Gambling Insider sits down with Kindred’s Chief Commercial Officer, Ebba Ljungerud to discuss the company’s focus on its multi-brand strategy, and why re-naming the group plays an essential part in creating greater conditions for future growth
Can you begin by telling us a bit about your career to date?
My career began when I started working in print media, which subsequently transformed into online media. This role saw me focusing on a variety of different customer groups, like students and young adults, doing both print and online media for them which ultimately led me into the gaming industry.
In 2008 I started working as a country manager before I joined Unibet in 2010. The company had recently bought Maria Bingo and they were looking for someone to come in and revamp the brand. My role really revolved around redoing the brand and essentially changing what Maria Bingo was doing. The first step was to change the name to Maria and then we changed it further to Maria Casino. Furthermore, we made a great deal of changes in which markets we were focused on, going back to concentrating only on the Nordics.
I then actually moved to a role where I was looking at everything in between business and technology. I was very focused on prioritisation, looking at how we were doing things and how we should be doing them, what’s important to us a company, and what’s the UX like for customers, for example. Then a year ago, I returned to the commercial side of operations, where I am now running the customer-facing departments of brands and the markets.
What were your reasons for choosing the rebranded name Kindred?
The serious discussions really began to gain traction in the summer of 2015, where at the same time we were in the midst of the due diligence processes of buying both Stan James and iGame. The acquisition of these two companies put us in a completely different position. Before we had Maria Casino, Unibet and bingo.com, but we were still looking to run 12-15 brands instead of the three we were currently working on. When it came down to rebranding, we wanted to focus not so much on the name but with the values that existed in the company. We decided to set up loads of interviews with people within the company to discuss the company’s values and ideals. Not everyone was entirely aware why the interviews were taking place but others were extremely involved. Following the interviews, we were able to find our five core values and that’s how the name Kindred came about.
Other than the name are there any other elements you are focusing on with the re-branding of the company?
As a company, it’s extremely important for us to now implement the rebranding strategy properly. We did a road show throughout the fall where we organised lots of activities around what the values mean to you and how you can impact where the company is going. Due to the size of the company and the fact that we are so spread out geographically, it is vital to get people on board and understand why we are doing it.
On the other side, it’s important to ensure that our owners and investors see what’s in the name for them and how it will be significant to them. Then of course we must look at what the rebranding does for us as a company and the direction we will continue to move in. By having a total rebrand of the company, it allows us to open up a little more, to be selective in terms of brands for the customers. We have built this technical platform where we have the capability to launch brands and then see if they fly or not, then when we can also decide if we potentially want to keep it. The rebranding process has meant that we gain far more flexibility than before for customers, so it’s not really about the name itself, it’s more to do with the different brands.
Will you be looking to acquire further brands in 2017? What is your take on the M&A activity in the industry at large?
For us, the base is organic growth; we always want to make sure that we are working with very healthy brands and promoting healthy growth in those brands in a sustainable way. This is because we place a great deal of emphasis on trust, from regulatory to customer trust. We are quite heavily active in the M&A scene and I think we contributed around 10% of the M&A activity in the market, so we have definitely done our fair share. We have built a platform that can support multiple brands, so I’m definitely not saying there won’t be any more activity in this regard. In February we acquired online gaming operator 32Red which was consistent with our multi-brand strategy. For us as a company it’s very much about finding the right target in the right country. Of course regulated markets continue to put a huge pressure on the bottom line with taxes, so it’s important to have scale. It’s hard to say what will happen in the future, but since we have been particularly active we have been approached. However, we are still on the lookout too.
You recently launched your online casino brand targeting “high rollers” in the Norwegian and Swedish market, why did you decide to target such a niche group?
It’s well-known in this industry that high rollers in the Norwegian and Swedish markets exist, and this niche group is an extremely important part of our customer group. Therefore, it made perfect sense to create a brand that specifically focuses on them, and one which targets their needs. We want to be a company that generates products with a specific focus, it’s got to be more than a one-size-fits-all brand.
We believe we’ve produced a niche brand for people that like and need this kind of product, but of course we are mindful that people should be able to afford it.
We are currently testing out a number of different responsible gaming tools that fits this high-spending group. For example, we do credit checks where customers can choose the specific product and different time periods. The process we have created is extremely flexible and allows customers to ‘block’ themselves by putting a maximum spend or a minimum loss. We have a number of different variations on all of our websites; however we added this specific credit check for the high rollers.
Do you have any plans to make similar movements in the near future and is expansion a top priority for you?
I think this was one of the key reasons behind the renaming of Kindred Group, it allows us the flexibility to split the company from the Unibet brand. This in turn means that the high roller niche could definitely be interesting to launch in other markets as it’s a great target
group to work with. Although there is a low volume of customers, this makes it easier to ask them what they want and need. For example, if there is a very specific brand name that could be extremely relevant in any market, then that could be an interesting proposition to work with.
I think the industry has changed a great deal over the past couple of years and as a sector we have grown up and I like to think that Kindred is at the forefront of this area. As a whole we have realised that if we do not expand in a responsible way then we are going to get a lot of pushback from the regulators and owners. It’s very clear in the regulated markets that responsible gaming is hugely important, and if we can expand in a way that actually helps the customer then this is not only beneficial for them but also for us too as we can have a sustainable relationship with them over a long period of time.