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(that you may not realize you’re making)

Erosion is a process where things get worn down. Typically, Mother Nature and all her elements are the cause. Rain or wind wear away at the surface, and a thousand years later (or more), we’re all staring into one of the wonders of the world. In business, however, the erosion of our brand does not turn into a natural wonder. At best, it becomes a cautionary tale. No marketer wants to be associated with that.

Consumers today have more choices than ever before. Indeed, the number of options continues to grow as a result of technological advancements in online shopping and delivery services. And if there is one positive thing about the stay-at-home orders of the Spring is that we, as consumers, learned there was so much more for us to spend our time and dollars on that we had never considered before. Now, the big question for marketers is, “Will we gain back the business after consumers have experienced something new, and perhaps better?”

For the last few months, we’ve all be discussing how our brands can survive the current crisis. The truth is that the pandemic and the renewed focus on racial injustice are not the only things that have been eroding our brands, but merely what we may be blaming. Perhaps the blame is reflected in the mirror.

As a marketer, I can see how, unknowingly, we easily fall into bad habits or make decisions we otherwise would not, were it not for the daily heated battle for the customer wallet. Does this sound familiar? “We want to show that we’re cooler/hipper/better/newer than the competition, BUT we don’t want to turn off our core slot guest who is used to things the way they are.” It is perhaps the greatest of marketing balancing acts.

I sat down with Think-Traffic Chief Creative Officer and Head of Brand Strategies Jan Talamo to discuss how and why we may be inadvertently eroding the brands we are entrusted with stewarding and developing. Jan and I have created and debated many things over the years. So, it was not a surprise when we both identified the very same thing as the number one mistake. But for purposes of this column, I’m going to countdown the top five mistakes.

Mistake #5: Inconsistency Applying Brand Graphics

While I tend always to want to stress the experience as the image of your brand, the tactical, visible pieces are just as important. Marketing collateral, promotional items, advertisements, and even the checks we use to pay team members and vendors are all a reflection of the brand. Consistency builds a solid foundation, but if you did a review of the above, you’d probably find many inconsistencies — often the result of production limitations and wanna-be creative gurus.

As you develop or refresh your graphic identity, you must have a full understanding of the utilizations and how adaptations can enhance rather than erode the brand image. The quickly evolving media landscape requires us to consider the graphic application of our brands in a variety of mediums. Perform a full audit of logo usage around your property and online, then make a plan to make corrections. An updated media library is worth the time to create one to ensure consistency.

Our solution is a comprehensive Brand Style Guide – an essential tool for establishing and maintaining a framework for your logo. Brand style guides (BSGs) will support your initiatives by ensuring that actions are relevant to the brand’s goals and vision. When adequately leveraged across the business, your BSG will not only influence your consumer messages but will guide your operations and enhance team member engagement.

Mistake #4: Short-term Thinking

Thinking of now is one of the easiest traps marketers can fall into. We see a viral video and wonder how we can replicate that. We see retail marketers drop prices to boost sales. We react to a competitor offers by dropping a quick supplemental with a better offer. They give away a truck; we give away a Ferrari. Someone needs to get something printed today. So, we send a logo and pray they follow guidelines, and the output is not only correct but also a great reflection of the brand.

Short term thinking can feel great. Gratification is quick, and the gains are fast. I would argue that developing a long-term mindset is more beneficial because it can create a foundation for growth. Talamo adds that he has seen instances were marketers “have lost sight of the market and have lost sight of the numbers. So, they entitle and over-invest in the low end of the database, filling the casino floor with bodies rather than the most valuable guests. The result can often kill the brand experience.” Consider how you want the brand to be perceived and experienced and fight for that.

Fight the urge to jump on the latest trend if it will not build long-term value and enhance the brand experience.

Our solution is to always keep the strategy in mind. Marketers are often looked to for short-term results. It’s no wonder we fall into this trap. Balance the short term execution with long term thinking by setting time aside to consider the brand and how it is thriving (or not) in the market. Let data drive your growth programs. Build value rather than competing on price or relying on a me-too approach. Strategic thinking should never be just an annual process. Make time to focus on the future regularly.

Mistake #3: Treating Social Media as an Also

I participated in one of the first discussions of social media in casino marketing. At the time, many national brands were making a splash, but some casino marketers looked to the digital channels as something for “the young.” Sometimes, the marketers knew this was the direction to go, but the company leadership saw it as a bad fit and not worthy of attention.

Now we know these channels are populated with the young at heart — our sweet spot. As media channels like Facebook evolved, some marketers figured, “Why not? It’s free.” But, it’s never been free. At a minimum, it required an employee to post in a somewhat inconsistent manner. Today, changing algorithms and engagement with your audience requires a scientist/experience/brand hybrid.

Additionally, newer social media outlets are prime with the next generation of casino gamers. So it is crucial that you understand where your current and target guests are and that you present a flow of information that inspires them to visit because they want to be a part of what you are sharing.

Our solution is to tie your social media to your ongoing growth strategy. For quite some time, marketers have looked at vanity metrics to determine success, but because these metrics are not tied to the business metrics, it can make social media seem less critical. Understanding the metrics for business success will aid you in uncovering the social media data that connects to it. However, failure can be inevitable if marketers and the rest of the executive suite are not in agreement with how they measure success.

Mistake #2: Relinquishing the Brand Reins

Of course, the experiences we provide must also be consistent with the brand vision. Two elements sneak up on us because they have traditionally been decided by others: service and pricing.

Actions are perhaps more critical to the brand image than the size and color of your logo. Think about that. The systems and processes we put in place can bring the truth of our brands into the spotlight. In the current market, where guests can praise or annihilate us with a post shared with their personal network of friends and family, the tools we put into place must create the experience that lifts our brand to top choice in the target’s mind.

Pricing is typically considered a retail issue. Do you sell your dishwashing liquid for $1 or $2? But pricing is very much a factor in how casinos strengthen their brands. It comes in the form of slot hold. I realize this is a hornet’s nest of a debate. One side is convinced that guests are not able to tell when the hold increases. The other side is confident that guests are indeed price-sensitive and can sense those adjustments to the floor. The point here is that as marketers, we must err on the side of the brand and the guests’ expectations of the brand.

Lastly, though perhaps the rein that slips through the easiest is the way team members interpret the brand experience. I have seen way too many instances where the brand is distilled down to a tagline and logo when team members are welcomed and subsequently trained. We must partner with human resources to trace the team member’s journey and identify ways to breathe the brand into the process. Team members will be well informed and will create uniquely branded experiences to set you apart from your competitors.

Our solution is the same as mentioned is mistake #5. A comprehensive brand style guide that is aligned with the business strategy will serve as a guide for everyone in the organization and will (or at least should) influence every action and decision.

Mistake #1: Rose-Colored Glasses

It is human nature to want to work with a cool, vital brand rather than an aged one. Recently, I was talking to a fellow brand marketer about the demise of an old brand that we grew up with. I’m not too fond of it when new leadership casts aside old brands rather than embracing them. But this doesn’t just happen with older brands and new directions.

In many ways, we do this when we’re not honest with our brand (or ourselves) and when we, as Talamo says, rely on “me-search rather than research.” Because Talamo continues, “There is a huge difference between how we see our brands and how customers see them. Marketers – and quite frankly, agencies – can lose sight of the market when they do not do enough quantitative research and qualitative blue-ribbon panels with high valued customers.”

Our solution is simple. Continuing a two-way communication with your most valued guests will ensure you do not lose sight of the truth of your brand.

As marketers, we must always remember that we have the honor and the responsibility for stewardship of our brands to create long-term shareholder value. We must be honest with ourselves and understand the market, the competition, and how we can leverage the strengths of the brand to complement the needs and desires of our most valuable customers. When we are faced with an obstacle that challenges the brand value, it is our responsibility to say no.

A shortened version of this column appeared in Casino Journal.

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