Author Lewis Carroll once said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Knowing your brand now, understanding what it will look like in the next 60 months, and identifying what your brand needs to do to meet that change is critical.
So let the branding conversation begin...
How confident are you that your casino brand is differentiated in the market?
RS: On an individual brand basis, we stand out very well in the market. Under the corporate branding, we're in the process of trying to make it a more visible brand within the market, and we have a strategy for doing that. Part of it is incorporating the corporate brand into our casinos so that they have visibility, and so people will have the opportunity to understand that the various casinos do belong to an overarching corporate identity.
JC: I think we have a really, really strong brand position a big part of which is owed to the fact that we've committed to it consistently since 1996. Through different leadership eras and different marketing heads, the one thing that has not changed is our brand personality. We see research results that show a tremendous connection between our desired brand personality and what our market perceives it to be. For us, brand and brand personality has really been a constant, and it helps in the market for the consumer to really get comfortable and know what to expect.
DZ: We're quite confident simply because we are the only casino properties in Winnipeg. The closest competing casino we have is 45 minutes away, which is a First Nations casino called South Beach Casino & Resort. Further to that, our casinos [McPhillips Station Casino and Club Regent Casino] are highly themed, and that really creates a unique and memorable experience for our guests. The McPhillips property is themed as an early 1900s railway station with the grand hotel attached. Then, Club Regent is themed as a tropical destination with palm trees throughout and a walk-through salt water aquarium.
HB: We don't really have a brand like Coca-Cola would; we have different properties that have a target market and are key to the area in which they inhabit. For instance, in regards to River Rock, if you were to mention a casino in British Columbia, you're going to mention River Rock. That property was extremely well branded and positioned through the “wow” factors that we created.
When you talk about the corporation as a whole, originally River Rock was going to be called Great Canadian Place, but the British Columbia Lottery Corporation wanted each facility to be branded on its own merits. So this question is an interesting one because, really, Great Canadian Gaming on its own is not branded unless you are a shareholder or someone who knows us as a public company. Each site is based on its own merits, and there's always work to do when it comes to branding.
What do you perceive as your brand personality?
RS: The various Gateway properties all have somewhat of a different identity, and that is the challenge with the overarching brand; how to get it so they have somewhat of a symbiosis. What we're doing with the overarching Gateway brand is to making it something that's “your place”; something that's customer centric, offers a vibrant gaming product with quality food and entertainment, and is central to the communities in which they are located.
JC: I think our brand personality is that of the casino that delivers fun and excitement, but in a relaxed, comfortable, and casual way. It's not a formal or upscale experience, but something very relaxed, very comfortable, and one that delivers on fun and excitement. I think we further achieve that messaging through the broader entertainment product.
DZ: Our brand personality is a really fun and entertaining experience. As I mentioned earlier, we're highly themed, which makes them unique, memorable, and fun for customers.
HB: Our philosophy is if you come for one thing, hopefully we'll “wow” you on four other things. So if you come to the Boulevard Casino to see a show, perhaps you'll also be wowed by the fact we had a microbrewery sponsoring something, or enter the casino and be wowed by the clean and friendly atmosphere, or head into the lounge and dance the night away to a live band you weren't expecting. We're constantly trying to think of how we can make that experience into even greater and more exciting opportunities, and I think that's the key across Canada. We are in the entertainment business. Yes, it is gambling, and yes a vast amount of money is generated for the provinces and charities from our guests, but the most important thing is they are spending their money with us as a form of entertainment.
So that “wow” factor is one of two things that bode well for us. I think another is our commitment to customer and guest service. We've done a great job in ensuring that people who work with us get the 110% commitment whether it's external or internal. In terms of the public persona, we believe that a guest may come to a casino and they may not win, but if they had value for their money spent, that value is the key – and it comes in place with customer service.
What have you done in the past, and what are you doing now, to make your brand stick?
RS: We're just getting ready to launch our first major gaming initiative in that respect. We have a promotion called “Swipe It Rich”, which is an enterprise-wide promotion, meaning no matter which one of our casinos you go to, it will be the same promotion throughout. All of the advertisements, collateral, and media begins with Gateway and joins them all together. Our message is along the lines of, “Gateway Casinos invites you to Swipe It Rich. Take part in any one of our greater Vancouver regionally district casinos: Cascades, Grand Villa, or Starlight.” That's the way it reads, and that's the way it's being brought across so the public will know that all those properties belong to same entity.
We're also working with our agency Marshall Fenn on ways to integrate the Gateway brand into each one of the properties. An example of how we might do that is by adding a central beverage bar to every one of our facilities. Even though the properties would all have different names, inside they could have things like “The Gateway Bar”, "The Gateway Grill", or "The Gateway Lounge". We're working through that right now to try and determine the best way to integrate the brand without really damaging the individual casino brands.
JC: We've had the good fortune of having the large scale entertainment centre dating back to 2001. We've been able to put a lot of big name acts through the venue, which the public at large associates with the casino and helps to deliver on the brand messaging. The other thing we've had a reputation for since 1996 is really having the best customer service in the entire industry. At the end of the day, the brand personality is essentially a promise to the consumer, and our service levels really allow Casino Rama to deliver on that promise.
In terms of gauging our customers' response, we regularly go into the market and do brand research. The last couple years, we've also been able to capitalize on some of the OLG's brand research. They've been sharing information with us in terms of brand identity, brand recall, and other important characteristics. They put together some really good research, and we've been fortunate that they share this with us as well.
DZ: What we're really doing now more than anything for our brand is continually making sure our customers are engaged with our products. We're refreshing our gaming mix very frequently, because we want to be one of the first – if not the first – with new products in the market. We continue to refresh our amenity environments like our restaurants, entertainment, and player’s club program just to reinforce that level of engagement with us.
What we've also done recently is introduce an online rewards catalogue for our players club, where they can now go online and spend their points on goods and services, retail electronics, and things of that nature. Previously, you could only spend your points internally with our goods and services, but we branched out because they wanted more things to spend their points on.
We also do a lot of promotions throughout the year at different times. Our birthday promotions are probably the cornerstone of what we do. Those are essentially a yearly celebration of when we opened the casinos. They come up every June, and they are by far our biggest events every year.
HB: River Rock is a good example. We shot films on the property when it first opened. We had wrap parties for different stars and even had the Grey Cup make an appearance because the players liked River Rock. It just started a story and a cache that continued when we opened up the hotel. The theatres have also helped position us as the entertainment powerhouse, as well as the amazing food and beverage options. It's a number of things.
Another example is what we planned for Hastings Racecourse during the Triple Crown. We went crazy in terms of turning Hastings into the biggest party the facility has ever seen with bands, live music, DJs, cigar bars, and everything. We know that the key to horse racing is bringing in that younger demographic, so one of the things we've been working on is understanding what younger people want. They want instant satisfaction and instant gratification, but they also want the cool hipness – the well dressed guys and gals. We're thinking outside the box because the older folks are really a dying breed that built thoroughbred and harness racing in this country.
We're also looking at our new Boulevard Casino, and opening up a new hotel there in Coquitlam. It gives us a great opportunity to rebrand because the public knows the Red Robinson Show Theatre because he's the Dick Clark of Canada, but the name Boulevard does not resonate when people think of going to the casino. So we're certainly looking at things there as well.
Do you think that your brand will look the same five years from now as it does today?
RS: It's hard to project the landscape of casino gaming because it's actually changing so much since there's so many jurisdictions opening up. We see ourselves as being a solid Canadian gaming corporation. There are things that we need to operate inside of our jurisdiction, but we want Gateway to be known as a place where customers get a consistent gaming experience, and for it to be a quality gaming experience. We're here for the long run.
JC: It undergoes a gradual, subtle, and almost invisible evolution as time goes on, but for the most part I think we've got a really strong position. The one thing that we know is going to happen in Ontario with the new OLG modernization model is we're going to see more competition in the future, so staying consistent and loyal to the messaging and our reputation with the public is going to become even more critical as we move into a more competitive era.
DZ: I definitely see it evolving. I don't think our brand today will be what it is in five years. Like any other casino property, we're making an effort to have our product appeal to a younger demo. They're looking for different offerings than what the previous generation was, so we are looking at adjusting our brand through the environments and product mix to try to appeal to those younger demos.
I think one of things we are looking at longer term is, as we look to evolve our brand, we'll start to move away more from the highly themed aspect. I don't think that's going to be the motivator for the new generation coming up, so we're really looking at more contemporary design as we move forward. I think it's been said before, but this isn't your mother's casino and it's not going to be. I think we have to evolve.
HB: Our brand and our properties are living, breathing entities. You cannot stay stagnant, and you cannot follow the old adage, “Build it and they will come”. You must wow your guests on a number of different levels, both perceived and un-perceived.
By Jim Kabrajee and Matthew Bradford (MediaEdge)
Jim Kabrajee is the CEO of Marshall Fenn Creative Communications, a full-service marketing agency with offices in Toronto and Las Vegas. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or (416)-962-3366.