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

2015 Trends in Casino Marketing

This originally appeared as a LinkedIn post.

source: pixabay.com
source: pixabay.com

From increased competition coming from new jurisdictions and doing more with less resources, casino marketers will continue to face challenges to continue beating year over year revenues and experience growth. There’s a definite shift in the industry as we’ve moved from buzzwords to reality. It used to be that you could count on a car and cash giveaway to give you the pop you needed at the end of the month. The marketing recipe was pretty straight forward: direct mail, advertising, promotions and events. Mix together and wait for it to bake. Additional channels of communication that are now controlled by the customer have become more important. In addition, the competition for the entertainment dollar has become even tougher. Direct mail continues to be a prominent driver, but as more marketers are starting to understand the profitability of those programs, it seems we need to look to the horizon to see what’s coming towards us: real guest satisfaction, real-time rewards and real conversations. How will these concepts manifest themselves, and what new forces will shape marketing this year? I spoke to some of the brightest minds in casino marketing and they shared their thoughts on the biggest changes they see.

THE NEW GENERATION(S)

Mario Maesano is senior vice president of marketing at the hugely successful Maryland Live! Casino and is looking to the future to adapt his marketing programs.

One of the biggest transitions we are seeing at Maryland Live! Casino is the movement of the Generation X player into the prime earning demographic sweet spot for regional casino markets.  The gaming experience they demand differs greatly from the Boomer Generation that preceded it.  These customers are seeking a more sophisticated gaming product that has more decision points and bonus options. We are seeing a need to enhance our promotional and event experience to truly exceed their expectations each and every visit. In addition, it’s become increasingly important to truly differentiate our brand from our competition in order to provide a unique entertainment experience.

BIG DATA – NOT JUST THE LATEST BUZZ Words

Stacy Spahle is vice president of marketing and PR for Chateau 20. She has built a career on creating brands and experiences. You might be surprised to know she’s really focused on data these days and believes that integration of this knowledge into an integrated marketing strategy is the key to success.

He who has the most data wins! — But only if he can use it. While the subject of “Big Data” has been thrown around the casino resorts for years, nobody has been able to fully realize the potential by making it seamless across all customer touchpoints and accessible to the marketing team. A few of the large casino players are on the verge. The company that implements Big Data with a fully integrated marketing strategy will truly revolutionize how casinos are marketed.

One of the more experienced casino marketers I know is now at the helm of a native operation and is in complete agreement that data is a big part of future success.

The biggest challenge I see if the amount of data we will have to cull through to make educated decisions about current and future marketing programs.  As we all know, data is power, but having too much information can stifle creativity and progress.  On the flip side, those operators that struggle with getting valid data on a timely basis will struggle as well, because as we all know a bad decision can cost millions of dollars and have a negative ripple effect for many years to come.

 DIFFERENTIATION AND EXPERIENCE

Rush Street Gaming CMO Suzanne Trout agrees that differentiation and experience will be keys to success.

With increasingly crowded markets for both gaming and entertainment dollars, a serious challenge is to be distinctive from your competitive set and in the customer experience.  This is a tough challenge in the best of markets. Elements that may bring your brand to life are often the most at risk during competitive times with cost containment.  Properties who keep the customer experience top of mind in all decisions – capital, operating and marketing – will fare best. 

MULTI-CHANNEL CONVERSATIONS

Jan Talamo is lead 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.

How we measure and monetize brand engagement via a multi-channel strategy. We are now, and will more aggressively in the future, have meaningful and measurable conversation with customers. Conversation will be REAL CURRENCY five years from now.  While mail certainly is the Holy Grail today…you will see more and more migration from the printed core and supplementals to something that will mirror what other major brands are doing. While we can’t not send the monthly mail…we can certainly encourage migration. We are 10 years away from forgetting the mailbox by the curb. Regardless what some companies are telling you.

MARKETING on the go

James Poole has built a career in the European markets and has seen a transition across the pond of the need for customers to take their rewards and status with them on the go and agrees with Jan Talamo that direct mail, as we know it today, is on the way out. As director of gaming products at Joingo his view of the future is, in one word, mobile.

Convergence and a move away from direct mail.  With the major operators having a significant investments and success with mobile and online, in both the real money and casual I can see more and more integration between these areas. Players will take progress, customization and reward status with them. This will allow for a cohesive marketing strategy using apps and mobile messaging rather than direct mail. 

One CMO in the Northeast believes “the biggest change over the next five years will be an increase in personalization and immediacy of marketing.  This will be enabled by real time communication methods as well as improvements in gaming technology that allows for better in-session knowledge of a gamer’s play.  I think you’ll see less direct marketing as trip incentive and more to prolong the visit during the visit.”

Jim Gentleman is senior vice president of account management and strategy at SK+G and has been advisor to a number of casino brands. He sees the challenge for all marketers, not just casino marketers.

The biggest challenge for casino marketers – and quite honestly all marketers in general – is figuring out how to market in a mobile-first, digitally-dominant world in a personalized, yet non-intrusive way. Considering most consumers, and millennials especially, try to avoid advertising, marketers need to create content that is equal parts entertaining, informative and authentic.

Joingo CEO Steve Boyle is admittedly biased but, he too, believes the horizon is as close as the palm of your hand.

Mobile Engagement.  Yes, we are in the Mobile biz which makes us a bit biased.  This said, there is nothing else on the horizon that will have the impact of the smartphone and associated BYOD (bring your own device) tectonic shift.  Marketeers want more and more data.  Mobile creates a continuous, rich, and possibly unmanageable stream of new and real-time information that marketeers only dream about today.  It also provides the mechanism to act on “data” in real time.  This is both an exciting and scarey proposition for most casino marketeers.  Specifically those who feel they have perfected the art of direct mail.

CUSTOMER CENTRICITY

There are many that have always espoused that what we do has to be with the guest in mind. These trends strengthen that position and make it even truer today than ever. More importantly these trends give us direction for the future.

John Acres, founder of many of the most influential advances in casino gaming and CEO of Acres 4.0 believes the future is the customer.

Reinvention of the player experience. Loyalty points based solely upon spend and snail-mailed offers of free play and discounts are insufficient. Costs must be controlled and marketing must create new players.

This requires a deeply personal offer to each and every player based upon potential worth, psychographic and demographic profiles and comparative alternatives. Customer communication must channel through text, email and school media, as well as traditional mailing channels.

Above all, the emotional experience of gambling must be emphasized. It’s not enough to describe jackpots that can be won. Most players know they won’t win them most of the time. The opportunity is to help players feel important, respected and valued. New achievements must be defined—be the first to win 5 $100 jackpots in a month—and celebrations must be more numerous.

Service must improve and the player tracking interface now limited to gaming machines, kiosks and club booths must extend to the player’s phone and social environments

I consider myself very lucky to have gotten a look into the future from some of the brightest minds I know, but I know more and more marketers are thinking along these lines and already making changes. I’d love to hear from you.

These very generous marketing folks have also given me some insights to how to keep your brand as engaging as possible. I’ll share those thoughts with you in the coming weeks.

2015 Trends in Casino Marketing

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

Today’s Casino Marketers Need To Go Beyond The Status Quo

Meet Jan Talamo, co-founder and chief creative officer for Star Group. As the lead creative strategist for the agency’s Gaming & Hospitality division (The Media & Marketing Group), he has become a bit of a non-gaming gaming industry expert, having worked on behalf of over 100 gaming properties around the world.

I pick his brain on a pretty regular basis. I thought I’d share some of his more recent insights. He inspires me daily. I hope he does the same for you as we take a peek into the world of regional casino operators and marketers.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge locals/regional casino operators have right now?

A: Jokingly….Not being in China. Think about it…most of these vaunted casino companies are making the lion’s share of their money in China: Wynn. LVS, MGM. Reality…jobs is the biggest threat in my mind’s eye. The uncertainty in the election. And…the lack of amenities at some smaller players. It’s becoming more about the totality of the experience. So how local operators “frame” the argument (or make their case) will make the difference. They also need to stay true to their brands. Turnover and schizophrenia at the marketing post could kill any operator. Talent is at a premium in these smaller local/regional markets.

Q: What do you think is the solution?

A: Innovation. Creativity. Empowerment. Transparency.

Let’s take them one at a time.

Innovation: Find new ways to tell your story. There are a multitude of channels to engage your audience today. Be brave. Use them, because If you don’t, your competition will.

Creativity: There is no substitute. Surround yourself with the best talent. Make sure everybody gets the strategy. Look for exciting and different ways to “frame” your message to break through.

Empowerment: Lead your customers into the digital age. If they aren’t there yet, incentivize them by creating promotions and games that they would want to be a part of IF THEY WEREN’T LUDDITES.

Transparency: Create instantaneous feedback channels with your guests. They exist. Demonstrate a willingness to hear their voice and you will have a customer for life.

Adopt these principles and you will attract better talent at the marketing post as well.

Q: What do you see on the horizon that could change the way casino marketers approach things?

A: They have to change their behavior beyond the status quo and recognize that this is a “land grab.” Small regional gaming venues are all competing for a share of the same customer’s time and wallet. And, it goes beyond just managing costs. It’s like the old Southwest Airlines story about Braniff Airlines running $13 fares to compete with Southwest’s $26 fares. Instead of cutting their costs to compete with Braniff, they kept their price….and offered any business traveler a bottle of booze to go with their ticket. Braniff (in reality a high-end carrier) eventually left the market. They deviated from their brand and their focus because Southwest caused them to. Local operators need to INNOVATE and find NEW WAYS to attract players. And…like Southwest… nothing should be off the table.

Sampling of gaming product online. Now, granted, we all have the same games. But, we need to ingratiate a new audience to these games. Walk the casino floor in AC and you see more men with cigars playing slots. But the products they are playing are the more progressive electronic gaming platforms. They like technology. Lure them in.

Finally, “Gamification” as an extension of the bricks and mortar experience is where it’s at..and more importantly…WHERE IT IS GOING. Just look at the recent IPOs for gaming companies.

Finding more ways to connect with your customers ELECTRONICALLY by offering and empowering them to be a part of this NEW AGE will not only plant seeds for the future, but attract customers you might not have today.

Today’s Casino Marketers Need To Go Beyond The Status Quo

BOH = Begin Over Here

I “borrowed” that headline from Jan Talamo.

In many industries, we use the acronym “BOH” when we want to shorthand “back of house” as if it’s so irrelevant to our work that we can’t even spare the letters.

I’ve been a brand marketer for a number of years. The first of those years was spent in focus groups delving into the psyche and feelings of our customers to develop THE ULTIMATE POSITIONING STATEMENT and some really cool creative. Then, I went to work for Steve Wynn who always told me to put the customer first, both on the experience front and on the communications front. What he showed me was how important the employees are.

Many companies are starting to realize that the brand rubber meets the road with the employee. THEY are the ones we need to talk to. They are the ones we should be developing communications for because they are the ones that will make us successful…or not. Ideally, we would keep them in the loop at all times. I’ve seen many companies do this successfully.

Eddie Bauer maintained a positive employee culture when the going got really rough, by constantly and effectively communicating with employees. Instead of waiting for employees to see Eddie Bauer on the news, they released information to them and the market at the same time. As a publicly traded company, there are many bits of news that have to be communicated in a very particular way. To release information to employees and not violate the rules is a little tricky, but it can obviously be done. In addition, they educated their employees about the business, not just about the product lines. They understood what it was like to be a public company, what covenants and EBITDA were, and basically how the business worked.

Do your employees know that? Do they really share the same values as the C-suite?

I also heard someone from Zappos ask, “Is People Planning the new Media Planning?” Great question. You have to plan great people. Have the right people with the right voice, and you can do anything.

Senior leaders have the power to engage, energize and empower employees. Technology has given us the ability to connect with employees at all levels in order to provide them with messages that are simple, useable and actionable. Employees will be more engaged when they are part of the plan.

Newsletters are a great example of a tool we think is valuable but is often not. Is your newsletter telling the story of your business or is it just a collection of anniversaries and births with a few additional notes about the company picnic?

Look at your employee communications tools today and ask yourself the following questions.
– Is this giving employees the tools they need to deliver the brand promise day in and day out?
– Is this educating employees so that they can be a partner in the future?
– Is this the best way to deliver this message to all of our employees?
– Is this engaging employees so they WANT to be a part of the plan?
– Is this speaking in an understandable language?

I’d love to hear/see examples of great employee communications!

BOH = Begin Over Here