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IN-DEPTH 18 June 2018
Gaming's marketing challenge: Assessing the alternatives
With industry marketing garnering plenty of attention in recent months, Gambling Insider looks into how new techniques can help operators overcome the challenge of acquiring and retaining players
By Gambling Insider

It would be fair to say that the manner in which online operators go about acquiring players and marketing themselves has come under a degree of scrutiny in recent months. The Triennial Review of gambling has been delayed for several months, but will take a concerted look at the implications of gambling advertising on television at a time when you’re never too far away from an offer to “bet in-play with Ray”.

In September 2017, the Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, Labour MP Tom Watson, called for a restriction on sponsorship deals that place gambling company logos on football shirts. He stated that it shows that football clubs do not treat problem gambling issues amongst their fans with enough seriousness.

The affiliate sector is the latest component of online gaming marketing to find itself in the spotlight of the mainstream media, with news articles finding their way into The Guardian and several other publications. Ladbrokes, 888, Casumo and Sky Bet were recently on the receiving end of sanctions from the Advertising Standards Authority over misleading promotions published by their affiliate partners.

Sky Betting and Gaming has since taken measures to sidestep the issue entirely, halting its UK affiliate program, while Paddy Power Betfair took the stance of introducing a new “one strike” policy across its entire partnership programme, lining up suspensions for any affiliates found to have breached the operator’s promotional and marketing guidelines.

In short, the manner in which gambling operators go about acquiring and retaining players has found itself under the cosh over recent months, with sports sponsorships entering mainstream political debate and major brands taking a closer look at their affiliate programs. However, that is not to say that online operators must meet the marketing challenges that face them downbeat. Operators stand to gain from embracing new methods and technologies, and there are a number of data and interaction-led acquisition and retention technologies coming to the fore.

A PERSONAL TOUCH

As Adi Dagan, CEO of data-driven marketing firm Beehive points out, it is increasingly important that operators turn to data and personalisation, balancing their marketing campaigns so that they are not overly reliant on one single component: “Those operators enjoying the most success are already mixing affiliate marketing with innovative email campaigns, as well as a spread of other digital, social and PPC. The question these operators face should they reduce the affiliate share is where this spend will be redirected. A number of new channels, particularly in the social space, have opened up over the past couple of years, so there is no shortage of options.”

It is in the application of this new breed of technology streams that artificial intelligence (AI) has a crucial role to play. Dagan is enthusiastic about the spread that we are witnessing in the uptake of AI solutions throughout gaming from an acquisition and retention perspective, and explains that it is becoming something of a necessity: “I have little doubt that artificial intelligence will be the single biggest driver of growth in mature online gaming markets over the coming years.

“Most operators now have big data solutions in place and are gathering unprecedented amounts of data on their players. It is not possible for CRM teams to process this data manually, particularly on the legacy marketing platforms that remain prevalent in our industry. The solution here is to automate the process via artificial intelligence and flexible platforms.

“We are already beginning to see some interesting applications of AI within online gaming marketing. Chatbots, which allow players to interact with an AI on anything from the latest bonuses to account issues, are becoming increasingly prevalent.”

TAILORING THROUGH TECHNOLOGY

Using new technology to deliver increasingly personal and engaging marketing pushes is now a priority, but operators can widen the net of their respective acquisition strategies to an even larger extent by engaging, on a tailored and targeted level, users who have visited their website, but not registered an account.

As Brendan O’Kane, CEO of marketing platform provider, OtherLevels, points out: “Campaigns across online media, television, brand placements and sponsored advertisements are all an important part of any successful operator’s acquisition strategy, but the ultimate measure, is whether the user converts when they visit the operator’s website. A significant number of potential users continues to fall through the conversion funnel and do not complete the registration process.

“At present, operators have needed to re-target using paid media, or hope the visitor will return organically. This is increasingly expensive and less effective, particularly as operators re-evaluate how they use affiliate channels.”

The nature of the relationship between player and operator is changing apace, with O’Kane quick to note the importance of understanding that the manner in which customers engage with messaging has changed over the last few years. As he explains: “You cannot just send users more and more emails. Instead you need to go where the customer is – understand their behaviour, and use up to half a dozen different message types to engage the user wherever they are, and whenever they are most active in their digital day – across app, mobile web or desktop channels. And of course, this needs to be highly personalised. Second generation tools can be highly effective in doing this, and with the backing of data, can provide a 360-degree view of the user.”

Effective personalisation of customer messaging has indeed grown to be crucial, elevating campaigns above untargeted, one-size-fits-all blasts. Segmenting and understanding customers so as not to spam them with messages regarding offers they are not interested in is increasingly key, with value to be found in moving with engaging content based on favourite sports and events.

As O’Kane outlines: “Personalising messages effectively is crucial, and deploying cohorts to properly tailor marketing offers and content to the betting behaviour and preferred channels of individual users is a big differentiator. Capturing data in real-time across the operator’s online estate provides a detailed picture of the customer’s preferences, and this enhanced visibility into behaviour allows for a much more comprehensive big data driven approach to customer engagement.

“We are also increasingly delivering real-time messaging and expanding into in-play messaging. These areas are complex, but offer enormous upside for operators – being able to marry the data that we have regarding a user’s behaviour and interests, including location, with the “in the moment” latest odds and offers. This is creating very exciting opportunities for our clients.”

Big data is certainly continuing to grow in relevance for operators as a tool, but what is clear is that operators need to do more than simply collate vast reams of information. Stacking data set on top of data set with no way to make sense of it is unlikely to be the first step on the path to success. Making those huge amounts of data digestible in a manner that provides VIP and marketing teams with actionable insights to boost acquisition and retention is key.

This is a fact not lost on Dagan, who outlines the provider’s strategy for clearing this hurdle: “Beehive has recently completely rebuilt our BI product, on the basis that our clients are now living and breathing data and need a more powerful set of tools to analyse and drill down into any aspect of their business. Cohort analysis is one area that operators are only beginning to scratch the surface of, but with the new tools we are providing, I can see it become central to marketing strategies in 2018.”

THE HUMAN ELEMENT

For all the attention on the benefits brought to the table by deep data analytics and next-generation technological tools in acquisition and retention, it is still important that operators maintain multiple prongs to their marketing pushes, and do not lose sight of the power of the telephone. The potential that the human touch holds to power player retention and reactivation remains hugely important, and its value is espoused by Mikael Hansson, CEO of Enteractive, a provider of player retention services.

Hansson explains: “There is a lot of focus currently being placed on how online gaming companies go about retaining players, and reactivating churned players in an operator’s database can be a significant source of success. While there is emphasis on technology-driven solutions to do so, human interaction is still the most powerful manner in which to engage them. Our approach is based on interacting with these churned players through personal, one-to-one phone conversations, going beyond simply calling with an untargeted bonus offer or free bet.

“Having a particular operator show an interest in them can sometimes be all an inactive player needs as an incentive to return, even if they are betting and gaming elsewhere. Discussing a user’s interests, favourite games and current circumstances created a far more impactful relationship, and we have found that this approach can lead to 30% and more of players becoming active users once more. Reactivating churned players is becoming an increasingly important process in boosting an operator’s bottom line, and I believe human engagement remains the most effective way of unlocking that potential.”

There is plenty of attention currently being placed on how operators acquire and retain customers. Rulings from the UKGC and ASA have seen affiliates placed under pressure, while there is growing scrutiny on sporting partnerships. However, new frontiers of both acquisition and retention are coming to the fore, and operators would do well to keep abreast of the changing landscape of marketing in order to stay ahead of the pack.
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