I have been a marketing consultant to casinos for over two decades. Before undertaking any consulting assignment that involves marketing, I try to make sure that the interventions I am trying to enact are consistent with the casino operator’s existing positioning. I make it a point to ask casino marketing directors and general managers, “What is your property’s positioning statement?” Very seldom do I get a crisp response, the reason being that not many casino operators have clear-cut positioning. Yet, positioning is as critical to your marketing program as your company’s mission statement to its survival and future direction.
What Is Positioning?
Your casino’s brand position represents the key feature, benefit, or image that it stands for in the collective psyche of your target market. It is the central idea that encapsulates your brand’s meaning and distinctiveness vis-à-vis competitive offerings. It is your positioning that forms the basis of developing all successful marketing communications. It tells you who to target, what to say, and what media and message vehicles to use in delivering your message. In their highly successful book, Counter-Intuitive Marketing, Clancy and Krieg (2000) argue that from both a strategic as well as a tactical perspective, the positioning statement should be a short one, even a word. It should forcefully convey the message you want to imprint in the minds of customers and prospects. Your positioning statement should gives the customer a reason to patronize your brand; it should underscore how your brand is different from, and superior to, the competition.
In his classic article written twenty years ago, “The Positioning Statement: Why to Have One Before You Start Communicating,” Ford Kanzler writes that a well-crafted positioning statement should answer seven essential questions:
- Who you are?
- What business you’re in?
- Who you serve?
- What does the target market that you serve need?
- Against whom do you compete?
- What’s different about your business?
- What unique benefit does the customer derive from your product or service?
Answers to these questions should emerge from inputs from all managers who are interested and involved in key company activities—the CFO, CEO, and VPs of marketing, sales, and customer service. If you are an integrated resort, then both the non-gaming side as well as the casino side of the business needs to be involved in this exercise. And do not forget your prospective customers when it comes to providing inputs, but more about it later. The desired result should be a crisp positioning statement and supporting messages that reflect the current reality of your business and help in moving the company towards its “sought after, achievable, differentiated position.”
Individual and collective introspection on the seven issues Kanzler talks about yields valuable insights into what specific type of positioning will deliver maximum value to you and to your target market. Typically, you can position your property along the following dimensions: price/quality, product-mix attributes, product user, product usage, product class, competition, and symbol or icon. Regardless of the dimension chosen, the positioning should, ideally, result in a strong, clear, and consistent image in the minds of your target audience in comparison with your competitors. Such positioning will allow for product differentiation through a brand image, which in turn, will translate into brand loyalty. Brand loyalty means a greater share of customer wallet and higher customer lifetime value. Positioning starts out with a promise to your customer, which then becomes a reality in her mind through fulfillment of the promise on your part. The reality is then periodically reinforced in the minds of your target market by your marketing communication efforts.
Price/Quality: Many buyers equate high price with high quality. In the casino parlance, this may equate with prices the casino charges for its hotel rooms, or the table minimum for bets. Caesar’s Palace and Wynn probably have established this position among Las Vegas casinos.
Product-Mix/Attributes: “Good food specials and buffet,” and “good entertainment in the bars,” are examples of positioning along attributes of the casino entertainment provider. Circus-Circus and the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas could be positioned along these lines.
Product User: the typical user of a product can also be used to position a brand. The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino seems positioned for “the guest seeking a unique, hip and exciting experience.”
Product Usage: A product may be positioned by the way in which it is typically used. The Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia brags about its “world class shopping and dining,” and its “luxurious and indulgent accommodation.” This message conveys that Crown is not just a casino — it also provides the amenities that are usually available at a top-notch luxury resort.
Product Class: It is sometimes possible to position a brand against another product or product class. The Stratosphere in Las Vegas used the following copy in promoting its wedding chapel, “Imagine taking your vows of eternal love high amongst the clouds in a chapel so unique, your family and friends will talk about it for years. Situated 800 feet above the Las Vegas Strip in the Stratosphere Tower, your chapel is higher than any other in the entire country.” In so doing, the product is positioned against chapels and banquet halls, not casinos.
Competition: Comparing, either directly or indirectly, a brand to its competition is another form of product positioning. It is widely known that the return to player varies widely across Las Vegas casinos. Capitalizing on this fact, the El Cortez Hotel and Casino promises “40% looser slots,” to its customers.
Symbol or Icon: Companies sometimes use symbols or icons to position themselves in the minds of consumers. Over time, this symbol can become synonymous with the company or brand. Paris – Las Vegas uses the Eiffel Tower as its icon in all its marketing communication, while Galaxy in Macau uses its golden domes. With the passage of time, most consumers will have a clear image of these properties by merely seeing the symbol.
In choosing which dimension or dimensions will be used for positioning, the casino should first identify the differences that might be established in relation to competition. However, merely identifying the differences is not enough. The company should then isolate the most powerful differentiators from the perspective of the target market. These differences then need to be forcefully communicated to prospective customers. In other words, the image the company strives to create in the minds of the target market needs to be constantly fortified with the use of symbols, through written and audio-visual media, and through the physical atmosphere of the property.
During the current uncertain times, customer loyalty is fast waning. A recent survey of American gamblers by Synergy Blue suggests that only around 18% of pre-pandemic customers will return to their original casino once all casinos open. With all casino jurisdictions facing extreme uncertainty, now is not the time to cut down on player reinvestment and marketing communications.
Casino operators should use the current turbulent environment to reassess the marketing strategies and redouble their marketing efforts to reclaim their customer franchise. One surefire way to regain your customers is through creative positioning.