Thanks to the folks at Tribal Gaming & Hospitality for allowing me an opportunity to share one of the most crucial (things) casino marketers are facing today – reconnecting and maintaining that connection with guests by refocusing your casino brand. I wanted to expand the discussion we started there.
After a seemingly interminable closure of properties, marketers welcomed guests back in the door. The experience was very pared down, often to what appeared to be the bare minimum, but as pundits predicted, guests we knew so well returned, and often we were introduced to some new faces.
But the pandemic shifted our marketing approach. We focused on the rated and restarted the mail programs but (sadly) trimmed advertising often only to contractual obligations.
There was not one marketer in the world who did not face some restructuring and rethinking their marketing in 2020. And while some were somewhat lucky to be marketing “essential” businesses, casino marketers rolled snake eyes that Spring.
But like Spring, we slowly but surely emerged from our cocoons to reopen our businesses. Faced with limited capacity and the need to attract the most valuable guests to our most valued, limited real estate (our casino floors), the choice to cut advertising was too easy. I had no problem agreeing when these decisions quickly impacted our casino marketing agency. Still, I knew this kind of silence and invisibility in the market would not be sustainable for any marketer looking for growth.
As markets started to report revenue and companies proceeded with their earnings calls, there was no question the decisions were the right ones to make for the time. However, cutting all advertising is never a long-term strategy. We know our combined marketing has to strike the right balance between visits we pay for to a degree and those that come without the benefit of an offer.
So as in love as we are with EBITDA, it must be level with a sustainable business model. As we approach (and I cannot believe I am saying this) the two-year mark of COVID impact, more and more options are available for guests to spend money. That puts us back to where we started: striking a balance between the revenue we pay for and that for which we do not.
Added to that need for balance is a real growing difference in the composition of our guest pool. Expansion of our individual offering and the industry has attracted the elusive Millennial (finally) to our doors. Lo and behold, they are enjoying everything we have to offer. Is it post-COVID, or is it a sign of the times that only became more pronounced due to the pandemic?
You have to ask yourself if it is time to refocus or reframe your brand for a post-COVID database (and workforce). Effective branding is the long play, but one that (done properly) will aid in the growth of your operation because it focuses on where you want to go versus where you are.
The Time Is Now
This is the perfect time to rethink your brand, question all assumptions, and refocus your brand for growth. Here are five essential steps to get you started in establishing (or reinforcing) a solid foundation for your brand. They are part of our JCABC Process. We shared them during previous Casino Marketing Boot Camp gatherings. They have now become the basis of our new masterclass, The Art of Building and Maintaining an Iconic Casino Brand.
Step 1: Review your Past Successes and Failures
It can be quite uncomfortable to sit in a room and discuss how the brand has failed. It can also be painful to discuss the successes when they do not match your expectations, but this must be the first step on your path to brand growth and sustainability.
Mature brands can often require reevaluation, this step is the forensic analysis needed to realign and define an evolved reality, and there is no denying our reality has evolved.
Sometimes, brands can lose their way either through age or lack of resources or attention. For them, this step helps them rediscover (or uncover) their true meaning.
This step will serve as a foundation as you move into Step 2, but it can only be valuable if brutally honest.
Step #2: Understand the Business from the Most Important Perspective
We often think of our businesses in the strict category of casinos. We evaluate ourselves and our competition similarly, but you may find a different picture if you consider the market from your guests’ viewpoint. There are three common ways to understand this perspective – focus groups, questionnaires, and social listening tools.
Whatever approach you utilize, you want to understand the following.
- Why do guests need (or want) what you offer?
- Now, list other means outside your property where this may be obtained? Identify and list the trade-offs that a guest makes for each to choose your service.
- Describe attributes that are important to guests in your market.
Step #3: Understand the Current State of Your Brand
Warning: this is not about the consistency of your graphics. This is about the unwritten brand or what we call the bottom of the brand iceberg. I want you to dig into the team member manual, back of house signage, strategic plans, marketing plans and collect what you have currently documented. It is OK if you do not have it as well documented as you think, hope, or should. You will get there.
Brands both shape and are shaped by your company culture. Many companies often see these expressed in formalized service programs. Some companies have these as specific company directives (like Zappos Family Core Values).
Spin Sucks Founder Gini Dietrich shared this exercise with me. Set a 10-minute timer because you want to avoid overthinking the answers. This time limit will is a bit of self-imposed truth serum. Ask yourself questions like
- What does the brand stand for?
- How are the mission and vision reflected in how you do business?
- What about your brand’s values gets you excited about coming to work?
- Which values does YOUR MARKETING TEAM live? And, which does the property as a whole live?
- Which values exist, but no one lives?
- What traits should team members, communications (internal and external, including the investment and regulatory communities), and activities embody?
- Are the values being communicated consistently across all of your audiences in the same way?
Also, in this step, it is crucial to understand what you want your brand to be in the future.
Step #4: Understand What is “In Brand” and Not
Everyone has one or two things they always try to “be” and another couple of things they absolutely will not do. From the time I started J Carcamo & Associates, we always put learning and teaching first. This is why we eventually created Casino Marketing Boot Camp and why I speak at events and contribute to publications and send you a blog post every once in a while.
One way to increase your chances of avoiding landmines is by defining your qualifiers upfront and using them to evaluate your programs, partnerships, vendors, and more. It is much easier to avoid brand values mismatch upfront than to navigate a crisis on the back end.
Set that timer again, and complete the following sentences from a brand perspective, reflecting on your mission and values:
- We always XXX
- We never XXX
- We believe XXX
- We support XXX
Write down a story of your brand qualifiers in action. How did they help guide decision-making in a tough guest situation? How did they help guide decision-making in a team member situation?
The answers to all of these questions are only a snapshot of today. They will aid you in all of your marketing programs and communications. As you proceed through the refocusing process, you may discover that different answers are most appropriate, but that is great news! Brands should live and grow, so these kinds of exercises cannot be one and done.
The notion of branding can often be thought of as a simple process as the development of a logo (which is like a knife to my heart) or as unwieldily as the most convoluted theory, but in many ways it is very black and white. The answers to these values will serve you in many ways. Before jumping into the next project, check it against these values first.
Step #5: Prioritize the Brand Promise
Have you ever walked into a place (perhaps a restaurant or bar) and spotted a co-worker, a client, or perhaps even a mentor or teacher. They were dressed differently, perhaps laughing or being somewhat boisterous. Something felt 100% out of character. It can be the same feeling you have when a friend acts out of character. That is what guests feel when they see our communications and then enter our facilities to find a totally different look, feel, or experience. The dissonance this can create can chip away at the connection guests have with your brand.
The most common request we get is graphically centered. However, the most important thing for your brand is to understand the SINGLE promise you want to make THAT YOU CAN DELIVER CONSISTENTLY.
Once you make that promise, keep it. Let it guide your communications, but more importantly, let it guide your operations. Avoid chasing opportunities (or customers) that do not fit the promise. Internal buy-in across the enterprise is a must. It is also necessary to create and provide appropriate tools and training so everyone can and will prioritize the brand promise.
I can promise you this will aid you today and in the future.
You must establish a system for regular checkups, or you could find yourself starting back at Step 1 sooner than you expect or want. Internal brand champions are essential. They can function as enforcers, internalizing the brand and ensuring all aspects of the business are tailored to fit.
Refocusing your casino brand is a big (and important) project, and there is a multitude of steps. Getting started is perhaps the most important.