25 January, 2023

Exclusive Q&A with Softswiss CMO: Marketing chilli peppers and ICE

Softswiss CMO Valentina Bagniya speaks exclusively to Gambling Insider about her aims for the casino supplier's marketing department, as well as her progress to date

Valentina, tell us about your role at Softswiss and your journey with the company so far?

I’ve been at Softswiss for more than two years now. From the very beginning, it was a very challenging and interesting proposition for me. In fact, when I came to Softswiss there was no marketing department. Now, looking back at all the changes we’ve made, I clearly understand that we’ve done a huge job over these two years and now our marketing department is vast.

Softswiss' brand awareness shows three-digit growth each year. At the same time, we have expanded the geography of our presence, begun to use non-standard promotion channels, and made analytics an integral part of the marketing function.

These results are just a part of our work. But the most important thing is that all marketing activities are now done in accordance with the long-term marketing strategy, which is updated every year.

We work on the strategy a lot, especially right now. We do a lot of analytics to understand our clients and the efficiency of everything we do. The proper understanding of the company and our products helps us create effective promotion plans and well-performing marketing campaigns.

At SiGMA Malta in November, Softswiss used a non-standard marketing campaign. Based on your answer just now, how would you measure the success of the campaign?

We did it in a very non-standard way – in a bathtub with chilli peppers

This is a very good question. Usually, when people talk about non-standard campaigns, they mean just the creative concept and buzz around it. For us, creative work is always interesting. But we always start with planning the goals and KPIs of our campaigns. The main goal of the ‘Blazing in’ campaign was to increase the Softswiss brand awareness in the region. Why this goal? Malta is a gaming hub and we have more than 10 years in the Maltese market – we can say that Softswiss is not a junior brand. But all analytical data showed that our brand awareness was not very high there. And that the situation definitely needed to be improved. We intended to do something which could help us reach our goal in a very short period. So, we decided to do something drastic, more typical for the FMCG industry I came from.

The campaign was done in two steps. First, we created a bright image with a red hot chilli pepper to attract attention and show our brand to the Maltese target audience. We wanted the local community to dive deeper into the brand, and drive the competitive market. When we attracted people and they saw the brand, we made our reveal as the second step, and explained who we were by showing the C-suite managers responsible for the business. We did it in a very non-standard way – in a bathtub with chilli peppers.

Coming back to the results, when we were choosing the channels for communication, people asked us why we decided to choose those channels. The answer is simple – we have analysed the population of Malta and spoken to many regional experts – and, obviously, Malta is a country of iGaming people. So, eventually, we choose the communication channels with the highest affinity index – out-of-home and radio ads with digital communication, PR communications and SiGMA.

Analysing the results, we looked at the branded keywords clicks and measured the organic traffic to our site. Of course, we analysed only Malta as a region. For example, the number of branded keyword clicks grew more than 100% and continues growing. And what is more important now is that our Business Development department is getting many more requests from the Maltese region.

What was it like taking part in the campaign yourself?

I participated in our photo and video shoots with hot chilli peppers. It was exciting and funny! I haven’t tried a chilli, but several colleagues tried them while shooting. One of them even ate it for the camera. It was fun for the managers who took part in this campaign.

Why am I talking about that? The other important function of a marketing department besides creating strategies is to ensure their successful implementation. And to do so, you should be sure your strategy is shared by your colleagues. If your colleagues share and like your ideas, they help you implement them. It is crucial.

Having invited our managers to participate in this campaign, we increased their loyalty, they became advocates of it and helped promote any, even the craziest, projects.

You mentioned that you’ve built the Softswiss marketing strategy from scratch. What was the most important aspect in building that strategy? And, at the same time, what was the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge was making the marketing function a part of the business processes in the company. If a company gets used to operating without marketing, and everything is going quite well, it can make other C-level managers think that a marketing function is optional. Changing this way of thinking was the biggest challenge for me.

Of course, the gambling industry is a part of the challenge, because this sector is probably more different from the industries I’ve worked in. However, I’m sure that when you’re working on the strategy, it doesn’t matter what product you work on. The crucial thing is to understand the consistent steps of the strategy development – analytical parts, defining development zones, setting goals and describing how you will achieve those goals. This is a universal process. Of course, the implementation and KPIs can be different, because you use different channels and steps to evaluate the strategy efficiency.

So, the first thing was to make the marketing function a part of the business processes. The second was to create and build a motivated professional team. And I consider the team as my main achievement. People I’m working with every day, shoulder to shoulder, are very cool, motivated and charged up by the success of Softswiss. They’re doing their best to make our brand more famous and increase loyalty to our brand. Every time I look at them, I feel very proud of the things they do.

In your two years with the company, has your approach changed? If so, how?

"I also expect that our competitors will notice us and also do something big – because, as a marketer, I like to work in a highly competitive environment with strong competitors"

Softswiss’ marketing department has been changing during the whole period. We grew a lot. We did a lot.

The team itself has changed a lot. We’ve become much more professional. Now, we are doing many more things than we did at the start. The number of channels and tools we are using has increased. The analytical approach has changed a lot because now we can analyse absolutely everything.

What else? When I came two years ago, I knew nothing about gaming and gambling. Now I know much more. I continue to get more and more insights from my communication with my team, and with such experts in the industry as you and others. I am like a sponge and absorb as much information as possible. And, for sure, our company has changed a lot in its approach and attitude towards the marketing role within the business. Now the marketing team is respected and seen as a huge strategic function.

Finally, what kind of campaigns can we expect from Softswiss in 2023?

We keep doing something unique and different in the industry. Now, we can’t decrease the level of grandiosity after the Maltese campaign, and the whole team is working on the next big event, the ICE London show. And, honestly, that’s not all.

We’re back in London and we want to make this return very bright. Therefore, we became an exclusive partner of the Fire & Ice 20th anniversary party. We’re very inspired to be a part of this exciting event and share all memorable moments with our friends and partners.

I also expect that our competitors will notice us and also do something big – because, as a marketer, I like to work in a highly competitive environment with strong competitors, similar to Cola and Pepsi. I enjoy working when competitors watch each other and try to do something better.

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