2021 was an exciting and turbulent year for businesses and the gaming industry was no exception. With multiple closures of casinos, inhumane layoffs, and then the Great Resignation, the agility of casino management has been sorely tested. Online gaming revenues, particularly in markets such as the United States, have increased manifold in the last twelve months causing land-based casino executives, once severely opposed to online gambling, to make huge bets in the online realm. Tectonic changes are in the offing, and we’re merely seeing a glimpse of what is to come. All in all, to quote the legendary Yogi Berra, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
What do CMOs and other marketing executives working for casinos need to do to effectively manage the new environment? I see five musts that each executive will have to embrace and practice.
ROI Accountability: John Wanamaker (1838-1922), widely considered a pioneer in marketing and the father of modern advertising, is reported to have said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” This truism aptly fits not only to advertising campaigns that the casino companies engage in, but to ALL marketing activities–from the salary and bonuses paid to the marketing staff to the ubiquitous car draws and door prizes. Sure, some casino marketers do try to measure the performance of various promotional campaigns, but I have yet to meet a casino executive who has been able to quantify the net marketing contribution to the company.
With continuing uncertainty regarding the availability of resources, marketing budgets are going to come under increasing scrutiny. This is already taking place in other industries where marketers are asked to provide the return on marketing investment (ROMI) allocated to a product or service. The metric of effectiveness has shifted from mere revenues to marketing productivity. Overall, the marketing discipline is losing respect in the C-suite, largely because of the inability of the marketing department to quantify return on the investments it makes. Executives who can tie their performance to solid financial measures will be the ones who are looked up to.
Data Hygiene and Application: Many respectable sources have predicted exponential data growth toward 2022and beyond. Experts in big data are all in broad agreement that the size of the digital universe will double every two years at least, a 50-fold growth from 2010 to 2020. Many casino executives feel powerless in trying to make sense of the data deluge. Most concede that we are getting data rich but information poor with every passing day.
Few executives within the industry have the training or experience to harness the opportunities presented by unprecedented data munificence. Yet, advances such as big data, AI, machine learning, and in-memory computing provide depths of consumer insights that marketers could only fantasize about just a few years ago. With loyalty programs and player’s cards, the casino industry has the most up-to-date access to voluminous amounts of real-time data. Yet, few casino marketing professionals have created the culture to take advantage of not just the sheer volume of data but the increasingly sophisticated analytical techniques with which to make sense of the data.
Marketers will be increasingly required to upgrade their skills when it comes to conceptually understanding the Marketing-IT interface as well as being able to use high-level statistical techniques for solid customer insights. Because of the “garbage in, garbage out” phenomenon routinely witnessed in businesses around the world, it is the casino marketer’s responsibility to ensure that the data used for marketing analyses are not flawed or corrupt.
Social Media: Most major casinos have a Facebook page, and many provide opportunities for customers to engage with them via Twitter. However, most companies in the gaming space are mismanaging their social media communication. They practice aggressive selling when they should be listening. Many use social channels the way they used mass communication–for broadcasting as opposed to dialog and few have in place relevant metrics for assessing their effectiveness with regard to the new social media.
The risks associated with inept running of social channels are high. With social media, anyone can become a publisher, a broadcaster, and a critic. A disgruntled customer can get on to Facebook and Linkedln and seriously tarnish not just the casino brand but the reputation of the casino marketing executive. Remember someone posting porn on the Facebook page of one Singapore casino? Casino CMOs need to develop a better understanding of the risks and opportunities offered by digital marketing, especially the social media.
According to HubSpot’s 2022 Social Media Trends, Tik Tok will take over social media, leaving other platforms to adapt. The report also says that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a world of online content consumers who have greater expectations and more sophisticated tastes in content. Casino executives need better understanding and appreciation of such trends so that they are able to adapt to the “always on, snackability-demanding audience.” While direct mail has always been the medium of choice for casino marketers, they need to examine changing media habits among their customers and allocate a higher proportion of advertising dollars to social media than was previously assigned.
Brand Loyalty: Let’s face it-the casino industry is one of the most commoditized industries in the world. The gaming products we sell are pretty much the same and the prices we charge across the industry are uniform. Under this scenario, little can be done by way of product differentiation. Sure, you can always refurbish your restaurants and renovate the property, but the actual gaming products sold will always remain standardized. Consequently, it is hard to have a cadre of loyal players unless you have a regional monopoly, in which case the loyalty metrics display spurious loyalty.
Gaming equipment manufacturer Synergy Blue published results of the survey of casino gamblers it carried out in April 2020. The results suggest that casinos may have lost about half of their existing customers for good as a result of the pandemic. Furthermore, only 35% of those planning to return to casinos said they will go back to their usual casinos, while almost 3 out of 10 who aspire to return said their choice of casinos would be determined by rewards, discounts and specials. Clearly, customer loyalty is one of the major casualties of the COVID virus.
Consequently, maintaining player loyalty will be an uphill struggle. Loyalty can of course be bought in the short-term with generous comps and extravagant promotions, but these retention tools are expensive for the operator and easy for the competition to copy. True customer loyalty, attitudinal and behavioral, is mostly the outcome of how your frontline employees treat the players. A customer-centric culture backed by employees who are rewarded based on metrics that ensure the best possible customer experience are the only proven antidotes to customer churn.
Loyalty initiatives need to be based on a strong research foundation. A global study commissioned by Collinson and undertaken by Forrester Consulting, Taking the Measure of Loyalty, reveals most global organizations do not utilize loyalty programs effectively. The research also reveals more than two thirds (67 per cent) of brands are only conducting loyalty-specific market research occasionally to build a greater understanding of who their best customers are. Furthermore, 63 per cent of brands don’t have a deep understanding of why their customers are loyal.
Marketing-HR Integration: In any service industry, employees become the public face of the company. The casino industry is no different. The customer experience, so vital to attracting and retaining customers, is largely determined by the interactions between frontline employees and the customers. Employees need to be well-trained and engaged if they are to exert discretionary effort toward satisfying customers. Employees themselves need to be provided a great experience at the workplace in order for them to create a compelling guest experience. This is the essence of the Service Profit Chain.
CMOs cannot solely depend on HR to provide appropriate training to employees and to create an engaging employee experience. Marketers need closer cooperation with HR so that employees are adequately trained to serve customers. Marketing, in collaboration with HR, needs to create jobs that employees would want. Using marketing techniques to “sell” jobs and job products to current and prospective employees is known as “internal marketing.” CMOs need to exercise their skills in internal marketing as well as external marketing if they want a cadre of loyal and satisfied customers.
The average tenure of CMOs in all businesses is the lowest it has ever been in the last ten years. Today, less than one in three CEOs trusts their CMO. It appears that many CMOs are either out of touch with the needs of the marketplace or they lack the necessary skills wo adequately perform the tasks required of them. This article has touched upon five key areas that the Marketing Department in general, and CMOs in particular need to address for them to become more effective at their jobs.