23 March, 2023

The power of the rebrand

With the help of industry experts, Gambling Insider Editor Tim Poole evaluates the process of changing a gambling company’s corporate identity, whether via a subtle brand repositioning or full-scale transformation.

Industry veterans, ask yourself this: if a new starter entered the gambling sector today, would they even know who GVC Holdings, Scientific Games and Paddy Power Betfair were in their pomp? These erstwhile names were companies that led the market, with GVC boasting the best of the UK high street and harbouring hopes of US dominance alongside MGM Resorts. Paddy Power Betfair displayed the other side of the same coin, showing off further UK strength and the foresight to acquire FanDuel across the Atlantic Ocean. Once upon a time, Scientific Games was not just a lottery brand but an omni-channel casino supplier working   with most major operators.

Today, these three companies still   very much exist – and still very much lead from the front. But their identities, even their very names, are totally different. Indeed, while the GVC, Paddy Power Betfair and Scientific Games names bring with them a rich history, they have been consigned to exactly that: history. GVC is now Entain, Paddy Power Betfair is Flutter Entertainment and Scientific Games (still the name of the divested lottery brand) has become Light & Wonder for all other verticals. These names roll off the tongue and are designed to emphasise the light-hearted entertainment   aspect of our sector. Though simple, these brand names are effective and engaging. And they have, of course, been backed up by genuine organisational change behind the scenes.

If an organisation is able to demonstrate to both investors and customers a new way of conducting business – adaptable, fresh and modern, reshaping your brand can become a powerful tool. It is a tool many gambling companies have chosen to utilise – to varying degrees. Further to the most high-profile examples above, transformations have been undergone at GR8 Tech (formerly Parimatch Tech), Pavilion Payments (formerly Global Payments), several big players within the Bulgarian market and many more. Other firms have chosen to reposition   their brand more subtly, realigning and making tweaks in key areas. One such brand is UK-based Grosvenor Casinos, which – alongside Flutter, Entain and Light & Wonder – will form one of this piece’s core case studies.

An answer I’ve heard repeatedly during   my years at Gambling Insider is that there   is only one constant in our industry: change. Indeed, so much is changing around us, so often, from the M&A rearranging the sector’s landscape, to the people that lead these newly structured organisations – to the technology that provides the beating heart of the industry’s very foundations. Within that world of change, where the concept of brand itself has become an  ever-evolving entity, executives and investors alike might often ask a simple question: should their gambling company change, too? There is upfront cost; there is initial shock; but long-term, does the value it produces ensure those factors end up   well and truly in the rear-view mirror?

Grosvenor: Brand Equity

A land-based casino subsidiary of Rank Group, Grosvenor Casinos recently underwent a brand repositioning, something Marketing Director Sarah Sculpher spoke to Gambling Insider about in greater detail.

How much needs to change in terms of culture and operations to ensure a rebrand isn’t just a facelift at surface level? 

All brands should be monitoring their brand perception and saliency in line with changes in the market, customer behaviour and to ensure the brand is fit to meet the growth aspirations for the business. At Grosvenor Casinos, we continually track how the brand is performing across a range of metrics both with existing customers and with the marketplace. In 2021, we undertook a further deep dive to explore changes in customer expectations from leisure experiences and what the unmet needs were; both with our customers today and with people in the marketplace who would consider visiting a casino, but who hadn’t for whatever reason been motivated to visit. 

That research uncovered that we get a lot of things right; casinos are still appealing and seen as fun and exciting; but to grow with new customers, casinos also need to feel more accessible, welcoming, open and premium, but very much still be casinos at their core. That led to the repositioning which looks to re-frame Grosvenor Casinos as somewhere that anyone can be entertained, shake off the dark and mysterious perceptions and not just appeal to the seasoned few. 

We didn’t change our name, like some of the examples you highlight, as there is far too much positivity around Grosvenor Casinos to do that. Grosvenor Casinos is the market leader in land-  based casinos, highly trusted and has by far and away the strongest prompted and unprompted brand awareness of any other operator – a lot of brand equity has been established, but we have modernised it. There can be strong reasons for changing a name if the case for doing so outweighs the equity and I am sure all the businesses you have mentioned have answered that question before acting.

“Emperor’s new clothes”

A rebrand delivered without addressing the core purpose can be a case of Emperor’s new clothes, but consumers quickly see through it. Hermes becoming Evri was greeted with a huge amount of cynicism because it was felt to gloss over the real issues. The repositioning work to date has   set the scene for Grosvenor Casinos where we can grow a culture, product proposition and communications strategy that aligns with a more entertainment-led purpose. It’s been one of the more exciting projects  of my career, as many companies view ‘brand’ as only the logo above the door   and the supporting communications.

Although that has been given significant focus, it is about driving commitment throughout the organisation to look at all customer touchpoints and ensure we are delivering our brand promises through every aspect. For a brand to re-frame itself and realign its core purpose, every aspect of the organisation needs to be aligned to the vision and you need to measure how you are performing against it – just telling customers you want to be different won’t work for sustainable growth – they have to see it, experience it and feel it.

A rebrand delivered without addressing the core purpose can be a case of Emperor’s new clothes, but consumers quickly see through it. Hermes becoming Evri was greeted with a huge amount of cynicism because it was felt to gloss over the real issues

Sarah Sculpher

That doesn’t happen overnight, you start with a vision and then the hard work of aligning properties, product, people and processes against it begins – in casinos, being highly regulated and process-driven, there are some hardened ways of working to unpick. We are really only at the beginning of the journey, we have launched a new communications approach, identity, customer service proposition, property blueprint, product strategy and people   vision – which we brought alive in our Merchant City property in Glasgow, alongside a £3.5m ($4.2m) refurbishment. 

How much can investors be swayed by a successful rebrand?

Investors want to feel reassured that a business is adapting and developing in line with the needs of the customer.   Investor confidence is driven through creating visibility of the strategies that are going to drive future relevance with customers. Our project was grounded in sensible customer and market insight, tested with the marketplace; and is driving a step change in our Net Promoter Scores and financial metrics where we have invested in property improvements alongside it.

Light & Wonder: Real Change

Siobhan Lane, Light & Wonder Gaming CEO, spoke to the GI Huddle about the company’s rebrand and transformation at ICE London.

We’re very happy with it; I know it was a bit of a shock to the industry. When we announced the name, it was a shock to many of our creators as well. But really, a name is just a name. At the end of the day, what is so critically important to build a brand and make a name successful is you have to make real change. We used this analogy as we were going through the naming process – and the name is just an empty vessel. You have to really fill that vessel with meaningful things like values, behaviours, leadership, opportunities and development – and really walk the talk, if you will.

I think that’s what we’re most proud of. We knew it was a big opportunity, but because we were changing and transforming in so many ways, the Scientific Games name was born with and naturally belongs with   that lottery business. So when we made   the decision to divest lottery, we knew  the name would go with that business. It was a real opportunity to go big and, more importantly, make sure we’re following up on filling that vessel with really meaningful things.

Ultimately, we wanted to create a company that would retain our creators, and get them excited and passionate about what we’re doing here; but also attract new creators to our industry or to our organisation. It’s different, it’s fresh, but that was really done with intention. Hopefully the shock has worn off and, like you said, we’re very, very happy with it. We think it’s been a successful rebrand and we’ll just continue to fill that vessel with amazing things.

To its credit, the organisation’s leading brands have indeed put safer gambling first. Sky Bet has, on occasion, taken revenue hits attributed in Flutter’s quarterly reports to responsible gambling measures

Flutter and Entain: Investor Confidence

A company’s share price can be affected   by numerous factors – chief among them

for gambling companies being regulatory announcements. With that in mind, Flutter’s gradually ascending share price in recent years can’t be solely attributed to its rebrand. But it is worth noting that, since rebranding in March 2019, Flutter’s value has not dipped below its value that month (£53-£58 per share). Instead, at press time, it sits at almost three times that value (£140), having peaked at almost £170 in March 2021. Investor confidence is generally high in the B2C giant, which chose to marry the concept behind its overall parent company name to that of its shining star, FanDuel, a name that, again, connotes friendly competition.

To its credit, the organisation’s leading brands have indeed put safer gambling first. Sky Bet has, on occasion, taken revenue hits attributed in Flutter’s quarterly reports to responsible gambling measures. The emphasis on casual bettors – sustainable in the long run – who fancy a ‘flutter’ is clear. The globalisation of the brand, meanwhile, from Adjarabet in Georgia to Junglee Games in India, meant leading with ‘Paddy Power’ and ‘Betfair’ as its brand leaders no longer made sense. With hefty market share in key regions like the UK, multiple US states and Australia, Flutter has changed irreversibly.

It is a similar story for Entain. With a share price that sat just below £10 prior to its rebrand, shares have not fallen below that value since – peaking at around £22, which met a three-year target former CEO Kenny Alexander had set in this very magazine. Although the ‘Entain’ name may, in my humble opinion, still sound a little silly (it’s not actually a word, unlike the sharper-sounding Flutter), among investors it is representing exactly what it set out to – ‘a socially responsibly future.’ On 17 August 2022, Entain even paid a £17m settlement to the Gambling Commission in the UK for regulatory failings; it was even threatened with the withdrawal of its licence. But its   new corporate identity has had such an impact among investors that a message of ‘historical failings’ was quickly accepted, with the wider market perhaps also understanding the regulator’s bark may be worse than its bite on the licence issue.

Changing with the Times

Ultimately, if your gambling company is considering an identity change or a brand repositioning, there are a plethora of positives that can be gleaned – as all of our case studies can attest. Of course, the old mantra of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ still applies. ‘Caesars’ is still such valuable real estate in business terms that it was a no-brainer for Eldorado Resorts to keep the name after the companies’ $17.3bn merger. MGM, Sands and Wynn, equally, remain revered names after decades. But, even then, each of the above organisations will have made changes to their brands over time – and more than once.

If it is followed through with action at core levels of the business, transformation can provide strength. As Light & Wonder’s Gaming CEO Lane warns, anything less meaningful risks becoming an “empty vessel,” a message backed up by Sculpher’s notion of “Emperor’s new clothes.” One’s brand must attract new business and inspire loyalty from existing customers all at once. But, especially in today’s industry, a brand can change. And, if it changes with the times, being backed up by genuine organisational transformation, a rebrand can turn eyes away from the past and toward the future. It will never be a quick fix and, like anything in business, can never truly guarantee success. But as an organic long-term strategy outside of M&A, there are few options that can match the power of the rebrand. 

An answer I’ve heard repeatedly during my years at Gambling Insider is that there is only one constant in our industry: change.