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IN-DEPTH 30 August 2017
The mobile marketing challenge: Personalising push notifications
Push notifications have the potential to provide a rich and exciting channel of communication between an operator and its customers. How should betting companies go about maximising their potential?
By Tom Lewis

"Are you cheating on me with another game? Come play, I’ll forgive you!"

Push notifications. When used poorly, they hold a reputation with end users as a distraction at best, and downright annoying at worst, an assessment that 52% of respondents to a November 2015 survey by mobile engagement platform Localytics and Research Now agreed with. However, deployed effectively and with the right considerations in mind they can be a useful tool for operators in driving customer engagement. According to research by the same company, those who opt to receive push notifications demonstrate 171% more total engagement with a mobile app.

A direct line of communication from a website or app to the customer, push notifications are messages that pop up on desktops or mobile devices and can be sent at any time, with users not required to be on the relevant webpage or using their devices to receive them.

While there are idiosyncrasies in terms of how different mobile operating systems allow for the use of push notifications – an iOS user must opt-in, whereas Android users must expressly opt-out – the general principles of how to deploy them effectively remain the same. Greg Karaolis, Head of Online and Innovation at SBTech, makes note of four key areas that betting companies must get right when sending push notifications: “As with most effective forms of customer communication, the aim is to send a targeted, engaging, actionable, and timely message to your users. Let’s take these one by one:

• Targeted: Ensuring you segment and understand your customer base so you don’t spam users with messages about offers, sports, events and bets they are not interested in.

• Engaging: Ensuring there is an offer, or a price boost, to ensure you grab the user’s attention. Or if it is a subscription-based notification around incidents or special offer, ensure they are well worded and grab attention, or include some kind of rich media.

• Actionable: Similar to above, this is ensuring that the user deeplinks to the right page, or has the bet preselected to make it is easy to take action from the notification

• Timely: This is about understanding when your users are most likely to be receptive to push (e.g. the hour before the event) or even better if it can be based on their own betting patterns. For example, if you expect a user to normally bet one hour before kick-off for the Champions League, if it gets to 15 minutes before this, a timely push with an offer may be the offer they need to get them to bet.

Mario Ovcharov, Chief Marketing Officer at platform provider UltraPlay, echoes Karaolis’ feeling that targeting push notifications to users with eye-catching, actionable content is the key to making them successful: “Getting spammed every day for the same bonus, especially in our industry, is unlikely to have a positive effect.”

Ovcharov emphasises the importance of personal choice in ensuring that players are not turned off, noting that users are far more likely to respond to messages that are tailored to their interests. Elaborating, he states: “If you can subscribe for updates on a certain sports team or casino game that you like, that will be a much more effective manner in which to drive user engagement and prevent players being turned off. Expecting an untargeted and standard array of bonuses to have any great effect is not the future for this approach.”

Karaolis’ point regarding timing is worth re-emphasising, especially in light of the fact that the timeliness push notifications for sports betting operators is far more important given the acute nature of certain sports. Expanding on the point, Karaolis says: “If a customer has an interest in a match but we don’t send the push in good time to induce the bet, the match finishes and we have lost turnover. Regular ecommerce companies don’t face the same the problem, so the timing is much more critical for us.”

“Rich notifications” mark another manner in which betting companies can more effectively drive user engagement through push messaging. So-named due to their employment of media beyond the written word – images, videos, audio and GIFs are the obvious examples – rich notifications have been shown to have a far higher response rate than their less jazzy cousins. A 2016 study conducted by US marketing firm Urban Airship found that pictures boost direct response rates for push notifications by 56%.

This is an area in which gambling could learn a great deal from other customer-facing industries. “There has been little use of rich media to make push messages more engaging, and certainly targeted and tailored push messages are not widespread in our industry,” notes Karaolis, adding that: “No one promotes cash out of bets through push, or really personalised bet suggestions, and if we look at the wider ecommerce space we certainly see more tailored and targeted messaging there rather than the generic mass messaging we see prevalent throughout the online gaming industry.”

Targeted, timely and vibrant notifications are clearly a must for operators when looking to avoid the risk of turning players off and having your messages dismissed as spam. As Mario Ovcharov underlines, “It is a problem if players are just seeing the same information over and over again. It has to be more intuitive than that. Even sending something like ‘Ronaldo is injured today’ can move a player to be against Real Madrid, for example.”

Tying these elements together at the head of all these important factors is a growing need for these messages to be personalised to the individual user, in a manner that goes beyond a simple deployment of the opening gambit “Hi Firstname”. Analysing a player’s betting history for their casino games and sports markets they favour is undoubtedly crucial here, in order to push updates to players that are relevant to their interests and make them more likely to engage with the push notification. Analysing more than 1.5bn mobile push notifications between January 2015 and March 2016, marketing agency Leanplum found that adding various elements personalising these messages increased open rates by 800%.

Karaolis agreed when the issue of personalisation was put to him, and made a point of stating that “it’s not that difficult to get this right”.

He expands: “If you understand what your users like to bet on, when they are most likely to be receptive to a message, and what types of offers engage them, by user, then you have the most chance of cutting through with your message. Simple examples are promoted bets that they have won on before, for example, ‘Man United did the job for you last week? Can they do it again?’, then the offer. Sending push messages with enhanced cash out offers is a very good way to show customers that the message is only for them, for example: “Two legs of your acca have won, cash out offer was £90, now £100.”

While there shouldn’t be a tremendous amount in the assessment offered so far to take betting companies by surprise, Karaolis and Ovcharovs’ points relating to targeted and personalised messages are well worth making. As previously stated, they have carried a troubled reputation since they came to greater prominence following the June 2009 launch of the Apple Push Notifications Service. A survey by aforementioned marketing platform Localytics revealed in late 2015 that between two and five pushes per week would drive 46% of respondents to opt-out, while 6-10 a week would lead 32% of respondents to uninstall the app altogether.

“Quite a lot of operators don’t like using push notifications for this reason,” says Mario Ovcharov on whether their reputation as intrusive is merited. “Those that do use them do so on a basis of pushing untargeted bonuses, which is something I think will change as the industry continues to evolve with mobile technology.”

Concurring, Karaolis adds: “At the moment, the reputation is somewhat justified. In general I get the same set of push notifications from every operator on a Saturday with little feeling that there is something valuable in this message for me.” Clearly, it is important that operators properly measure the click through rate and bet placement in order to ensure any notifications are hitting the mark, and that they are prepared to scale back should a drop in engagement be noticed.

As for what the future holds for this emerging and increasingly prevalent means of user engagement in the gambling industry, Ovcharov highlights that the technology’s excellent potential as a retention tool. The concept of being able to place an offered bet simply through tapping the on-screen notification is one that Ovcharov mentions with enthusiasm.

Factors such as problem gambling must be taken into account, as with any form of marketing in this industry. As Karaolis makes clear: “Tackling problem gambling and protecting vulnerable individuals is something the industry has recently started taking very seriously, and rightly so.

“Obviously we have a responsibility not to market to people who we know are at risk, and we also need to be careful with sending push notifications to someone who may have downloaded an Android app before we have been able to verify their age.”

However, what is clear is that push notifications hold rich potential for betting companies as a means of boosting engagement. Operators and suppliers alike must now ensure that the framework and know-how is in place to ensure they can meet this potential, moving away from untargeted marketing blasts and towards being a more refined a personal channel between user and operator.
IN-DEPTH 4 September 2019
Virtual reality: Creating next-gen experiences for players

Singular CEO George Shamugia discusses a new revenue stream for casino operators

The competition in online gaming is intensifying, with players becoming more and more demanding. In some markets, single-customer acquisition costs can reach up to €400 ($440) alongside growing churn rates. Furthermore, the online gaming sector struggles to attract one of the most lucrative groups of players – millennials. The experience provided by casinos no longer appeals to the younger generation.

On  the other hand, the video gaming industry perfectly understands the needs of millennials and by introducing elements of luck in their games offers the best of both worlds. With the launch of loot box systems and Grand Theft Auto’s in-game casino, we have seen their first successful steps in targeting the online gaming sector. GTA V online, with 33 million active players, recently opened an in-game casino, where players gamble real money on games such as poker, roulette, slots, etc. As a result, churn users returned and GTA Online reached the highest number of active players since its launch in 2013.

The online gaming industry has almost fully utilised the potential of the mobile medium. The time has come to look for new, innovative ways of delivering a next-gen experience to customers.

The potential of VR

Could the next big thing for online gaming be a fully fledged virtual reality (VR) casino delivering an immersive experience and limitless new opportunities?

Although not widely adopted yet, VR has a sizable number of customers. Analysts predict it’s poised for explosive growth to become mainstream in about five years. According to market intelligence firms, the VR market will be worth $117bn by 2022, and according to Juniper Research bets made through VR will reach $520 billion by 2021. Upcoming 5G mobile network technology will propel VR’s mass adoption by allowing the development of fully portable untethered and affordable VR headsets.

Different level of social interaction

The captivating nature of gambling comes from its social aspect. Unfortunately, personal interaction is widely missing from online gambling sites. VR technology creates multiple opportunities to bring back and even enhance that social moment. The ability to connect with other players is one of the main reasons behind Fortnite’s popularity. This form of co-experience is the next generation of entertainment. Research conducted by Facebook has found participants spend more time on VR compared to any other medium. This directly translates into increased profits for casinos.

Pokerstars has made efforts in this direction by implementing Voice UI. Instead of using hand controllers to make a call, pass, or raise, players give voice commands.

Another opportunity for bringing in the social element are the players’ avatars. They enable players to build their identity reflected in the avatars’ appearance, but also the avatar's social, competitive and community status. For instance, players are willing to pay real money for virtual drinks at the bar. Operators can offer these social touchpoints for free to VIP customers as an act of appreciation.

VR also brings a new dimension to customer support. Customer support can also be represented with avatars to assist the player in person. The social moment increases the LTV of players and contributes towards lower churn rates.

Rethinking game design

VR is a way more capable medium than a 2D mobile or desktop screen. Instead of copying the existing online experience, games must be redesigned from the ground up for a competitive advantage with VR. For example, a VR slot game can become fully immersive by teleporting the user into the slots’ world of Ancient Egypt. Next, enrich the experience with high-fidelity graphics, realistic spatial sounds and animations. When betting on virtual race cars, the user can be teleported inside the car he/she made a bet on and experience the race firsthand.

New revenue streams

VR casino lobbies create new revenue stream opportunities: ad placement of brands on the venue walls, company logos decorating the bar etc. This kind of branding is not intrusive in the VR space and feels natural from the user's perspective. VR also gives users the ability to change venues from a Las Vegas casino today, to Macau or even Mars casino, the very next day. The dynamic and diverse experience increases retention rates.

The majority of profits for online gaming operators come from their high-roller players. Although they represent a small subset of active players, an operator can launch a separate VR casino brand for them. Providing exclusive VR gaming experiences to high rollers/VIPs, the operator can minimise churn and maximise VR efforts for these player demographics.

The catch with VR is to focus on quality, rather than scale. The target audience might be limited yet, once these players experience it, they will become ambassadors for your offering.

Surely, the opportunities and possibilities offered by the VR medium truly exceed anything offered by mobile and desktop. VR is a new frontier not just for gaming but for every industry, and it’s exciting to see where it takes the industry and what kind of innovation it brings upon us.