There is no denying that we are currently witnessing a shift in our customer base and the ways we can effectively communicate with them, along with an evolution of our casino marketing strategies that have taken us from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat. However, moving to the driver’s seat is not hard to do. We just need to keep up with the times.
Talk to an “old school” casino boss (or better yet, a host) for any time, and he will quickly paint a story of the casino customer for you — when men frequented casinos, and the ladies were relegated to the slots for entertainment.
However, if you look at some historical accounts dating back to the beginning of casinos, you’ll find both men and women trying their luck at the games offered by the establishment. True, most of these patrons were more of the well-healed ilk, but it strikes me as relevant that women were not being “relegated” anywhere!
As the industry made its way to the US (or what would become such), casino customers were a combination of those with a great deal of discretionary income and (unfortunately) those looking to change their lives. They were drawn like moths to glitz or the hope of changing their luck.
As the industry expanded into the regional markets, there was almost a democratization of gambling, where games and odds were offered for a broader demographic with discretionary funds. The common trait seemed to be less about money and more about age and available time. Thus, the Baby Boomer became (and remained for many decades) the backbone of our databases.
Enter the 21st century, and casino marketers around the US were asking how we could court a younger demographic to start building relationships with them and filling the proverbial funnel. Many solutions were offered. None took hold enough to indicate a shift in our business.
And now PP (post-pandemic), we look at our casino floors and see an increasing variety in the prototypical casino customer.
Changes Surround Us
Technology has also played a significant role in expanding our customer base, not only in the technology that enhances the guest visit but communications channels and the expectation that we reduce friction for the customer. Amazon, Uber, Postmates, and more have reset the playing field for customer expectations.
Once restricted to Nevada and Atlantic City, the industry spread across the country and reinvented itself. We’ve seen the shift to all gaming to less reliance on gaming in the historic markets, yet regional continues to be gaming-focused.
Buyer’s Market of Seller’s?
In many ways, the industry has long since been a buyers market where customers determine their visit patterns based on their calendar and the value they have put on your mail. It’s no surprise to find customers visiting and redeeming offers from five or six (maybe more casinos) within one trip, particularly in walkable markets like Black Hawk, Colorado.
The challenge marketers face today is less about the specific offers each person receives and more about how we can communicate with our new and potential customers and also how we can create the experiences our new fans want. Our strategies must change to meet these challenges.
Evolution of Marketing
According to Brafton’s Michael O’Neill, two central factors drive marketing evolution: marketing technology and customer needs. I believe we are firmly at the intersection of both. Let’s take a couple of steps back to understand how we got here truly.
There is a general acceptance of four phases of marketing (so far).
- Production Age is typically regarded as the 1800s to around the 1920s. Ads consisted of long text, focused almost exclusively on product features.
- The 1930s saw a shift to the Sales Age, where companies began to use imagery to make the products memorable. The notion of branding began to emerge as companies saw increased competition.
- Until the 1980s, marketing equaled sales, but the 1980s brought a shift to what we now consider “marketing.” Ads began to rely on iconography, and understanding the customer – and their motivations – became the foundation of our efforts. With the shattering of the old guard, Apple might have brought this shift into focus the fastest.
- Today, companies have come to realize that relationships matter and that consumers will no longer accept (or respond to) the one-sided conversations brands have traditionally shouted from the television screen and glossy magazines. Engagement, retention, and loyalty programs are prioritized, and social has become a primary channel.
Where the Customer Wants Us to Be
Consumers are demanding new things today that they previously did not.
Luckily, changes in marketing tools and technology have made it easier for us to meet the customer where they want us to be. When the marketing field began, illustrated print advertising was practically the only channel of communication available to us. Today, digital marketing allows us to leverage a wide range of technologies to communicate and learn more about our target audiences and then adjust almost in real-time.
New(ish) tools have become as valuable to casino marketers as direct mail
Digital Communications is a mode of transmitting information to a device. Messages are encoded as a series of 0s and 1s and can be sent directly to the human attached to the device. The primary tools we use as casino marketers are email, social media, and SMS, but content marketing and communities are quickly becoming valuable to us as casino marketers.
Email – It was not too long ago when operators looked to email to replace the multiple mailers we send out each month. That has yet to happen. One reason might be because of our core customer. One thing for sure is that today, email can provide extra enhancement TO snail mail.
Social Media – Talkwaker’s latest report on social media trends for 2022 identifies five trends that will be critical to casino marketers.
- TikTok will become the go-to channel for entertainment and infotainment. All other social channels will need to adapt to keep up. For marketers, this means we need to understand what makes the platform “tick” for our customers and how we can create content. (Shameless plug alert: social content is going to become so important that we’ve allocated two sessions to the topic on the Casino Marketing Boot Camp)
- Influencer marketing will finally come of age. An increasing number of brands – and indeed casino operators – are taking influencers seriously. Casino influencers are increasing their followings and engaging with them more than ever. How will you make the most of this opportunity?
SMS – As legalized online gambling expands, our operations attract digital natives faster than ever before. These new casino customers live from their phones. Heck, even Boomers rely on their phones more than ever before. Did you know 66% of American adults have nomophobia, the fear of not having their phone (Yahoo Finance)?
SMS messaging allows marketers to stimulate additional visits through real-time offers and can help us fill empty rooms or seats. The numbers tell a story of opportunity.
- 91% of consumers are interested in signing up for texts (2021 SMS Marketing Consumer Trends Report)
- Consumers want to receive texts from brands more often than you think: 58% want to hear from brands multiple times per week. (2021 SMS Marketing Consumer Trends Report)
- 90% of all text messages are read within 3 minutes of being received. (2019 Mobile Usage Report)
Talkwalker’s report also notes that omnichannel will change social media engagement for consumers. More than a turn of a phrase, channel surfing is diffusing our message more than ever before. Consumers are no longer loyal to one channel.
Content Marketing – The audience for online content exploded during the pandemic both from the audience and brand sides. The always-on customer is now our customer, and likewise, our traditional customers are now always-on. Moreover, they all expect to find content to their tastes easily and readily online.
Communities will continue to evolve, but not just in social media. Many brands are building their own in-house social networks. At one point, Pinnacle (now known as Penn National Gaming) created such a community for their VIPs alongside the MyChoice players club. Casino operators can be part of their most valuable communities with in-app forums and features rather than renting space from social media platforms.
The rise and ubiquity of internet usage have expanded the ways marketers can reach consumers. The shiny new tools have consequently dulled the appeal of traditional advertising outlets such as print and broadcast. However, these “old-school” advertising methods can still serve a purpose and generate the results we’re looking for if appropriately used.
Moreover, when combined with their new sibling OTT – or over-the-top television – the results are not only measurable but meaningful. Now consumers can watch the content they want when they want in a full-screen environment rather than on their phone, tablet, or laptop. And with improved smart televisions, it is as easy as your remote control is close to you.
Rather than sitting through a 6 to 8-minute break of commercials (or worse, leaving the room), viewers get a 90 second to a two-minute ad break. They cannot skip it, but they know exactly how long it’s going to last. The experience is shorter, more palatable, and more engaging.
The nature of technology and our current time will continually evolve how we approach the customer with our messages and how they will be received. We have yet to scratch the surface of artificial intelligence, deep learning, and machine learning for just-in-time communications and potentially personalize down to the customer level.