It’s hard to believe there was a time when drag queens were a part of a counter-culture. Today, they are as much a part of lives as a run to Starbucks. From national superstars like RuPaul, New Orleans’ own Bianca del Rio (which some might say IS a national celebrity) to my very own favorite Kitty D’Litter.
I tossed around the idea of writing about marketers should think like drag queens. Some thought I was losing my mind; some thought it was a genius. I am neither losing my mind or a genius. I am however absolutely inspired by the essence of drag as well as a follower of Jackie Huba (or Lady Trinity, her alter ego). She reminds her followers that businesses and drag queens have a few key things in common. Both want to build a loyal customer base that supports them long after the makeup (or the last sale or promotion) has faded. Both also share the ability to “work-it”.
Have a clear vision that is memorable
As I mentioned, my favorite drag queen is Kitty D’Litter. Where she came up with that name, I will never know, but it’s creative, unique and memorable. I’ve never heard of a drag queen named Sue. The point of creating a brand (as well as a drag queen persona) is to create a personality that is fully fleshed out even down to your brand’s fashion sense and beauty…or graphic look and feel. Do you have a clear vision for your brand and how it makes people feel?
Create and tell your brand story
Drag queens tell a story with every brush of makeup and flash of a costume. The evolution of content marketing has created an entire industry dedicated to helping companies deliver the right content to the right audience at the right time through the right channel. A large amount of focus is dedicated to how we tell our brand stories through third parties, However, meaningful brand connections come from a deep, human level, not an app. Those connections must start from deep within the organization – beneath the proverbial iceberg. As you develop your brand story, pay attention to your financial, emotional and human capital and how they impact the surface of the brand in terms of guest experience. These are areas that are often found outside of the marketing department – further proof that a brand must permeate the entire organization.
Details make the bigger picture
Look closely at any painting and you’ll see finite details in a single brush stroke. Alone, a brush stroke is just a brush stroke. Together with other brushstrokes, you may get a masterpiece. Without that single brush stroke, the painting could be completely different. People are often fascinated by drag queens because of their seemingly seamless transition. It’s an illusion, but that illusion comes to life with a serious attention to detail. Is your brand creating seamless transitions between department, between the parking lot and the door, the casino floor and the buffet…between your brick and mortar experience and your online experience? Is your brand voice being heard by customers contacting your call center or is it simply the voice of the operator on duty? All of these details add up to your brand.
Bring your brand to life
Behind the scenes of RuPaul’s Drag Race, you see what goes on behind the scenes and beneath the makeup and costumes. What kind of impression is your brand making when it hits the stage? Is it just a logo or is your brand coming to life at every touchpoint? There is an old trick we play in advertising where we put our hand over the logo and ask, “Could this be any other competitor’s ad?” In many ways, you have to do the same at your business and ask yourself, “Is this my brand, or could it be any other place?” This is not a bricks and mortar question. It is about the environment and experience you are creating in your customer’s mind…and heart.
Give them access
There is no debating that human beings love special access. It’s why the VIP level is an important part of any loyalty program. Super fans, like VIPs love access. They want to meet the insiders. They want the scoop. Consider giving fans AND your VIPs first access to new amenities and sneak peeks. They will thank you by doing your marketing for you. I recently received access to an upcoming book by someone I regard very highly. I haven’t stopped talking about how good it was.
Give them something to talk about
One of my favorite things about marketing like a drag queen is the outright boldness of your moves. Some might know I once offered a group of marketers a get out of jail free card. Sadly, they did not choose to be bold. Instead they chose to stay the status quo. Do you know what that got them? The status quo. If you want new results, you must try something new. Iconic drag queen RuPaul has created DragCon – an event that has fans lining up for hours to take photos with the stars of his television show. What becomes clear very quickly is that standing out takes creativity. Create experiences for your customers that are worth Instagramming or posting to Facebook.
Make your brand more valuable than nickels and dimes
Gaming Hall of Famer John Acres has been an icon in the casino industry for many years. In a recent CDC Gaming Reports post he compared a practice of now-defunct Blockbuster to one of the latest industry practices. “You can see late fees on a video are like resort fees and parking fees for hotels,” Acres said. “It’s something you do for revenue that you need but do it in a way that isn’t necessarily pleasing to the customer. As long as you have enough customers to overcome that displeasure, you’re all right. But when you don’t have enough customers and something disruptive comes along, then all of the people that are paying all of those fees they didn’t like will instantly abandon you.” Many of us have stood by “non-marketing” changes were made, but have you considered how every decision that impacts the guest experience IS in fact a marketing decision? Consider how you can create a more entertaining experience that will pay off in the long-term rather than nickel and diming revenue to your topline. You can’t monetize every moment if you want to create true loyalty. While every drag queen with a DragCon booth is there to sell and make money. Some opt to charge for everything, including spontaneous selfies. Some choose to put the fans first: free selfies, but a price on merchandise. Who do you think wins that race?
Modern marketers understand the impact of the “super fan” as drivers of long-term growth. These super fans are a very small portion of our databases, but they are the first in line at our launches. They are the first to post praise…and the first to criticize.
As marketers, we often find ourselves focused on the “best customers” – that 20% that brings us 80% of our revenue. The P&L loves these customers, but modern marketers understand the impact of the “super fan” as drivers of long-term growth. These super fans are a very small portion of our databases, but they are the first in line at our launches. They are the first to post praise…and the first to criticize. EngageSciences has been analyzing huge volumes of data across multiple social networks and has found a small 4.7% of a brand’s social media fan base can generate 100% of social referrals. Like a drag queen, it’s important to court these fans to form a community that creates a strong foundation for brand growth.
A slightly different version of this column appeared in the May 2018 issue of Casino Journal.