Building a House…of Brands

I said it again yesterday. “This company is so different from when I arrived.”

Past & Present Corporate Logo
The Past and Present of Isle of Capri’s Corporate Identity

I came to Isle of Capri Casinos in the Fall of 2006, and although I still laughingly say that I’m passed my sell-by date, I am pretty proud of the brands we’ve built. Before this transition, I would’ve easily told you that my finest work had been in developing the brands at Wynn Las Vegas. Today, I can proudly say that I am equally as proud of the work done on behalf of the family of Isle of Capri Casinos.

Through a lot of vision and hard work, this house of brands has gone from a collection of variations on a Caribbean theme to a collection of experiences our guests can enjoy for a long time. I’m not sure if these are destined to go down in branding history, but they are surely a part of my brand history. Check out all of our brands.

Building a House…of Brands

For Sarah: Connecting Women to Success

This is Day 3 of National Volunteer Week and the 3rd of the posts Elissa Plastino and I are sharing with you about the causes that are near and dear to us. When I saw the Blogging for a Cause idea, I expected to have some fun and share some of the reasons we try to help others, but what I’ve realized is that it’s been quite a soul-searching experience.

Monday’s post, Relay for Life, took on greater meaning when our good friend passed away. It took me two days before I was brave enough to read Elissa’s words. Yesterday’s post while inspirational, makes me wonder just how long Jill Roberts will be able to share her strength with the world. Today’s post reminds me of how easily things can slip away.

Sarah WaysonI met a young lady by the name of Sarah Wayson in 2005. She was just out of college and starting a new and exhilarating job at Wynn Las Vegas – at the time THE place to work in Las Vegas. Coupled with the high-profile our jobs had, it could very well be a slippery slope. Over the years that followed Sarah grew to be a very strong, independent and confident woman. She struggled and made it through in a way that surprised even her. Tragically, her life was cut short, and something about that spurred me to find a way to help women who were in some way struggling for that strength and confidence Sarah found.

Connections To SuccessConnections To Success was that way for me. “Connections” was started by a remarkable woman by the name of Kathy Lambert who first started helping women by helping them find the appropriate interview attire through Dress for Success…to the point of taking the shoes off of her feet to complete one woman’s outfit. She realized, however, that dressing them was not enough and began to develop additional programs: mentoring, skills training, health & wellness and even developed a program for providing cars. Do you know that even though a woman may find a job that helps her break through the struggle that transportation can still be a basic challenge to success?

Connections is dedicated to helping men and women achieve economic independence. The programs are not a temporary fix. They are intended to promote a life change through a holistic approach. Its family of programs is designed to encourage life-long engagement with all participants.

And, Connections is making a difference:

74% job placement rate for participants that have completed the Connections program versus the 40% national average for offenders in the first year of release

The recidivism rate drops to 14% for Connections participants versus the 44% national average in the first year of release

The average wage of participants engaged in the Pathways to Success program is $10.60/hour

Employment retention for Connections participants is currently 71%

Connections program participants earn 86% higher wages within six months of landing employment than those not in the program

58% fewer are on Medicaid

87% fewer live in shelters or other temporary housing

How can you help? Volunteer. Donate work-appropriate clothing. Donate cars. Donate cash. Become a mentor. Gather some family, friends or co-workers and take The Power Walk for Dress for Success this coming May 12.The Power Walk

For Sarah: Connecting Women to Success

Having All of Your Eggs in One Basket – Redux

Thought I’d revisit one of my earlier posts. I’m happy to say that my thinking really hasn’t changed even if my value for one marketing tool or another may have shifted. I still believe integrated marketing is the key to success.

Kids love Easter. They love to search for hidden treasures and gather them all into one basket. It’s how they show success. It works for them. For marketers, it’s not always wise to have all your eggs in one basket. At least I don’t think so.

I think good marketers spread their efforts across a multitude of baskets. Better marketers recognize how all of these efforts are connected to each other. The best marketers see how all of these connected efforts add value to each other rather than detracting.

Advertising. Promotions and events. Direct marketing. Interactive. And now social and mobile.

We all have our “favorites”…those channels we know so well we can practically make them sing a siren’s song to customers. It’s how we use those other channels that make us good marketers. Going where you’re comfortable is easy. Going where you’re not is harder. We have to admit we don’t know what we’re doing. We have to ask for help.

 Advertising. For casinos, it used to be you had to have the biggest ad in the local paper, preferably in color – full color, not the cheaper spot color. You did that every week and you knew people would know what was going on at your place. They’d clip out our coupons and dutifully bring them in. Wait. Does that mean I’m paying for the ad and discounting my business? Hmmm… It took a while for us to realize (no, accept) our customers weren’t just reading the paper. They were watching that expensive medium, TELEVISION. The horror. The expense. The audience!

Then there’s outdoor. Just how many words can we fit on one billboard for customers to read and retain while they drive 60+ miles an hour. I used to work for a really smart man. He could make any creative person crazy. He always wanted to see his billboard during a presentation. Not the ads. Not the cool things we’d designed for logo application and sale. Not the spot. Just give him his billboard…and don’t explain it to him. Give it to him and walk away. He knew it was the toughest medium to deliver your message. He knew that if you were successful there, the other things would fall into place. Like I said, “Smart man.” His name? Steve Wynn.

Can we do without advertising? I say, “No.” If you were to turn off all your messaging, you could very possibly still keep existing…for a while. You can’t grow without new customers, and if you’re not advertising are you just going to depend on word of mouth? Do you feel your business or experience can live on word of mouth? Do you have a system in place to stimulate this good word of mouth you’re depending on? How much is it going to cost you to get you back where you were before you made your “savings”?

 Promotions and Events. Creating experiences that customers will want to attend are always a puzzle. Does this attract my top customers or my low-end customers? Will my investment pay off, or am I just adding to the cost of making a sale? Understanding what drives people is the key to developing effective promotions and events. In the casino business, they are the life of the property. They provide the energy for the day. They are a delicate balance of appeal across all of your segments.

Can your business live without some sort of energy?

 Direct Marketing. As casino marketers, we think we know EVERYTHING about direct marketing. Who could possibly do it better? I don’t know. I think we do this very well, so well that we often think this is our most powerful tool and often end up depending only on this…putting all of our marketing eggs in one basket. We do this until we realize how upside down we are in our reinvestment strategy. If I pay for every visit, and I keep raising the amount I give a person in spite of the fact that their spend isn’t increasing (in the desperate hope that it will), I eventually end up in what my co-worker calls “the spiraling vortex of death.” The spiraling is so fast and so bad that I can’t get out of it because now I’ve trained my customers to only come in with an offer. If I take the offers away, they’ll stop coming. If I start trimming back the offer, they’ll complain. I’m in a no-win situation because I put all my eggs in this basket and never balanced my marketing efforts.

I guess the other side of that coin is businesses that gather information through a “loyalty” program and then never seem to use it.  I often wonder why I bother to use my club card at the grocery store. I never receive anything in the mail…never see anything tailored to me, yet they probably know more about me than anyone. I think Safeway has taken some steps to develop programs based on the knowledge they gather. I don’t live in their market so I can’t say that I know from personal experience.

Interactive. Our virtual storefront. There are so many schools of thought about this. Because we’re in an industry that measures everything, we often believe that our websites need to focus on transactions. Get to the check-out as easily and as soon as possible and you’ll be successful. True? I think that’s a valid argument if you’re a retailer. I love being able to find a product easily and being able to buy it easily. If it’s not easy, I probably won’t use the website.

Some think that your website should be your online brochure. Tell your visitor about everything you have. The more you give them, the better. True?

Then there’s another school that says you need to entertain. Maybe it’s not so much a “school” as it was one man. Back to my past life…we were directed to build a site that would engage and entertain and to heck with transactions…”our guests are looking to be engaged.” The stunned looks in the room were priceless. Against all of our instincts, we built a heavy Flash-based site. It had beautiful pictures, a sound track and great video vignettes from some really interesting people. Those in the online industry pointed to our site as a good example of sites gone bad. Our customers….LOVED it. Again, Steve Wynn proved he knew his guest.

This just goes to show that there isn’t one way to do things. It really depends on your target.

Social Media and Mobile. Now social media has become a bigger and bigger part of our lives. Some businesses have taken this outlet and have run with it. They’re active and engaging with people every second of the day. Is this a must in every marketing plan? Only time will tell, but you can only tell if you give it a try and give it time. You have to start somewhere. Start today. Start listening. What you hear should tell you where to go and what to do. We took a while to get to social, but I’m happy we did. We’ve learned valuable lessons along the way. More importantly, for many, we learned that social is the two-way conversation you never control and that if your product stinks, customers will always tell you and tell their world. Our next step is mobile as so many of our targets are now getting more and more comfortable in that space. Before I start developing my mobile strategy, I will listen to our customers to see what they’ll need and want.

What are our marketing comfort zones? What will you do to get out of them?

Having All of Your Eggs in One Basket – Redux

Little Things That Wow

Our annual marketing meeting took place this last week. It’s been a meeting that has taken places in some interesting locations – Philadelphia…Voorhees, NJ…Tunica, MS. Like I said, “interesting”. Interesting or not, it always gave folks a chance to get away from the business and mix a little fun with the meeting. Imagine everyone’s surprise when we chose to host this year’s meeting at our corporate office!

Our offices are located in a little area just west of downtown St. Louis, a little municipality called Creve Coeur. There is a Drury Inn & Suites located just a short walk from our office, making it the most convenient place to stay. I’m the first to admit that I’m a bit of a hotel snob. That part of my personality didn’t get any better when I worked for Wynn Resorts. In fact, it probably made me hyper-sensitive to the little things that can make or break my stay at any hotel.

I had the pleasure of staying at this Drury on my first night in St. Louis. There was some “confusion” with my corporate housing and although no one was available to fix the issue over the weekend, the smiling face behind the check in counter at the Drury was. Not only did she welcome me to St. Louis and to the hotel, she welcomed my mother…my dog…and my cat, AND she kindly informed me that my company had direct billing and offered to apply the charges to the account. Unnecessary, but the offer made my stumbling into her hotel that much sweeter.

I always remember that simple “yes” that turned a really bad day into a good one. So, I wasn’t surprised when one of the attendees to our marketing meeting mentioned to me that the front desk clerk at that very same hotel remembered a conversation she had over a year ago during her last stay. Little did that front desk clerk know that attendee was a last-minute substitute to a meeting that she wasn’t at all sure about. She made her feel welcome and comfortable.

Employees hold the brand promise in their hands every moment of the day. These too ladies did just that for Drury. I always wonder what employees are doing with our brand promise. What are your employees doing today to keep your promise?

Little Things That Wow

Creating the Fun

Last year, I was able to attend a conference on Internal Branding and Employee Engagement. I was quite honored when the organizers asked me speak recently. Then, I became really worried when I saw the list of speakers. They were from some big companies. I mean BIG. Big name. Big brand value. The company I work for is not BIG. We’re actually kind of medium-sized. I like to say we’re “small but mighty”. Nonetheless, I was still concerned that what I had to present wouldn’t be as powerful as what McDonald’s could say…or what HP might present. AIG would surely have a great story about keeping employees engaged in turbulent times.

Then I remembered something. We’re in the entertainment business! So, I put together a presentation I thought would entertain and engage – illustrating how one of our smallest properties set in a pretty competitive market could take a focused look at what they wanted to deliver from a brand perspective and do it with the energy of an engaged workforce and without the need of huge budgets.

Here is the presentation. Make sure you click on the video on the See.Say.Smile. slide (slide 21). We loved making it and using it as a training tool.

I would also be remiss in not crediting the beautiful Wynn Las Vegas work done by Slover and Co. It always brings me so much pride.

Creating the Fun

G2E and How I Got Started in this Business

I recently participated in a panel at G2E. For those of you not in the casino industry, G2E is a huge collection of vendors, sessions and socializing.

The panel was “Social Media 101 for Casino Operators”. I shared that panel with Stacy Hamilton of SK+G and Greg Cannon of the Palms Casino. It was great fun, and we were able to share insights from the agency side, from the destination market side as well as the small regional gaming side. I hope we encouraged everyone in the room to give this world of social media a try.

As I prepared for the conference, I couldn’t help thinking about the person who got me into this crazy business. Her name is Nancy Trosclair Collier. I met her when I was doing non-profit work. She was a high-energy volunteer. She was something called a “host” at a Mississippi casino. We eventually became friends working on a few events for the New Orleans chapter of the March of Dimes.

One rainy and cold Mardi Gras day she called me with the offer of a job at a new casino wrapping up construction in New Orleans. Something about the timing made me say, “Why not?” Less than a week later, I had my first casino job as a group sales coordinator. Ten weeks later, the casino closed in bankruptcy! Yep! Ten weeks.

But when everyone ran from any future casino career, I ran TO one. It’s then that I realized this business isn’t meant for everyone. You have to love it. It kind of runs in your veins. I’ve worked in riverboats, land-based, corporate and the little boutique we like to call Wynn Las Vegas. The energy is the same even if it pulses to a different rhythm.

I hope you love what you do, too.

By the way, you can follow Stacy and Greg on Twitter. I encourage you to do so. They’re both really smart!

G2E and How I Got Started in this Business

Music is a Time Machine

I heard something today that made me realize how valuable music can be to your advertising. Music is a time machine.

Working with a few different brands, I’ve had a chance to go the licensed music route and the original composition route. I think licensed music wins every time.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve liked all of the original compositions I’ve been lucky to work with to some degree. When we opened Harrah’s New Orleans Casino, our jingle was in tune with the property and the locale. I can still hear it today. It got everyone excited about this thrilling new experience, but it didn’t bring back any deep memories. Of course, it wasn’t meant to.

Orchestral music at Wynn Las Vegas. Calypso music at the start of my tenure at Isle of Capri. As we fine-tuned our brands at Isle, we decided to go with two licensed tunes. We tested them and tested them until we found the right music that made people hum along as their toes tapped under the table.

When you recognize a tune, you’re almost transported to the exact point in time when that tune resonated with you. It’s amazing. Isn’t it? That summertime ride with the car top down and the sun on your skin. That slow dance with your date. A first kiss. It’s a warm feeling, and when a product uses it in its commercials, you remember those feelings with a slight smile.

Used well, music can forge a deep connection with your customer and your product.

What products are using some of your favorite tunes?

Music is a Time Machine