Gambling Insider caught up with 3Radical Commercial Director Rachel Swann, who feels gaming firms are only starting to wake up to classic marketing principles like player lifecycle – and retention in particular.
Can you give us an introduction to 3Radical and how you come into play within gaming?
We are all about engagement, so we come at things from a marketing and audience engagement point of view. About 18 months ago, we launched with Foxy Bingo, which was our first foray into the gaming market. Up until then, we had been about employee engagement, retail and very different markets. For us, it felt very counterintuitive as to why a gaming company would use a third party to create an online game. But it worked really well, so that’s why we developed our whole approach to the gaming market. We followed that up by commissioning a report about the industry, really focusing on the UK gaming market. What’s really struck is the basic principles of marketing and customer lifecycle are starting to be played out in the gaming market.
In many respects, the gaming market is not as developed or sophisticated as it could be and yet you’ve got all this wealth of data. The people who are adhering to that have a golden opportunity to really make it work for both the player and the operator. As opposed to all these companies who just send a message to customers, saying they will personalise it by putting the customer’s name on the email! I think it’s fascinating and the report concluded very similar. Rightly so, this industry is massively regulated. But, actually, it’s entertainment. As long as those in the space get that it’s entertainment, there shouldn’t be a need to be scared of regulation. If you’re doing it properly, you’ll get customers who want to play and will enjoy the experience.
How does gaming compare to other industries you’ve worked with in the past? Are there are particularly successful examples?
Personally, I’ve worked in FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) and financial services. On the employee and customer side, I think they are massively ahead. But I think in all industries, there is still scope to apply the theory better in every single vertical. So I wouldn’t say any industry is doing it better than others, although maybe the financial services are traditionally better at the segmentation piece. With gaming, I think there’s a huge opportunity to take the classic marketing principles of customer lifecycle.
Acquisition is a tried-and-tested approach: bonuses etc. But it feels at the moment like it’s a race to the bottom in terms of the deepest discount. However, some are starting to wake up to the idea they can acquire, attain and build loyalty. It goes beyond acquisition and first-time deposits. If you can move beyond first-time deposits and build a relationship with a customer, you’ve got a longer lifecycle with that player. If brands spend time with players, they’re not necessarily going to leave to play for a rival. It’s a conversation and dialogue, rather than "I’m bingo brand X and casino brand Y."
With so much competition these days, do you think it’s possible for operators to truly stand out?
If you spend time and effort building up a brand, rather than just trying to increase your discount, you differentiate yourself from competitors. Any free money is devaluing that brand. In terms of retention, gaming brands use the same tactics. That can’t make commercial sense, nor can it make sense from a player journey perspective. If the product genuinely is entertainment, then the value isn’t just free money, it’s why a player will spend their time on your site. If you’re starting to personalise content to a customer and not just giving free money, it makes more commercial sense.
People just getting free money without a genuine product will get bored quicker. It needs a more personal conversation. We work with Stride Gaming and Kitty Bingo, which has all these characters. If I were to tell you I preferred one of the characters over the others, you could start talking to me and making more of an emotional connection rather than just transactional. As an online bingo brand or online casino, there should be a meaningful dialogue with a player, making it enjoyable, fun and worthwhile.
Another problem for the industry is the end product is very similar for many brands. With such a similar product across so much of the market, can brands really build loyalty?
Ultimately, it is all pretty similar. But that means you can build loyalty over time. If someone has half an hour to gamble online while watching TV, they’ll choose not only based on the odds but because of a fun and entertaining experience. So you can build loyalty through that differentiation, which becomes ever-more crucial. Otherwise, they wouldn’t exist and there wouldn’t be an industry, because it would just literally be game after game after game. These operators are spending time and effort creating these brands, hence the entry to the market of brands like The X Factor and Love Island. Operators are licensing these brands because they recognise these brands have a point of differentiation that’s going to resonate with a player.
Emotional differentiation is much stronger form an engagement point of view. Why do you go to Tesco and not Asda? Geographical proximity is one of those things but there’s also a brand allegiance. So the gaming brands are now moving into the same space, working out how they can be relevant and personal to those who play with them. It is possible to generate loyalty on an emotional level. Yes, you give discounts and improve odds – but everyone will be doing that. So you also have to leverage your brand assets and brand experience. Look at onboarding: if that KYC process can be made more fun, it underlines this is about entertainment. Brands need to show they know a customer is not just a number and that, actually, they are looking out for their customers from a responsible gaming point of view, being prepared to engage them.
So, taking this theory into account, if you were the marketing director of one of the biggest operators in the UK, what would be your first steps to put it into practice?
Well, the first thing I’d look at is responsible gaming and not treating it as an obligation. Am I looking at short-term acquisitions or medium to long-term player lifecycles? I would look at how to make this fun. Players are not forced to come and spend time with my brand. So how would I look at the overall lifecycle of the player and what are the overall touch points? Where in that lifecycle do my players traditionally fall off – I would look at how I can improve those. That could be gamification or presenting a social feel to it. I wouldn’t look at the one-size-fits-all; I would tailor to personalised behaviour, rather than looking at purely VIP versus standard.
It comes back to the point I was making earlier on: the online gaming market is no different to any other. One of the industries I worked in was lingerie and, essentially, the same principles apply whether you’re in cyber security for a large financial institution or whether you’re selling packaging or online gambling. It’s about that value exchange: you can’t make anyone buy something they don’t want to. The joys of a capitalist culture is it’s got to be mutually beneficial. It’s all about added value – but that added value will be different for every person. When you find that sweet spot, that’s when you have genuine loyalty; if you don’t, you’ll just have player churn.
Do you think the industry is starting to take these principles on board more?
Retention is starting to be talked about a lot more. Initially, it was coming from a fear point: fear of losing players and being penalised by the Gambling Commission. Let’s flip that: the people who are really succeeding and going to succeed going forward are the ones doing it in a considered way and not doing it through fear. Let’s work together, operator, provider, regulator and, most importantly, player. If it’s not working for the player, the operator needs to do something about it and vice versa. Is it about adding another bonus or going away and saying this player isn’t for me?
We’re new in the industry and ICE 2018 was our first real exposure. It’s a complicated and small market. It never ceases to amaze me how closely knit it is. The other thing is you have some mavericks – fewer now than there used to be – who will do things differently. Because of the industry's overall close-knit nature, there can be a lack of genuine differentiation. But, equally, because so many brands are so similar, you could really stand out by doing something totally different. It’s around service and not just product; that will be what really differentiates brands and it’s the same in any vertical.