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Why Do Some Casino Brands Succeed Where Others Fail

Marketing Results - Why Do Some Casino Brands Succeed Where Others Fail

Since 1988, Marketing Results Inc. (MRI) has developed and maintained a consistent formula for the successful promotion of casino brands throughout North America.

There are four cornerstones of branding that will determine the success or failure of a brand. These cornerstones apply to the gaming and hospitality industries (along with most products and services).

For a casino brand to consistently outperform the competition, our gaming research and findings have indicated that it must include:

1. Relevancy
The brand must become relevant through innovation. Does the brand have a demonstrable significance within the casino industry?

Many casinos understand that the concept of winning is relevant to gamblers -- in the meantime, benefits are a nice incentive. Tangible rewards like free play, comps and discounts may lead to the intangibles: that winning feeling; social engagement; a sense of belonging…and fun! Hopefully, brand association will ensue.

On the flipside of the poker chip, irrelevant messages may confuse gamblers. Recently, an example of this type of confusion occurred in Atlantic City: gaming messaging was eclipsed by entertainment and resort messaging. Service offerings did not match what players sought out. This confusion -- and decreasing bottom-line for AC casinos -- led to a reinvigorated focus on rewards, discounts and free play instant gratification. It’s easy to get started down this marketing path -- and as most operators will tell you -- it’s very difficult to retreat, when financial realities emerge.

Some brands will consistently remain above the fray; they succeed on platforms that consider customer needs by transcending pricing and discount models: 

Most gamblers will seek the following:

  • Friendly staff
  • Comfortable environment
  • Great food options
  • Better chances to win

Identifying the best relative chance of winning is a lifelong study for committed gamblers. These are relevant topics for gamblers with an emphasis on winning.

The “better chance to win” is a highly sought after benefit that many casinos will tend to overlook in their communication strategies. Instead, they opt to promote free play, promotions and entertainment schedules. It is more difficult to differentiate promotions and entertainment because most operations offer similar concoctions. The investment in promotions and entertainment competes for budgets that are focused on better odds on games and looser slots. But arguably, the best gaming offers are more relevant to gamblers.

2. Uniqueness
A successful brand must be established as distinct from the competition. Once established, further innovations and competitive barriers should be considered to maintain marketplace positioning.

Looking as far back as the late ‘70s, a casino located outside of Las Vegas was somewhat of a unique proposition. As we’ve approached casino saturation in 2013, the gaming industry has become prominent in many other destinations. Uniqueness has become an increasingly difficult hurdle to overcome in the casino industry…in and beyond Nevada’s borders.

These days, inundation with daily messaging from numerous sources has become the norm. Advertising on TV, the Internet, smartphones, billboards (and more) are all part of the equation. The landscape is ready and willing to market toward the gaming lifestyle, nationwide. The search for something (anything!) that can set a brand apart, has become a daunting, but mandatory task.

Casino marketers who plan to succeed in the digital/real world, must be in a constant mode of self-evaluation. As new markets expand, the job of the marketer in the established markets will only become increasingly difficult. The ability to adapt is intrinsic to success.

3. Honesty
Living up to the standard of a well-positioned/established brand can be a difficult endeavor for any organization. Discrepancies between truthfulness and branding must be avoided to ensure long-term success.

For decades, casinos had advertised gaming in print and outdoor media, it was not permitted to broadcast “winning” or “gambling” messaging on television or radio.  This all changed in New Jersey in June of 1999.  Advertising messages immediately began to focus on winning, with claims that were supported by statistics.  Ongoing arguments erupted between gaming brands over which casinos had the most winners.

Consider the following definition:
English law describes “Puffery” as: a legal term that refers to promotional statements and claims that express subjective rather than objective views, which no "reasonable person" would take literally.

From this time on, casinos focused on the winning experience with blackjack hitting, dice rolling and slot reels aligning surrounded by passionate, attractive people winning money.

Promoting gaming advantages like 100X odds at Craps, early surrender at Blackjack, 3 for 2 - 21 payoffs matter to table players. Slot selection, payouts, and volatility matter to slot players.

These messages, however, compete with the instantaneous free play reward messages that are prominent today.  Free play is a generic commodity that replaces cash. It is the easy message, but as very competitive markets illustrate, it becomes the arms race among competitors that will hamper profitability even in peak seasons. Differentiators that build player loyalty are overlooked too often.

Marketing Results - Royal Flush

4. Trustworthiness
The goal of a casino brand is to develop a bond between customers/clients and the casino that is based on trust. Trust will lead to loyalty…and loyalty will lead to success.

Casino brands that earn trust will flourish because the experience is repeatable. So why do brands like Apple® and Harley Davidson® earn irrational trust, while so few casinos achieve the same success?

Many casinos haven’t invested the time and research to truly understand what players will consider to be a repeatable experience. There is more than one answer, because there is more than one segment of players.

Trust is earned with no-strings-attached promotions. It’s a cinch that if the fine print with qualifiers and catches requires explaining, then players aren’t going to receive what they expected. Casinos that thrive on big promotions create huge wait times. Gamblers tell us through research that they hate lines and would rather be playing. 

One of the fastest ways to breach trust with slot players is through malfunctioning machines. Free play created technological challenges that many casinos have had to overcome, yet there are still many casinos that have not corrected this issue. When a card acceptor, bill acceptor, TITO, or free play function does not work, trust is breached.

Another example of a breach of trust involved an East coast casino that repeatedly sent players free lodging offers:  In order to yield manage more effectively, the hotel only accepted top tier player reservations…even though they had mailed to the top-three tiers. Unfortunately, there was no way for a second or third tier player to get a reservation. This went on for years. The casino filed bankruptcy, blaming other regional competitors.  Competition was a factor, but so was their breach in trust.

Extensive gaming research over the past 25 years have led us to the following primary motives for gambling:

a)  Recognition-driven players:  These players seek a place to show off their achievements and expertise, while enjoying the prestige of the best that a casino has to offer. These are players that are loyal to one or two properties. Their play is double the average and they represent approximately 15% of players. 

b) Dedicated escapists: This player segment seeks a place to retreat from the pressures and disappointments of life. They hope to be treated with appreciation and respect that they may not receive elsewhere. These are players that are loyal to a few properties that are likely to focus on service and products within an acceptable bandwidth. Their play is 50% above the average and they are approximately 20% of players.

c) Reward seekers: This player segment chases deals and discounts and they decide where to play primarily based on the determination of immediate gratification. These are promiscuous players who will follow discount and reward offerings. Their play is 50% below the average but they represent the majority of players.

To best serve the players, it is important to know your audience and to prioritize resource expenditures accordingly:

“If a casino brand is built for the customer segment that is not loyal, the casino will (endlessly) become caught in the quagmire of giveaways and promotions to meet financial goals. However, if casinos can capture a loyalty segment by catering to their service needs, players will repeat the experience without the requisite free play arms race.”

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