guests and to your employees. The next time you embark on a brand project, look at all of those elements first before giving your agency or graphic artist directions on a name or logo. Download the PDF and put it up in your marketing department.

Operationalize Your Brand

When you can’t see a difference between what you say you do (marketing) and what you actually do (operations), that’s when you know you have a truly great brand.

First, you have to build the internal culture. Then, you have to make sure the tools you provide your employees to deliver on the brand are consistent with your vision. If you’re going to be the value leader in slots, you have to be the value leader throughout your property.

That doesn’t mean cheap. Value isn’t a price point (but that’s a discussion for another column). You can still offer a fine-dining experience. Just make sure that experience is better than anything your guests could have imagined. If you’re going to be the leader in service, guests can’t be waiting for what seems a lifetime for their cars to return from valet or to get to a guest services rep or cage cashier.

True Brand Programs Share DNA

Employees and customers reward brands that are true and consistent. It’s easy to be tempted by the trend, but if it doesn’t fit your brand, the guest experience will feel disjointed and your employees will not have the ability to deliver on the brand promise. The offerings you feature have to feel like they are coming from the same source. You’re not a shopping center offering every option. You have to be selective and only offer the things that make sense to your brand. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, sometimes what you say “no” to is as important as what you say “yes” to.

Make Your Brand Iconic

You would think that after working at one of the premier destinations in Las Vegas, my work for a smaller regional gaming company would have been less than thrilling. I’m here to tell you that is not true. The day the Isle of Capri Casinos management took the Lady Luck trademark out of the legal file cabinet and into the light was one of the most exciting days in my career. The Isle management team realized we couldn’t just ignore one of the most iconic brands in casino history. “The Lady” excited us and, more importantly, our customers.

Those are my five pillars, but to be truly successful, you also need to get help. Brand development is not a DIY project. It takes resources—brainstorming, creative, execution, and sometimes legal. This can be as cost-effective or expensive as you let it become. Don’t skimp because of costs, but do find the collaborators that absolutely love your business to help you. Nothing else should do.

Casino Branding 101

Let’s Stop Calling Them Loyalty Programs

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

As a marketer, I read a lot about branding and advertising trends. As a brand marketer, I also read a great deal about customer service and customer experience because I truly believe that is at the heart of any brand I am charged with. As a casino marketer, I read even more about loyalty programs that are used across different industries because they often give me a great insight into what I could be doing.

Last week, I read Lois Geller’s latest contribution to Forbes: Why Doesn’t Apple Have a Real Loyalty Program?  Before I read the first word, I already had my answer. Apple DOES indeed have a loyalty program. It’s a clear and solid brand that is operationalized and translated throughout the organization (Jules Rules #3: Operationalize Your Brand). It’s called a good product that is consistent with a brand promise that is delivered time and time again. I am not an Apple worshiper. I know Apple worshipers and I know I’m not one of them, but I appreciate my Apple products and I find them consistent with what I’ve been promised. Therefore, I can assume that I’ll upgrade or buy a new product sometime soon, and isn’t that the whole goal behind a loyalty program…to drive repeated visits and purchases?

Then I read an article about loyal Krispy Kreme customers in Advertising Age where the CMO says

“The chain has a loyal fan base often willing to drive more than 30 minutes to one of its 240 U.S. shops for what CMO Dwayne Chambers calls a “kind of reward, a simple indulgence.”

Try as I might, I can’t find a Krispy Kreme loyalty program unless it’s warm melt in your mouth goodness.

loyaltyMs. Geller uses a great definition of a loyalty program in her Forbes article.

Loyalty programs are structured marketing efforts that reward, and therefore encourage, loyal buying behavior that is potentially beneficial to the firm.

So, now I’ve read these great articles and I think about casino players card programs. Some call them “loyalty programs”. I tend to call them “players card programs” because while they are indeed structured marketing efforts that are rewarding and encouraging buying behavior, I believe (based on thousands of hours of research) that they are not actually driving loyalty to the business but to the offers and rewards. It’s a bit like competing on price, which we all know is a short-term strategy.

How can we get break the bond to the offer and build one for the business? Think Apple. Think Krispy Kreme. Solidify and operationalize your brand so that you don’t have to keep buying or discounting business. Use the card to get to know your customers better and better with each visit or purchase. Think brand. Think long-term.

Elizabeth Kraus gives us some great guidance in her LinkedIn post.

The keys to discovering customer loyalty strategies that will build true brand loyalty may lie in the answers to these questions:

How do we exceed customer expectations?

How can we give customers a bigger voice – and a bigger stake – in our business?

How do we make the lives of our customers better?

How can we make it so that customers feel better about themselves as a result of doing business with us?

What can we do so that customers would feel proud to recommend us to others or feel proud of being publicly affiliated with our organization?

Once you can stop thinking offers and start thinking loyalty, you’ll find the answers to your brand questions.


Let’s Stop Calling Them Loyalty Programs

The Cobbler’s Children Have No Shoes

I’ve been lucky enough to work in the casino industry for a good number of years now, and I’m proud to say that I’ve worked my way through the marketing ranks to a recent corporate Vice President position. It’s been a great experience and I hope that it will continue for a few more years. But as many of us know, sometimes there are periods of time when the ride stops and we have to wait for it to start again. I have found myself in such a period. I guess it’s time to polish up those marketing materials.  Only this time, they’re mine. Yikes!

For years I have revitalize and created brands, but (truly) understanding my personal brand has been quite a new experience. Darn you Dan Shawbel! I’ve found myself at a loss for a positioning statement, a brand promise…all of the things that I’ve created for others for so long. Until I realized, I needed to look to the pillars of brand marketing (or as Mr. Talamo calls them: The Jules Rules). I needed to go through the same steps that I’ve taken when developing relevant casino brands that create great customer connections.

Know Your Target/Market

Just like you can’t be everything to all customers, you can’t say “I’ll take whatever I can get”. You have to understand your strengths and weaknesses and the best target for those strengths. A good recruiter not only builds relationships with their clients, they should know where your skills will play the best.

Brands are Built from the Bottom Up

Your experience and the relationships you build will be what supports that great resume. Even if you’re not on a job hunt, you should understand that the wealth of your experiences will come to play in one way or another.

Operationalize Your Brand

Social Media has become so important in the employment arena. What you put out into the world can deeply impact your options. I’ve always been careful about what I say and post in social media. If I’m not comfortable with something I want to say living on forever, I just don’t say it. But more than anything else, I realized that a focus on the content I am curating is really important. What do I want people to think I can add to their enterprise when they read my tweets or articles I share?

True Brand Programs Share DNA

This is going to take some of you back. For some, this may be new. Remember when Tony Bennett did his VH1 Unplugged gig? It was the perfect program for him because it brought him back to his roots as the consummate crooner. Tony Bennett had always been “unplugged”. So, this wasn’t new for him, but it allowed him to stand before a new audience and propel is latest album to platinum status and to win two Grammy Awards. Standing out through a distinct, discernible difference is crucial. You can’t be everything to everyone. So find your focus.  If you’re not honest to your DNA, your brand may get tested in the short-term, but not bought in the long. Tony Bennett showed us how long that run could be if you’re honest to your DNA.

Make Your Brand Iconic

Find something that is “your thing”: A visual hook, a saying, an interesting piece of technology or anything that makes somebody remember an encounter with you. Think about your background…your story, and always attempt to attach your POV to life experiences. What is your Absolut bottle?

Get help

Brand development is not a DIY project and neither should your job hunt. I finally did get expert, trained help. I was stunned at what they saw in me that I couldn’t put on paper. I guess it’s true that the cobbler’s children have no shoes.

The Cobbler’s Children Have No Shoes

Brands That Fascinated Me

The best part of having an agency is the opportunity to sit with the creatives and talk about brands and what fascinates them and me. I love seeing the nuances through someone else’s eyes. As we approach “Ad Bowl” (you know that long string of commercials with a little football played in between), I can’t help but look forward with anticipation and look back on the past year to see what surprised me. Interestingly, two of these brands piqued my curiosity at the beginning of the year and held on. All of the others developed as the year did.

I’ll start with the obvious. Miley Cyrus– no one can say she wasn’t disruptive. She broke through the clutter and controlled her conversation. Although I tend to lean more to the evolution approach, she had to tear her Hannah Montana image apart to emerge as the person she wants to be seen as. She has to be absolutely the best brand marketer I’ve seen in recent years.

Netflix – I wrote about this a few months ago. A few years ago, pundits were saying this company had really stepped in it and had no way of coming out clean, but today, Netflix has transformed itself into something relevant and important in people’s lives by reinventing itself into THE entertainment content provider.

Nike+ – The long-held position of personal achievement shifted to include a connection between users giving you the motivation go stay on track. So, even if you’re that runner on the lonely road a dawn, you’re never alone.

Major League Baseball – Not content to rest on the fact that baseball is American’s past time, MLB embraced technology to make your experience richer from the moment you step through the gates. Let’s face it, the games are a bit of a commodity. The schedule is long and you can see the game at little to no cost in a number of ways. It’s the experience that keeps fans going to the stadiums. Seems like the National Football League is going to follow suit.

Ron Burgundy – Yes, I’m talking about the fictitious character from the popular 2004 movie “Anchorman”. As funny as it was at the time, it was a gamble to release a sequel so many years later, but someone had the foresight to put Actor Will Ferrell’s Burgundy into today’s world. Did you see him host the news?

Square – Meeting the needs of the small business, they are a very agile company that is positioned for massive growth

Oreo – As a New Orleanian, I sat in horror as the power went out in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Even in the dark, the brilliance of one little tweet showed through, and Oreo did not stop going. The sheer amount of creativity that came out of that group must be a result of a sugar high. Take a look at an Oreo holiday tradition. I’ll never look at holiday cookie exchange the same again.

Chobani – We all know location is everything, particularly in grocery stores where competition among SKUs is intense and where competition among me products can be downright deadly. By insisting on proper shelf placement and pricing itself a little higher than most, Chobani can be credited with popularizing Greek yogurt in the US. Independent thinking and commitment to a vision has made this independent company a big player among better recognized brands. After a PR disaster in early 2013, Chobani will be making its Super Bowl debut in 2014.

Chipotle – really showed marketers what it means to be brand storytellers in 2011 with its poignant telling of a farmer going back to the start. This year, they did it again with “The Scarecrow”, not only telling a great story but also developing a game which gave their message a longer shelf life.

Santa, yep, the fat guy in the red suit. Maybe it was watching a video of my nephew make a call to him one night leading up to Christmas. Maybe it’s the thought that we could all use a little magic sometimes. He continues to be relevant and has been a quick adopter of technology to spread his cheer. Quietroom realizes Santa is not going away. Check out the great brand book they created.

OK. This last one may be a little controversial, but as a lifelong Catholic, I have to pick the Catholic Church. The election of Pope Francis has breathed a new life and focus into the church. As a Catholic I am excited to see him open minds. As a marketer, I am excited to see what people will think of the church as he brings about a change in the mindset of many.

I hope you see some of these brands in a new light. What brands fascinate you?

Brands That Fascinated Me

Netflix – From the Top to the Bottom and Back to the Top

netflix logoI just came across an article about Netflix saving The Killing. As a brand marketer who has had the opportunity to work on a few brand reinventions, I’m very impressed with how Netflix has re-energized the brand (after the short- lived Qwikster disaster – killing the project before it even had time to launch) and how it has set its path to the future.

In the 1990s we raced to get the newest releases at our nearest Blockbuster only to leave with our second choices (sometimes third) because THE movie we wanted to see was already taken. On top of that, we had to rush to finish watching the movie before we started accruing late fees. (Just for fun, what was your highest late fee?) It was a rite that will live in our memories.

They say that video killed the radio star. Now that DISH has announced it will be closing the last 300 Blockbuster stores, we can say Netflix and the Internet have joined forces to kill the corner video rental store.

Netflix stock history through November 21, 2012
Netflix stock history through November 21, 2012

Netflix, established in 1997 quickly grew its library and its subscriber base and changed the playing field. Like Tower Records, Blockbuster was slow to respond to a model that seemed too “different” to last. Netflix started with a simple idea (no late fees) and a radical delivery system (no stores) and evolved by listening to its customers, nay “fans”. They were right to think streaming content was the next step. The problem was they didn’t execute well when they thought Qwikster to be their next step. So, they cut their losses and regrouped. Took the kernel of the good strategy and looked at it from a different perspective – the customer. Now they’re reviving loved content and creating new content. Content has solidly placed them in a new arena and created fans for the brand rather than just customers, as well as creating shareholder value. What more could you ask for?

My takeaway (as always): Listen to your customers. They will let you know what they want…and don’t want.

Netflix – From the Top to the Bottom and Back to the Top

Friday Five –6/21/13

unpluggedUnplug? This seems to be the latest advice coming from all of those smart people. I have every opportunity to do this right now because I’m not working. This might be my personal goal for the Summer. Could you make this your morning routine?

Humor and your brand. I’ve said this before. Humor is an approach you should take with caution. You just never know what people think is funny or how it’s going to be received. The last thing you want to do is try something out of left field that falls flat. I wasn’t put off by the Lululemon want ad. In fact, I might just become a first-time customer. What did you think? Winnie Kao didn’t think it was the best move and explains it in this Fast Company article.

loyaltyCan you build loyalty? The notion of a loyalty program continues to be a puzzle unsolved. In the casino industry, you wouldn’t imaging not having a players card program. Sometimes we drink our own Kool-Aid and refer to these as loyalty programs, but are they? This BrandUniq post makes me wonder.

Do you hire a contractor or DIY. I LOVE the analogy of how building a brand is like building a house. I think Jason Cohen of the O Group has given every agency a really good way to answer the question the next time. I also think this definitely applies to any brands, not just those in the luxury category. Read his thoughts here.

5 Tips for Better Branding. This article by Nora Richardson made me smile because it’s all the things I’m constantly working toward. The pity is some folks are afraid to break through the norms and try something different. Think about how you can apply her advice.


Lagniappe. This  week’s lagniappe comes in the form of an article and a podcast.

You can’t just decide to call yourself something and change your brand overnight, but Dunkin Donuts is sure taking the right steps to make the changes they need for growth. Read how they’re aiming for Starbucks.

I listened again to the May 16th Vegas Gang Podcast. As part of their conversations, talked about brands and I found it really interesting that I was involved with two of these brands they mentioned, Roger Thomas and Steve Wynn. I think about how they developed their brands and realize they did it by doing what they do really well and consistently. Derek Stevens is a new kid on the block where Vegas in concerned, but he seems to be establishing a great brand for downtown. On a personal side note, I was really pleased to hear the great reviews Rob Oseland received at the recent RD&E Experience.

Friday Five –6/21/13