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I can’t believe a whole month has sped by…again! AND we’re halfway through the second one.
 
Is it just me or does time REALLY fly? Before we know it, we’ll be crossing from Q1 into Q2.
 
Last year, like every year before it, seemed to speed by. I mean seriously, what happened to 2018?
 
I’ve written and spoken a lot about the importance of a solid marketing strategy. It makes sense that the next step is the marketing plan that builds ON that strategy. More than likely, you went through both of these steps just a month or so ago.
 
If you’re like some of the marketers I know, you’re already making adjustments, and the year is barely six weeks in. But that is nothing to worry about. Marketing plans should be living, breathing documents that adjust and grow as you test and learn more. It’s ok if you have to make changes.
 
But what about the marketers who don’t have a formal process for building a marketing plan. You’re six weeks in! What are you waiting for?
 
Oh, you don’t know where to start?
 
OK. Let me give you some ideas. 
 

First things first, let’s take a look at your past year. 

You probably have an idea of what worked and what didn’t, but you may not know WHY they worked or not. Take some time to explore the past. Talk to other team members – both those in and out of your department. Look at the results of your programs, your digital analytics, customer comments and the conversations taking place. 
 
Understand where your good business came from, and where the less than valuable came from. 
 
Did your database experience the expected churn rate? How did you do in your efforts to reactivate customers that had fallen off? 
 
My advice to you is to remember this is about numbers, not about ego or who created what program or had what idea. 
 
What about your reinvestment? Did you end up where you hoped you would? Be honest with yourself and the numbers. Don’t let your feelings get in the way. 
 
Reinvestment is a term we use many times a day in the casino industry, but in fact, every business has some level of reinvestment. What do you put out that you hope will return to you in revenue or sales?
 

Time to set some goals…and make them measurable.

If your leadership team has already set the overall goals…a vision or strategy, this is the best place to start. Build your marketing goals so that they can support the overarching business needs. 
 
If you are facing new or improved competition, you want your goals to align with retaining your business. If you are the one investing in new capital projects, you know you want to grow your business to find a return for that investment. It’s up to you to understand what that growth will look like. Is it additional visits? Expansion of the usual customer shopping? New customers?
 
Now let’s talk about one of the parts that can get a little fuzzy for some people because it’s not as easy as it sounds.
 

You need to have a clear and articulate marketing message. 

 
Positioning and branding can be potent tools to compete in a crowded marketplace but only through clarity of vision. Your branding has to support your business objectives. It can’t just be a tagline you fell in love with.
 
Let’s take a step back to dig into this just a bit. 
 
Positioning is the process we go through to determine how to best communicate with customers. It’s how we leverage our unique attributes and interact with target audiences in a way that resonates with them. Effective positioning requires you to undertake a good, honest, competitive analysis and that you ask yourself if your offerings can indeed be seen as different than your competitors. 
 
For example, in the casino industry, that requires a little more than saying we have the loosest slots or the “friendliest” employees.
 
The right positioning can be vital in a highly competitive environment, especially if you’re not the newest or the shiniest on the block. 
 
My advice to you is to get some views from folks, not on your team. Ask family or friends to visit the competition and your business to give you their honest feedback. I’ll tell you that your friends and family will NOT mince words.
 
See how what they say lines up (or not) with the SWOT you probably did in-house. 
 
If you have an agency, they would probably love the chance to participate in this project because it will undoubtedly help them assist you in your efforts.
 
Positioning ultimately is centered around the target audience: our current customers as well as those we’d like to have. 
 
Now that you’ve done a little bit of mystery shopping – and you know there are a lot of great businesses that will do that for you, but sometimes you can get a headstart with a makeshift program – shift your vision just a bit, and look at things from your customer point of view. I used to have a boss who made me visualize the customer walking around when I presented him with a design on a sign. Wouldn’t you know it? The sign we designed wouldn’t have been in their line of sight! Duh! That killed me (and the design), but it taught me a lesson I still live by today: you have to take the time to walk in your customer’s shoes.
You have to take the time to walk in your customer’s shoes.
 
I would venture to say that no marketing plan or effort is ever going to be the best it can be without looking to the voice of the customer. Mike Meczka is president of MMRC and has been talking to retail, hospitality and casino customers for over 35 years. Having logged over 1 million qualitative interviews and more than 2500 focus group sessions, he’ll tell you that “customer understanding is what makes the marketing plan sing. If you think you can effectively market without that, you’re sure to be lost in your efforts.”
 
So, having looked at a bigger picture that includes the voice of the customer and positioning built on a look at ourselves and the competition, you’re now ready to develop the messages that will stick with those you want to engage. 
 
I can promise you that if you follow this path, you will struggle less with your creative because you’ll have a focus as you have never experienced before. I’m not joking when I tell you that I have printed positioning statements and had marketing directors put them up in their offices. Putting that up and any persona work you’ve done with your target – detailing your ideal customer in a way that paints a picture of someone you come to know well –  will be invaluable.
 

Now, let’s build a calendar and a budget. 

I realize some of these steps seem like no-brainers, but they really shouldn’t be overlooked or skipped. And sometimes, we do just that. 
 
First, let’s look at the holidays and events that need to be included because they impact the business. Seriously, do it. I once had someone forget about Thanksgiving, and they ended up slamming everyone with last-minute ads, programs, and mail. It was a little nuts.
 
Next, look at the results of the year you reviewed at the very beginning of this process. You know what worked. You know what didn’t. You know what turned into a jewel and what turned into a nightmare. You’ll probably want to try some new things or improve on others. Maybe some of those nightmares need a little tweak. 
 
Go through each of your activities and ask yourself, “Did this help us achieve our clearly defined goals? Did this surprise us in some good (or bad) way?” The answers to those questions can help you decide to keep the activity with the same budget, alter the budget for the activity, modify the activity and/or the budget, or to do away with the activity altogether.
 
Then, ask for ideas. 
 
Yes, other people have ideas! Sometimes they’re even impressive! Have a little fun and open this process up to everyone. Do you know that guy that cleans the store or your casino? He may not be a part of your marketing team, per se, but he sees everything happening on your floor. He talks to customers ALL the time. They will tell him what they think and what they would like every single day they visit. Sometimes without even being asked! Do they tell the marketing director? Sometimes…maybe.
 
Make this part a fun internal promotion and award the great ideas. Use ALL of your resources to build a great marketing plan. Share information about the competition, your overall goals and how you want to position your business…and why…people want to know “why.” The beauty of this is that you don’t even have use every idea, but if you get one great one, isn’t it worth combing through 20 not so great ideas? Heck, we probably get 20 not so great ideas a day.
 
The BEST part of this is that your employees will become your biggest and best brand ambassadors.
 

So here’s your plan of action.

  1. Start with your marketing strategy 
  2. Take the time to develop a healthy plan for success. 
  3. Keep in mind that your plan will live and breathe so that you can adjust as the market demands, and because you are focused, your adjustments will always line up with your goals.
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