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

Where Is The Love?

As marketers, we employ all manner of tools to drive people to our locations – whether they be stores, restaurants, casinos or hotels. We tell them we love them and want them to stop by, but when they do, we show no love.

…Virtually nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any business transaction. Hospitality exists when you believe the other person is on your side. The converse is just as true. Hospitality is present when something happens for you. It is absent when something happens to you. Those two simple prepositions – for and to – express it all.

Danny Meyer, “Setting the Table”

I had a great teacher in my career who once told me I had to walk in a guest’s shoes to understand what I needed to put in place to make their experience the best. Let’s go through some of those marketing tools to see how we can start showing some love.

ADVERTISING – Through most of my career, I have been tasked with the marketing communications of a variety of individuals and organizations. That could be ads in print or in broadcast, the website, and now social. In many ways, it is the first love note our guest receives. A good design captures someone’s attention. Accurate and useful information will help make their visit a pleasant one.

OFFERS AND REWARDS – The science of giving the right offers and rewards to the right people is key to our success, and while we are using those offers to fill capacity or drive sales, keep in mind that restrictions should balance our needs with the guest’s enjoyment. Getting complimentaries and using earned points shouldn’t require contortionist training.

EVENTS AND GIVEAWAYS – More winners, smaller prizes? Less winners, bigger prizes? The fact is guests tell us they want both. In the end, they want a chance to win. Give them one.

Love_heart_uidaodjsdsewWhile you’re thinking of ways to show how much you love your guests, don’t forget to love your employees first. Giving them great information and proper tools allows them to enhance the guest experience. Having had the opportunity to work the floor I’ve learned that what I do in the office impacts everyone and that a bad experience for an employee is a bad experience for a guest.

Finally, you may have noticed my use of the word “guest” instead of “customer”. This was a gift from a gentleman named Andy Olson who explained to me that customers are transactional but that we build relationships with guests. One of the best lessons I ever received. He also taught me and my co-workers to walk backwards while giving a charming tour, but that’s another story for another day. The point is it’s easy to show love to someone you’re building a relationship with. Don’t forget to show them some love while you’re tackling tasks on your to-do list.

Check out this blog post for some additional thoughts on showing love from one of my customer service inspirations, Shep Hyken.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Where Is The Love?

AdBowl 2014

The Super Bowl has been played and once again Debbie Laskey has asked me to partner with her in her review of this year’s Super Bowl ads. We’ll be chatting later today to find out if we had the same thoughts, and I’ll share her review with you. In the meantime, here’s my take on yesterday.

I must say this year was a little disappointing. Gone are the days when massive production budgets and huge theatrical events were the commercials that we saw. Sure advertisers are still spending a lot of money to produce these ads, but for now, it looks like they’re a little less theatrical and I daresay a little less creative.

I heard a lot before the game about Ford shelling out the least amount they could to be a part of the game. That would be the spot right before the kickoff. Sorry Ford but your Fusion ad was not among my favorites.

Here are my favorites in order of appearance.

Kudos to Cheerios for remaining true to its brand and its respect for families of all kinds in spite of those with that would challenge them. Gracie is as charming as ever. Maybe she should have asked for a Clydesdale, too!

RadioShack came out of nowhere for me. I love this ad and so did a number of my friends. I love the way they called themselves out with a sense of humor. I knew exactly what they were talking about, and from what I read on Twitter, half of America did too. I can’t wait to see what they do with their brand, with their stores and with their business.

Another big surprise for me was Tim Tebow in the T-Mobile commercials. Having never been a big fan of his (actually not one at all), I have to say I’m kind of one now. He took a situation that has to be probably one of the most embarrassing in his career, and he really turned it to his advantage. Who knew not having a contract to be so liberating?

I like Volkswagen’s Wings ad. Sure, sales are slipping, but VW has a way of using comedy chops to illustrate the enthusiasm and longevity of its brand. It was funny.

Did Coca-Cola partner with Cheerios to make people realize America is still a melting pot of people? Two different products. Both a part of magical moments in our lives.

Although the boys of the Seahawks were pounding the football field and all around them, the girls of GoldieBlox showed everyone that girl power is pretty inspirational. Hey boys, are you jealous?

And while everyone was zigging with American pride Jaguar zagged with  a bit of English pride. These British villains sure make being bad look SO good.

Pepsi did I nice job of hyping halftime. Their “Souncheck” was a creative use of the New York City skyline.

I tried to not make it my favorite, but I just couldn’t help it! My winner was Budweiser’s “Puppy Love”. The spot had over 35 million views on YouTube before it even aired and ended the evening at the top of USA Today’s Ad Meter.

Finally, I have to give points to those advertisers that spent money to shine a light on a good cause: Bank of America for (red) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Chevy for World Cancer Day. I don’t think the commercials were the blockbusters we expect during Super Bowl, but did you expect to want to show your support for something other than a football team yesterday? I was among the many to download the US song “Invisible” and I’ll be making my profile purple tomorrow.

ADBOWL is a registered trademark of McKee Wallwork + Company. This post is not endorsed by McKee Wallwork + Company.

AdBowl 2014

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

Friday Five — 6/7/13

It’s been far too long since I’ve taken care of my blog and it’s time to fix that. I’m starting slowly with the return of my Friday Five. Here are the articles that inspired me the most this week. I hope they spark something in you as well.

human brand

The human brand. I often read about what brands should be doing online and in social, but this is the first I’ve seen about being just human. Making connections is a human-to-human exchange. If your brand isn’t human, how will you touch customers? Make sure you read this whole post from Pam Moore. There are some great links at the end.

To followup. I was cleaning out my email and (as I’m sure you do as well), I had a plethora of emails I marked “unread” so that I could go back and read them “when I have time”. Well, I have time now and I’m glad I saved this one. It’s from Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute on Coca-Cola’s Content 2020. It’s over 18 months old. I can’t believe how long I let this sit in my inbox.  Wow! I loved this one. It made me think of CPG in a whole new light. You really can’t think in terms of a :30 television spot anymore. Read and watch.

It’s like connective tissue. The notion of integrated marketing isn’t new, but it just seems you can’t say it enough. Marketing has to be a combination of all the channels and touch points in the customer’s experience. Brian Bennet of STIR Advertising does a great job of illustrating this in his MarketingProfs post.

loyaltyIs it really a loyalty program? Here’s a pet peeve I have…the notion that frequent visitor/buyer and player card programs are called “loyalty” programs as a matter of course when very few of them drive loyalty. It’s no wonder the programs have grown but participation has dropped. As the article states: “… it’s crucial for companies to strengthen loyalty programs through innovation and relevancy.” See if you agree with this post.

That being said, I love what MGM Resorts International  is doing with MLife. Experiences are the key for their most frequent guests and they’re making sure they are having them by collaborating with Southwest and Hyatt. I was recently at a luncheon where Scott Voeller, SVP of brand strategy and advertising for MGM Resorts International, spoke about the changes and developments for the program. I think they may be poised to become THE casino player card program because of the way they understand their guests and try to give them the experiences they’re looking for. You can read about the partnerships with Southwest at this Vegas Inc. post and the Hyatt partnership in this Howard Stutz post.

Yes, I realize there are six articles. Where I’m from, we call that “lagniappe”!

I’d love to know what articles inspired your marketing this week.

Friday Five — 6/7/13

That Was Then – This Is Now

Years ago, casino marketing was pretty easy. Give away a car or two. Have an occasional concert. Send out great offers in the mail. Have an exclusive VIP event, and my month was sure to be in the black. My media plan included every newspaper and magazine in the market as well as a rich variety of television and radio, and a fabulous (if I do say so myself) distribution of billboards. At Harrah’s New Orleans, I even got to work on something really cool called a “website”. The first couple of casino companies I worked for didn’t even have websites!

Then we started adding online (banner) advertising into the mix.

Eventually, we realized that there was money to be made selling unused hotel inventory, and we started down the path of search engine marketing and search engine optimization.

Fast forward to 2004 and some geek sitting in his dorm room comes up with a cool way for Harvard students to share information. Facebook was born. This wasn’t new. It was just a new avenue to join Blogger, Friendster, LinkedIn, MySpace, Delicious. digg, and Flickr, quickly followed by YouTube and Twitter…oh and something called Second Life. Two years later, Facebook became available to everyone…in the world.

The fiber of communications has changed. Once, it took millions to reach a few. Now a few reach millions. We’ve gone from traditional publishing to broadcast publishing to personal publishing to interactive publishing to network publishing. What used to take months and elicited a few comments here and there, now takes seconds and can generate hundreds of thousands of comments.

Casino marketing, however, has not evolved quite so quickly, probably because casino customers are more represented in the boomer segment than any other market segment. For these folks, the places they look for news and information hadn’t changed quite as quickly…

…until now

Last year Scott Hepburn asked me to give my thoughts on casino marketing and the use of social media. You can read that post here.

I said “Everyone is “dying to be on Facebook,” but with so much on our plates, I wondered if that was the place we needed to put our focus on.” I no longer wonder. It is. When we initially asked customers if they were on social networks, 80% said hardly or never. Today, 77.6% say they regularly visit their Facebook accounts to see what’s happening, and social networking sites have become a prime place to look for information. That change happened in less than two years.

Q. On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being NOT AT ALL and 5 being VERY INFLUENTIAL, please rate how influential these forms of media are in choosing which casino to visit.

Print is fading faster than anyone wants it to. Casino customers are looking for their information in much more dynamic areas.

Now firmly planted as a piece in our marketing puzzle, social media presents new challenges for us. No longer are customers willing to sit back and watch and respond to our ads. Now they want to interact with them. We have to create content that they can comment on or share with their networks. We have to create ads that are shareable via YouTube,

…ads that continue to tell the story on Facebook,

…ads that have a life of more than 30 seconds.

We have to create exclusive content that can only be found on these networks so that customers feel they have a unique access to information. And that new thing I got to work on long ago, the website has changed as well. It can no longer be a brochure. It has to be a living, breathing font of information that visitors can interact with and share.

How has social media changed your approach to marketing?

That Was Then – This Is Now