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IN-DEPTH 13 July 2017
Making a name for yourself
Casino marketeers have a wealth of new channels and tools at their disposal, but are they using them to best effect?
By Caroline Watson

Operating in one of the most dynamic and rapidly growing industries in the world, it is paramount for casinos to differentiate themselves in an increasingly saturated market. It goes without saying that strategic marketing plays a pivotal role in the way brands define and position themselves with a USP in an ever-expanding crowd.

With approximately 1,632 casinos in the United States, it is imperative that they operate a coherent brand strategy that allows them to pinpoint the right audience, attracting new players without alienating existing ones. Although the gaming industry has evolved at a monumental pace over the past few decades, it’s interesting to consider whether the way in which casinos market themselves has changed that dramatically since it became a necessity.

With over 30 years in the industry, President and Owner of KK Bold Advertising Agency, LaRoy Kingsley does not believe that the way in which casinos market has changed that significantly. “Player development and new player acquisition are still the priorities. But the tools that are used have changed a great deal. Online opportunities such as re-targeting, geo-fencing, geo-targeting and the explosion of mobile platforms are just some of the current media used that we didn’t have ten years ago.”

The fundamental priorities that drive casino marketing have essentially remained the same, however, the way in which operators reach their customers has undoubtedly faced some alterations. The gaming industry, like most others, has been impacted by the growth of digital technology.

Sarah Jones, President at Red Square Gaming adds: “The way in which we consume marketing messages has shifted dramatically. And while the core gamer may still skew to an older demographic, age is no longer a barrier to embracing digital technology. Our gaming messages must live in both the traditional, and the digital space.” In this digital age, the way in which people consume information and are exposed to marketing messages has radically changed, whilst the marketing content has stayed relatively the same.

When constructing a successful marketing campaign, there are a number of tools casinos have at their disposal, a key one being customer loyalty programs. A primary goal for casinos when attracting new players is getting customers to sign up for their loyalty program, representing one of the most widely used and reliable marketing techniques that boasts a proven success rate. Jones affirms: “The gaming industry is perhaps one of the best at executing a loyalty program. Data segmentation plays an important role in the marketing efforts of a casino. We can now adapt our messages to smaller segments of our database and deliver those messages in exactly the way our player wants to receive them – direct mail, e-mail, text, or some combination.”

Over the years, the player loyalty program has significantly grown in importance as an information source amongst consumers. These kinds of programs create the foundation of most casinos’ marketing programs and are now considered to be a vital lynchpin supporting an operator’s success.

Paul Gordon, Rymax’s Senior Vice President of Sales exemplifies the importance of these campaigns, commenting: “When the Revel in Atlantic City failed, one of the top observations in their lack of success was that they did not have a well-defined Player Loyalty campaign in place. Players at all levels want to be a part of the casino and be recognised and rewarded as a result of it. Over 80% of players engaged in the casino program say that they are driven by likeability of the property and staff.” This offers yet another example as to why “the Player Loyalty segment has become critical to engage and retain players in addition to creating a distinct difference amongst properties”.

Choosing which medium, whether it be print, online, radio etc. to include in your marketing campaign can prove to be a fairly complicated assessment due to the ad-saturated environment and increased cost. “Print will always have a place in the strategy since print has a ‘pass along’ component that other vehicles don’t. That is an important driver in households where the primary recipient might not react to a promotion but others in that household do," adds Gordon. Arguably, the most effective advertising campaign utilises every media outlet available in order to achieve maximum coverage as each vertical has a different target audience. To name the most effective casino marketing vertical is a near-impossible task as each channel reaps different benefits since the player demographic is so broad.

There often isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to placing an effective marketing message. “First, it is important to define the target audience. After understanding the potential consumer’s media habits, we also need to define the communication goals. Is this an awareness strategy? Or is there a specific call to action we want the consumer to take? Depending on these goals, paired with where our consumer can be reached, the size and media cost of the market is a key third factor,” explains Jones.

Recently an increasing number of casinos have been implementing the Advanced Intelligence Marketing (AIM) system to improve market share and profitability. Kingsley offers the opinion that AIM systems are an “amazing tool” that casinos, who are prepared for it, should be adding to their arsenal. Nevertheless, “the key to their success is commitment to the program from management. It requires people with data analysis, marketing and player retention and acquisition skill working together. Not all properties have this type of horsepower on staff.”

Unsurprisingly, this is not an opinion shared by everyone, with Gordon claiming that the analytical way is not always the right way. “Any analytic tool is helpful but sometimes a less clinical approach can yield very good results. Rymax holds rewards events with different tiered players and casino management. That interaction has resulted in some of the best enhancements to the casino experience. Listen to your players. Survey your targeted players.”

Moreover, the use of social media and/or brand ambassadors is proving to become a popular USP for casino brands. Whilst this technique is used in almost every industry to promote a product or service, does this method of advertising have the same appeal when marketing casinos?

If companies want to truly harness the power of social media, they need to veer away from the default approach of posting information about events and specials. Instead, operators should aim to create a dialogue with their specified consumer. As Kingsley states: “I see only a handful of properties using social media successfully. People seem reluctant or aren’t motivated to engage in valuable conversation and most casinos have no plan in place for their SM beyond posting the next promotion of a buffet special.”

Once considered an added bonus channel for operators to promote an offer or an event, social media has the potential to become an extremely sophisticated marketing tool for casinos. It is simply another means for companies to reach consumers, however, it must now be considered more than just an afterthought.

“It is important for brands to recognise that most social networks offer limited organic reach and are transitioning into a pay-to-play environment. While this doesn’t mean social shouldn’t be part of the mix, it simply means marketers need to examine the messages that go in this platform to ensure they are relevant and timely, particularly if there is now a budget attached,” adds Jones. If operators truly want to capitalise on this valuable form of communication, then the proposed message needs to be fully tailored in order to target the right audience in an effective manner.

The same principle relates to celebrity brand ambassadors and influencers. If an operator opts to align itself with a brand ambassador then this marketing direction needs to be considered thoroughly. Very few celebrities that are affordable to your average casino property appeal to a wide enough demographic to be worth the money. Whilst associating your property with a famous name can have potential benefits, there are risks that come attached.

As Gordon states, using celebrities to represent your brand is a “slippery slope” as it can have the opposite effect if they damage their image. Whilst using a famous face to raise the profile of a product has become the norm across the marketing industry, it’s generally not something that has had a great reception in the casino sector. Kingsley adds: “I’ve never considered them to be a unique selling proposition in the casino industry. This isn’t like Michael Jordan selling Nikes. However, I think using celebrities as brand ambassadors works well within vertical departments within the property like celebrity chef branded restaurants.”

The explosive growth in the gambling industry means that no casino operator can afford to be left behind. Over the years, the fundamental message marketing campaigns present has essentially remained the same, however, how the message is conveyed is an entirely different situation. The digital age has allowed casinos to up their game with the amount of coverage they can get out to potential players, nonetheless, it’s all about quality over quantity.

There are more options out there than ever for marketeers, although they need careful forethought and commitment to execution. SM is not something to be toyed with, it’s a space that most consumers hold sacred. In order to really get more bang for your buck, marketing campaigns must develop increasingly sophisticated brand strategies to gain the attention, and trust, of their consumers.
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