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.

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2015 Trends in Casino Marketing

How Social Media Has Changed My Life

Today is June 30.

Wait! Today is June 30?

How this year has flown by! Fully six months have come and gone with another six to look forward to. What did we do? What will we do? June 30 also marks Social Media Day, launched by Mashable in 2010.

It used to be that we could only track the events of special days by watching a condensed version of highlights on one of the big three networks. If there is anything that really illustrates how social media has changed our lives, it’s the ability to track everything happening at any moment in time by following a simple hashtag.  .

But as I think of social media, I can’t help by realize how much it has changed my life. From a marketer’s perspective, it has been an explosion. It has truly changed how I think of things. I started my career in the field of public relations. I think no other marketing channel has been more impacted by social media than the field of public relations. Social media has added channels for both announcing and engaging with our customers. We’re no longer allowed to simply push our wonderfully crafted messages out on an unsuspecting target. We now have to push…pull…listen…react…engage.

Setting up for the next shot
Setting up for the next shot

Social media has made me rethink the average commercial to make it a part of something much bigger with much more life…much more “viral”. As I sat on a set this week with Jan Talamo, we talked about so many more ways to take what we were producing at that point and creating a life that would be more than 30 seconds long.

From a personal perspective, social media has allowed me to reconnect with old friends. It has helped me keep up with those close to me in my heart, though they are far away in terms of miles. It has opened the door to me to meet great thinkers in so many fields. These are people I would’ve never known, much less conversed with. Wow! To all of those who exchange tweets with me, who read my blog posts and have asked me to be a part of your life…Thank you and Happy Social Media Day!

How has social media changed your life?

If you want to track what’s going on to mark Social Media Day, follow the hashtag #smday.

How Social Media Has Changed My Life

It Takes A Village

For a year now, I’ve been lucky enough to work on a new buffet concept. You might be thinking, “A buffet? What’s so new about that?” I think the concept we’re working on is pretty special, and given that a casino buffet has the potential to touch at least 25% of our guests, it’s a pretty big deal in my circles.

We’ve researched trends. We’ve looked at our competitive set and those outside of our competitive set. We had a corporate meeting, where we had some self-discovery that lead to an all-out-everyone-come-to-the-corporate-office meeting. We fiddled with this. We changed that. And don’t get me started on the creative! The positioning was easy, but the creative…oh boy! I think we went through at least 20-30 different attempts with the great creative teams at The Media & Marketing Group before we arrived at the perfect creative that would differentiate us.

And now, the time is here. Not the opening. Yes, that’s coming, but the time I’m referring to is when I turn “my baby” (notice the overly dramatic MY) over into the hands of our field team to…(insert the dramatic holding of my breath here) execute on this beautiful vision we have.

It’s always the scariest moment a brand marketer can face. Taking this vision and handing it to someone with all the instructions we think the brand needs to grow and mature…how to feed it…water it…teach it.

I’ve had the pleasure…no the honor…to turn this brand over to a wonderful team in Boonville, Missouri. I’m almost speechless with how they’ve taken this idea and turned it into near reality. We’ve worked hand-in-hand through so much of this development, and I know we wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for all of us working together.

Brand marketers, hear this. We can dream and create a plethora of idealistic brands but the truth is it will be the people on the ground that give that vision life. Find a way to transfer the passion you have to them. It takes a village (or in this case an entire casino property) to make that vision grow.

I’m very excited about this new concept, so I beg forgiveness now because I’ll be sharing a ton of stuff on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and any other way I can find to crow about this.

It Takes A Village

Building Brand Champions

Lately, I’ve been on the hunt, not for deer or duck as most of the men I know are doing right now. I’ve been on the hunt for brand champions. Not for shooting by arrow or bullet, but for finding out what makes them tick. What makes them such great brand ambassadors? There is no limited season for that. Brand champions can be found and cultivated 365 days a year.

There are moments each day for every business where employees can make or break how a customer will feel about that business. Creating brand champions is about leveraging employees to make those connections positive each and every time.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with most of our human resources directors to talk about the great employees we have, how we can get them excited about working for us, and how we can help them continue the conversation with potential guests and new hires within their own social networks – whether online or offline.

We have several employees we already know of as “engaged”. The volume of nominations for our recent Superstar project was incredible. It really was tough culling it down to the six or seven per property, and we’ve gotten many requests for doing it again. And the number of day 1 employees always blows me away.

We’re borrowing ideas from some companies who have such great brand champions that I am constantly in awe of them – Zappos, Southwest Airlines, American Eagle, Apple, Starbucks, Jet Blue…luckily the list is long. There are a number of things that we (and you) can do. They take time and or resources, but the only real dependency is the priority you put on your employees being an extension of your brand…scratch that…being the extension of your brand that you ultimately want.

I’d love it if you would take a look at the conversation we had in that meeting and if you shared what you are doing to create brand champions.

As always, a big thank you to our agency, The Media & Marketing Group.

Building Brand Champions

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

Get Winning with Your Employees

I’m so excited! We rolled out new creative to some of our properties. I’m not excited because of the creative itself – which was wonderfully created by the talented team at The Media & Marketing Group. I’m excited because the core of the refinement we’ve done to the brand is with our employees and the winning excitement they deliver every day with each guest.

I work with a few brands, but the primary brands are Isle and Lady Luck. In the world of casino branding, I couldn’t have been given a better gift than Lady Luck. It’s at once iconic and fun.

I’ll admit I’ve struggled in finding the Isle voice, and after all this work, the brand was staring me in the face the whole time: our employees.

Casino customers visit their favorite casinos to win. Right? Hmmm….not really. Yes, they would like to win, but what they really want is a winning experience – one that gives them entertainment value for their dollar, whether that is time on device, a great meal or being a part of the excitement.

Our employees have embraced our signature courtesy program, See. Say. Smile., and now they have truly become our biggest and most valuable asset.

Meet some of our employee superstars. Who wouldn’t be inspired by them?

Take a peek at some of our back of house materials.

Get Winning with Your Employees