“We remind clients who ‘may be on the fence’ that at its core, casino gaming is a social experience and that digital marketing plays very nicely and effectively to that component, and is inherently linked to a casino customer’s desire to participate and be active in a social setting.”
So at a minimum, every casino should have a digital strategy in place, even if it comprises only basic e-mail and interactive communication, such as Facebook and Tweets.
“Let your customers tell you how they want to be communicated with, and go with it from there,” Witterschein adds.
Jim Kabrajee, co-owner of Marshall Fenn, a cagency with offices in Toronto and Las Vegas, has more than 30 years of marketing experience. He says in years past, casinos may have expected to draw their clients from a two-hour driving radius, but today that no longer holds true.
“There is likely a competitive facility within this catchment area and the smart operator knows the importance of differentiating their property and making it more desirable,” he says. “Creating a worthwhile and strong brand identity is paramount if you are going succeed in this kind of environment.”
A Successful Example in Windsor
Such was the case when the Casino Windsor became the Caesars Windsor just three years ago.
Less than a decade ago, Casino Windsor had dominated the area all the way down as far as Ann Arbor, MI, and Cleveland, OH, largely due to the Canadian dollar, which was at a substantial discount to the U.S. dollar.
Thing were going great, Kabrajee says, until the September 11 attack occurred, followed by the subsequent tight border crossings.
“The second whammy was that the Canadian dollar started to tighten up, and then Ontario went non-smoking across the board.”
In that short period of time between 2001 and 2006, the fortunes of Casino Windsor inverted and it became quite difficult for the property to maintain its position in the marketplace.
“A new shake up or branding was absolutely required,” recalls Kabrajee. “It was the decision at the time of the Ontario Lottery Corporation, who are the owners of the casino, and Caesars Entertainment, the management company, to rebrand it Caesars in order to hopefully set it above the rest of the market on the other side of the river in Detroit [which contained three primary casinos vying for a share of the market.]”
Rebranding the property as Caesars helped immensely with name recognition, but Kabrajee says his team focused on two primary areas to attract clientele―its Total Rewards program and its ability to attract high-end entertainment to its new 5,000-seat showroom.
“The majority of our advertising was directed at Caesars Total Rewards players and the idea that this program is far more robust and generous than any of the other properties were able to offer,” he explains.
And having entertainment would attract a wider-age demographic and, thus, a wider value of player.
“We can put low-cost shows in there and attract a particular type of demographic, and we can put in the Elton Johns and attract a different group,” he explains. “Using entertainment as the brand differentiator [from its Detroit competitors] helped Caesars Windsor.”
“The point more appropriately is what would have happened had we not done this? I don’t think it would have been a very pretty picture. What it did was assure Caesars Windsor of a place in the market where it can hold its own. Had we not rebranded, I am not so confident what the outcome would have been.”
More Choices and Competition
It’s nothing short of amazing how drastically the gaming industry has changed, even in just the past decade. While gaming facilities used to be destinations, today’s cornucopia of choices have created a much more sophisticated marketplace. Casinos not only compete with each other, but with other entertainment options like movies or ballgames.
And while branding has become quite a trend to attract the customer, it goes much further than a name or logo.
“It means creating the right hiring practices, the right customer service model, the right facility environments, and the right type of products and entertainment,” says Bellerive. “And, above all, it means delivering a consistent experience to guests. The brand is your reputation. If you’re going to say it, then you have to do it.”
With endless options for consumers, many casino operators believe their clientele also crave endless choices, so they try to be everything to everyone. In actuality, consumers want simple, clear brands that stand for something.
Wittershein says one major area that cannot be overlooked is that today’s consumer expects to have a say in what is going on.
“We call this the ‘voice of the customer’ and this is a critical component of any successful marketing strategy for a casino enterprise and operation in the 21st century,” he says. “Consumers today have choices, they are educated about those choices, and I believe they deserve the respect to be factored into the equation.”
He tells his casino clients not to hesitate in asking for customer feedback through multiple channels such as Internet surveys, interaction on the property, or the traditional “fill out the survey” approach. This assures that management is keenly aware of what their clientele likes and dislikes.
“Do you know what motivates them and the things about your operation that really matter to them?” asks Witterschein. “You’d be surprised how certain items that management may overlook can have a big impact on customer visitation and opinion.”
Bellerive concurs: “There’s a saying in Saskatchewan. Fish where the fish are. And that’s what we do with casino patrons. We look closely at the customers, and ask who can we get in more often, and where can we find others like them?”
Though the senior crowd has always formed the core gaming market, Kabrajee says that one doesn’t need to be a demographer to realize that the traditional 50-plus demographic is shrinking as baby boomers flow through the lifecycle.
“Sure there are new people reaching that age segment, but not in the same numbers, so we will be fighting for a shrinking number of patrons as time progresses.”
It is for this very reason that casinos need to prepare for that younger demographic, something that isn’t happening as much as it should be.
“I’m shocked at the short-term thinking of, ‘I’m not prepared to spend money today for business that I can’t quantify,’” says Kabrajee. “While I understand that and I get it, on the other hand, I think they’re in denial. You’re going to have a vacuum and you’re not going to be able to fill it completely.”
While people will age, they also may not be attracted to your property if they view it as the place their parents went. This is why starting to connect the brand today to a younger demographic is so vital.
“It may be that they don’t show up very often, but if you don’t start making the connection, they’re not going to be there for you when they turn 50,” adds Kabrajee. “It’s investment spending at this stage.”
Reaching Generation Y
Reaching the youngest demographic―those in their 20s―can be the most difficult task of all due to their diverse interests.
“Obviously the whole social media explosion plays to this age group very well,” says Witterschein. “These are consumers who want and expect an infusion of energy and excitement. They also don’t mind change, so you can mix it up.”
Casinos need to have a social media platform in place, websites must be fresh with updated content, and e-mail blasts must be relevant.
“This is not like an outdoor billboard campaign that can be pasted up on the side of the road and forgotten for nine or 12 months,” Witterschein says. “The roots of brand loyalty do not run as deep as with older age groups. You might not get a chance for a second impression. First impressions count a lot so get it right the first time.”
Additionally, those in the 23- to 34-year-old age bracket are likely to be the wealthiest age group in history after inheriting substantially from their baby boomer parents.
This group is already used to spending more than previous generations on leisure activities such as dining out, traveling and entertainment.
Adds Kabrajee, “The trick is that we need to get them to accept casino gaming as a desirable activity and make it part of their entertainment portfolio.”
By Lisa Kopochinski, freelance writer and editor