Engagement is a term we hear more and more. The questions that continuously pop up in marketing meetings remain unchanged throughout the years we have been using digital channels.
How do we engage online?
What is our engagement rate, and how can we increase it?
What does engagement mean truly to the business?
Engagement has often been used as a point of measure. In many cases, we have (and in many cases, still do) used to gauge the success or failure of our online programs.
However, we feel the notion of engagement goes beyond clicks. That is why we dedicated time during our latest Casino Marketing Boot Camp to not only talk about engagement and how to engage but to consider how engagement can become our strategy for long-term growth.
I asked Engaged Nation CEO Jerry Epstein to lead this discussion. I have been a long-time admirer of his, and I was always taken with the notion of gamification. Plus, he is immensely qualified to talk about it because he has been working in the field of engagement for over a dozen years. Full disclosure: I now serve as an advisor to him and the organization.
In a conversation, I heard him utter the term “continuous engagement cycle” and was struck by not only that concept but the idea of using engagement as a strategy.
For clarification, I want to state now that strategy to me is a roadmap, not an initiative. What follows are some ideas, but this has to be more than a collection of actions to benefit an operation.
The Goal Is to Develop Long-Term Relationships
A good (and implemented) customer engagement strategy can improve loyalty, boost revenue and create a competitive edge.
Engagement marketing is more critical than ever. There is no question about it. We are encountering THOUSANDS of brand messages every day. The surveys and research have shown it. I have experienced it myself, and so have you.
In 2007, Yankelovich estimated that number to be 5000. Imagine what that number spiked to while we were all staying home.
“I wish I saw more messages every day,” said no one. Ever!
But with all of those messages hitting us from the television, phone, computer, direct mail, billboards, and more, how many genuinely connect with us?
Some studies indicate we can only connect with about four. So, how do we as marketers break through to be one of those four?
Then, when someone does recall your ad, how do you move them to the point of engagement. “Nothing creates growth, like consumer engagement marketing,” says Epstein. “Advertising, campaigns, promotions, discounting – they get people through the door, but they don’t create the type of emotional connections we need to grow our business.”
Why Do We Need an Engagement Strategy?
Can an engagement strategy equate to growth?
PwC says 92% of customers will give you two (perhaps three) chances. After that, they may never do business with you again. Some customers would PAY for better service. Moreover, according to Gartner’s research, experience beats price and brand to account for 2/3 of customer loyalty.
According to a Forrester study, leaders in customer experience do better than their competitors by almost 80%. Dimension Data reports that of the companies focused on improving the experience, 84% have also increased revenue because of their efforts.
“The interesting thing,” continues Epstein, “is that I was reading a study that said only 10% of customers agree that they’re getting a good brand experience. The problem is that this same survey showed 82% of marketers believe they offer a good one!”
The gap in this perception is vast, and we must close it in a significant way. Engaged customers are less price-sensitive and more prone to be brand ambassadors who will tell others about us. So, how do we design and implement a meaningful engagement program?
What Engagement Used to Be
Even before the advent of the data deluge that faces modern-day marketers, we instinctively knew we had to have a way to measure engagement. For most, this was done through ad buys. We looked at data points like cume, time spent, and the holy grail of reach and frequency. We managed media buys to meet the numbers we assumed with imply consumer engagement. Epstein refers to this time as the period of catch and release. “You target someone with an ad, or you target them with an email, but each time you then release them from being part of your database,” he says.
Today, We Must Catch and Retain
Epstein continues, “We believe that the new metric is really about brand enhancement.” He continues, “We’re talking about target marketing. I don’t think there’s anyone in any industry that is better when it comes to segmentation than casino marketers. In the past, we hoped consumers were paying attention. Hopefully, they saw our ads, but now we’re talking about engaging them in a meaningful, quantifiable way that will result in conversions and the building of brand ambassadors. Today, we think along the lines of catch and retain.”
The notion of brand engagement has to form the foundation of everything we do.
Engagement touches every part of the operation.
Would You Like to Pick Your Thyme?
There are two parts of a moment of engagement: emotion and content.
We go through our days, trading our dollars for some “thing.” That thing is the content.
The spark that makes you connect to that thing is the emotion. With every interaction we have with our guests, we have the opportunity to infuse that moment with emotion. When you do that well (and often), you get the magic of engagement.
We have all heard theories of why someone might choose to dine at a restaurant: good food, reasonable prices, good atmosphere. Cost and atmosphere can outweigh so-so food (never bad). The atmosphere can outweigh the price.
But when a restaurant (or team member) chooses to create an emotion-charged moment, that can turn a customer into a guest, and perhaps and ultimately into an ambassador.
My friends and I tried a new restaurant. It was one of those tapas restaurants which are designed to be engaging and fun. Atmosphere? Check!
After being perusing the cocktail menu, we placed our order. Moments later, the bartender approached our table to ask who had ordered a particular drink. It was me. I just knew they had run out of something, and I would need to order something else.
The drink I requested included some potion made with thyme, which they grew in their garden (steps from our table). He asked if I would like to pick the thyme for my drink. Whaaat???? Of course, I would!
It was what customer experience experts would call a magic moment and the moment I became a raving fan recommending the restaurant over and over again.
One small moment created the bartender (not the owner, chef, or the manager) became repeated revenue.
Easy Ways to Up Your Engagement Quotient
In his discussion with attendees, Epstein spotlight some tools we already work with that can be fine-tuned to increase engagement for us.
Newsletters and emails are typically a channel for us to announce what WE are doing. Epstein challenges us to ask if guests can identify with the message – how we say it and the images we are using to communicate. As consumers increasingly become immune to advertising messages, they are unsubscribing and glancing over emails without ever retaining anything. “Consumers have so many opportunities to have fun online that they’re now conditioned to want to be entertained WHILE being educated. We call it edutainment. It’s a way of educating in an entertaining way,” he noted. As an example, when properties began to launch sportsbooks, there was a land rush to gain market share, but regional casinos (in many cases) did not have connections to those types of bettors. With the help of Gaming Today, Engaged Nation was able to create content relevant to sports bettors, such as hot tips, how to bet, when to bet and how to bet in a legal and safe environment. With little difficulty, the property was able to see a lift.
Making it easy by creating auto-logins for emails that require action or response can also increase engagement.
Websites are a huge opportunity. The truth is that some of us have become complacent with our websites. They might be built on an old design. Still, others may not be mobile-friendly. One operator mentioned that their mobile usage went from the teens in 2019 to over 80% in 2020. Many operators took the time to create a website, but nothing has been updated except perhaps promotions and events.
Review your website from both a user perspective and your analytics. Set conversion goals (beyond sign-ups) to understand what may be working or not. Then, see if you can strengthen your web presence. (I use a great Google Analytics report on my site that I am happy to share. Just email me.)
Position yourself as a resource, and tailor your content to the interests of your guests. Shopify does a great job at this. When side-hustles turn into a real business, new business owners can easily set up an e-commerce engine. However, the brand does not stop there. They have several resources to help rookies. The free tools, podcasts, and posts are part of a strategy to be the go-to for businesses transacting online. When Gaming Today stepped in to help properties engage with sports bettors, it was a pretty easy lift because when the publication took a good look at their web traffic, the vast majority came from searches on how to be a better (fill in the blank) player.
Alphametic’s Matthew Capala will tell you that how to play guides are an easy way to increase traffic and engagement on any casino website. Casino marketers are reading this post right now who have created and printed gaming guides but never thought to use those tools online.
Dollar Shave Club has created a quiz to identify the best products for a new buyer. What if your casino had a gaming personality quiz? You could match a guest up with the machines or games that would give them the best outcome for their expectation (volatile but big wins, slow but steady, etc.) This would be like the 21st-century approach to hot slots.
Social media is the prettiest baby in marketing, but if all you post comes down to another billboard, there is no reason for people to look for your posts or engage with them. However, when you understand what your fans and followers want to engage with them, you can create more than just a collection of thumbs up. If you are not using videos, start today!
Blue ribbon panels, done correctly, can provide valuable insight and create ambassadors. Who doesn’t love it when they are asked for their advice or opinions?
Want tour guests to experience more of the property? Organize a scavenger hunt and award points or currency. Make it enough of a challenge to feel like an experience. It can be as easy as counting the number of chairs at a blackjack table to discover the name of a bartender’s dog.
Unplanned gestures like warm cookies on the casino floor are easy! Doubletree has built an entire brand from these culinary delights.
Observe and Change
Get your mother, sister, brother, or best friend to visit the casino. Ask them to let you know their experience from the moment they pull up until they leave. Often, our marketing hats can cover up flaws in our brand delivery. You need a trusted resource to give you their gut feeling.
Ask yourself if your brand matches reality.
Epstein and I shared experiences when we worked with teams who thought they were one thing, but the experience was very different. In some cases, a prompt to team members would elicit an even different answer. In some cases, some repairs can be made to align everything. In some cases, a rebranding may be in order.
Understand what the opportunity is. What is the challenge? What is the need?
Consumers have more options than ever before, and we need to look at how we break through.
We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. – Jeff Bezos