One of my favorite things to talk about is strategy, specifically casino marketing strategy. A strategy differs from a plan in that a plan is a collection of “whats” and to dos. A strategy is the “why” and the signals along the path that tell us we’re on the road to success. A solid strategy simplifies the actual marketing, making it easier to implement the right plan. Many marketing initiatives will fall short when they are executed in a strategic vacuum. I realize marketing strategy is not as dazzling to work on as your next ad or the design of your website, but skipping this step is a big mistake. As Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman, “Huge.”
Times have changed. Between the economic downturn of the early 2000s, the growing reliance on data and analytics, and the shift in generational interests, it’s more important than ever to have a solid marketing strategy. Whether you are a multinational operator or a single location situated along the river, a clear strategy will be a roadmap that helps you set measurable goals that will get your business to the promised land of success and growth. More importantly, a clear, articulated marketing strategy can provide several benefits if it’s realistic and easy to understand and implement. In addition, it can eliminate ad-hoc decision-making at the speed of change in lieu of decision-making as appropriate for your road map.
WHO ARE YOU
The process of developing a marketing strategy forces you to understand and acknowledge who you are in the marketplace and what position you can occupy to differentiate yourself. For many years, there were operators who considered themselves to be in a monopolistic position. Sure, they may have been the only ones possessing a gaming license for miles, but were they truly the ONLY entertainment option? Is this your opinion or those of your customers and target audience?
Are you a leader or a challenger? By and large brands will tend to tell the same story. Understanding who you are in the competitive set can open the doors to more creative ways of approaching your marketing. Who doesn’t love a feisty brand willing to cut through the clutter and stand in their own light? And in an age when “hack” and “disruption” have become the business buzzwords (or some might say nervous marketing tics), breaking the mold and offering a new way to look at your brand is almost demanded from consumers. Strategy focuses you on understanding who you truly are as a brand.
PRODUCT AND PRICING DIRECTION
A marketing strategy can guide your capital allocations because strategy work begins with market research – identifying your key targets, their likes, dislikes, motivators and turnoffs, as well as trends that are starting to impact your business. The resulting information can then be used to determine changes and improvements that can differentiate you in the in the consumer’s mind.
Pricing is also guided by your marketing research. Do your customers want an ultimate luxury and a luxurious price or are they looking for a fun, friendly value? How many of us have tried to market steakhouses that are closed more days than open while customers depart when hunger strikes because they want an affordable three-meal concept? Are you operating at a full spread of your table games while high end customers find their desired table limits at another casino?
RESOURCE EFFICIENCY AND PROFITABILITY
Looking for a way to bring more to the bottom line? Stop wasting your time and money on efforts that will not get you to the promised land. Having a strong strategic foundation allows you to better focus your budget and staffing by showing you where to invest. You can focus on only the marketing programs that will support the overall business objectives. Historically, we have been tempted to buy the business through reinvestment. Some erroneously believed that offers made customers loyal to our brands. But the emerging generation can’t be bought so easily. They have a new set of values and how they give their loyalty is completely different than the customers we have marketed to for years.
A well-considered strategy drives your communications, both internally and externally. It will provide your agency partners with clear direction so that you can eliminate the need for revision after revision. So, instead of jumping to the fun stuff first – those exciting marketing tactics – we take a moment to understand who we want to talk to, what motivates them and how we want to consistently communicate our value to them. Consistency in your external communications will paint the picture you want customers to envision when they think about you and when they are deciding where to spend their entertainment dollars. “Tactics without strategy will always leave you reacting to the news instead of creating your own,” warns Brandon Cox, chief storyteller and founder of the Ever After Agency. “In the marketing communications realm, understanding how events impact to your strategy could be the difference between being looked at as a solid business that communicates appropriately across the spectrum of paid, earned, shared and owned media or one that seems to constantly fumble,” he adds.
Lest you believe the marketing and communications strategies are for external use only, you must understand that your employees are your most valuable communications tools. This same strategy must be considered when thinking about back of the house tools, resources and communications. Ultimately, the application of your strategy in both front and back of house will allow your employees to understand the brand and better deliver on a consistent experience, making everyone’s day all the better.
When I started my career in marketing, there were four basic ways of communicating to customers. Today, there seems to be an overwhelming number of channels we can use, but not all of them are the right fit for our brands or for our target customers. Armed with a strong strategy, research and data, we can now pick and choose the strongest channels. M Partners Chief Creative Officer Jan Talamo adds, “The generational shift with the emerging market means we need to explore new channels of engagement to reach our target audiences. That takes a skilled agency partner and a solid strategic understanding of those audiences.” One cannot succeed without the other.
“That’s why today’s casino marketers need think omni-channel – not dilutive, but laser focused, channel by channel – pushing the buttons of the proper channels at the right times to grow awareness, impressions, engagement and visitation,” continues Talamo. “Are we in the entertainment business? Then let’s start entertaining. The channels are there. We can use them to build a meaningful audience who loves what we have to say and is inspired – not just informed – to come and play.”
At the end of the day, the goal is to have target customers choose you over your competitors. A marketing plan based on a clear strategy built with the appropriate foundational elements will be how your customers will attach themselves to you.
You can subscribe to the status quo and continue developing marketing tactics, but today’s savvy CEOs and CMOs are demanding more. They are feeling the fiduciary pressure. As marketers, we are expected to grow the business in ways the status quo cannot. Your casino marketing strategy needs to take the long view. It will pay dividends, today and tomorrow.
This originally appeared in Casino Journal.