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Consider the many casino marketing tools we utilize. Influencer marketing is likely not at the top of your list, but here’s why it should be.

Picture a social media influencer. More than likely, the image you conjure is a celebrity touting the benefits of a new cosmetic or diet solution, maybe activewear. Influencers have become a direct (and useful) way for brands to connect with their targets and convert them to customers. While social media has undoubtedly changed the way we consume information, the notion of “influencer marketing” is not really all that new. Ever since Wheaties started putting athletes on its cereal boxes, advertisers have been leveraging a relationship with influencers. The delivery of endorsements has evolved.

In the early 2000s, we saw the evolution of the blogger influencer. Isle of Capri partnered with bloggers to spotlight the operations located in some pretty remote areas, both as a way to engage with the core customer and to launch a new branded buffet. In 2017, Pala Casino Resort and Spa recognized the need to engage with a new market effectively. Destinations like Aqua Caliente utilize influencers to enhance their positioning in a variety of targeted areas. Also, regional casinos from the bayous of Louisiana to the far reaches of Washington have found incredible success, especially now when they need to show the property setup as guests decide to return to their favorite casinos.

As social media has shifted our media consumption, brands have sought celebrities – and now, influencers – to build audiences in a way traditional media (and their personalities) have been unable. As a marketing channel, influencer marketing continues to grow. Partnerships, execution, and measurement have become more sophisticated.

#ad and #spon tags are increasingly visible on social platforms. There is no denying influencers are taking social platforms by storm with everything from simple endorsements to unboxing videos to tutorials.  Brands will spend up to an estimated $15 billion by 2022 on influencer marketing.

Influencers such as Brian Christopher and Slotty Sisters are taking the slot experience from anonymity to spotlight, and they’re drawing the attention of casino customers across a spectrum of age ranges.

Influencer marketing has become integral in reaching the younger generations as more influencers are eclipsing Hollywood celebrities, but what does this mean to our marketing efforts and the need to continue outreach to our core Baby Boomer guests?

Boomers on the Gram

A new type of influencer is winning likes and hearts, and they’re 50+ years old. Baby Boomers are increasingly using social media to keep up with news, trends, and events. Along with getting their daily dose of culture, they are also starting to claim the social media spotlight. But while advertisers largely ignore this segment while Millennial influencers dominate the platforms, older influencers are steadily opening new pockets of opportunity. Because Boomer social media users are much more likely to search for a product after viewing it on social media, this mostly untapped influencer segment could be a gold mine.

Additionally, the rise of the casino influencer in a slightly younger demographic has caught the attention of Gen Xers, often bringing their (younger but legally able to gamble) fans to the casino when filming.

Can Influencer Marketing be Effective for Casinos?

As we’ve mentioned before, word of mouth continues to be a strong influence on shopping behavior and brand trust. Influencer marketing taps into word-of-mouth marketing and social proof. Today’s buyers look for recommendations of friends, family, and people they admire rather than trusting the word of companies themselves.

“Influencer work isn’t about identifying someone who’s popular or famous or maybe has the same audience,” shares Hubspot Partnership Manager Carolyn Kim. It’s about building real and mutually-beneficial relationships between companies and individuals.

Influencer Matchmaker’s Amelia Neate states, “When brands use a credible influencer as a brand ambassador, it can aid consumer sales, spread positivity about the brand as well as raise brand awareness. Paving the way for potential future relationships between them and the brand, influencers act as the face of a brand, helping them to grow and develop across social media. Brand ambassadors also humanize a brand, making them appear personable and friendly as opposed to being a faceless company. They also help to protect a brand’s reputation, defending them against any negative press and sharing only positive and real experiences.”

The Changing Face of Influence

We can all agree that the earliest influencer marketing efforts might have been more focused on name-dropping and celebrities, but customers can see right through that. The most effective influencer partnerships result when partners share a set of brand values, each adding value rather than taking away. It’s no longer about a shout-out on social media. It’s a strategic approach with goals and measurable KPIs.

How Influencer Marketing Will Lead Advertising

Toby Daniels is CEO of Crowdcentric and the founder of Social Media Week. According to him, “Digital media has birthed the era of the direct-to-consumer celebrity…In a broad sense, influencers should be looked to as powerful intermediaries between brands and consumers. More than a marketing tactic, they (influencers) are increasingly the bridge between marketers and culture.”

For many years, casino marketers relied on the big three for reaching target audiences: broadcast (television and radio), print (newspapers and magazines), and out of home. Today, we are consuming information in far different ways. In the last few years, we’ve seen a definite shift to digital. The next step is connecting on a personal, trusted level.

Influencer marketing is now a mainstream marketing channel.

How to Do Influencer Marketing

If it isn’t on social, it didn’t happen. The first step is to verify that the once forbidden use of photography on your floor is no longer so.

Consider your brand personas to identify effective influencer partners. Look for existing advocates who have a passion for casino experiences. Look for someone who has values that line up with your brand’s. Target influencers that will build your relevance IN YOUR SPECIFIC area. This is your targeting opportunity and will permit you to (virtually) buy media based on topic, rather than demographics. Likewise, if you are targeting a new segment, an influencer partner may open the door for you when appropriately selected.

As usual, a well-written creative brief is a must and should include the following.

  • An overview of the campaign – what is the idea? What are you trying to promote? Why did you want a particular influencer involved?
  • What and how will you measure and track KPIs. Understanding and agreeing on your goals and objectives is the key to understanding your ROI. According to Nielsen’s research, influencer marketing can have a significant impact on a range of brand metrics. Initial findings show uplifts across three core metrics: awareness, favorability and brand consideration (12%, 15%, and 17% average uplifts, respectively, driven by the influencer campaigns). The metrics are also higher than those of traditional digital display and video campaigns, but as with most media buys, KPIs have nothing to do with drop or coin-in. And, while influencer campaigns can and will deliver great earned media value, it is vital to understand the drivers of visitation. How many clicks does it get to bring a person in the door? How many people have to come in the door on a day to reach your target revenue? These are the kind of answers you should know before you invest in influencer marketing (or anything digital for that fact).
  • The creative direction in the form of a style guide will give the influencer an understanding of your brand’s aesthetic and sets parameters for their work.
  • Mandatories and legal requirements.

Content should be relevant to you and the audience. One of the biggest challenges in influencer marketing is giving up total control of the end product. It can feel like a risk to do so, but forcing your creative direction on an influencer can defeat the purpose. Brands need to trust influencers to bring the vision to life in a way that is the perfect expression of the influencer. For a successful partnership, there must be a level of trust. Remember, you selected them because you liked how they were doing things. Don’t try to change them now.

Next, prepare your team to direct guests who come in search of the specific experience shared by your partner influencer. That means sharing the content internally.

Growing Your Influencer Marketing

Look at growing platforms. There are casino influencers such as Lady Di Slots and the aforementioned – Slot Sisters and Brian Christopher – regularly sharing their casino visits on YouTube. Influencers such as actor turned slot aficionado, Christopher can be considered the early movers in the casino influencer space. The YouTube star professes to have been the first to use slot play as a post and now posts daily videos on his channel playing slot machines. Through his mix of wins and losses, he has been teaching viewers how to play slots and garnered 273,000 subscribers as of this writing. But influencers see other channels such as Instagram stories as a future channel for their efforts. And TikTok, while seemingly not reaching our target audience, could very well be the prime channel sooner rather than later. Not too long ago, so we all thought the same about Facebook. The next influence we might be looking at could be TikTok user slotmachinewins.

Social media takeovers can create excitement and high engagement. Having an influencer take over your social media platforms can increase your followers when they announce on their channels that they will be taking over your social media for a brief period. Additionally, this tactic can and will boost your brand awareness.

Lastly, and probably the simplest, is supplying your influencers with promotional offers. It’s a cost-effective way to measure your return on investment as well as build your audience.

Vet Before You Commit

Issues are surrounding this emerging landscape. Influencers have a definite impact on your brand. While you can control what they may post in terms of YOUR content, you can’t always control what they post around it. Logan Paul continues to be a case study of influencers self-destructing. Having partnered with Fortune 500 brands, Paul came under fire for publishing insensitive content. He is still climbing is way out of a hole.

Followers do not equal influence. Let’s face it. I doubt any of us is about to shell out six (maybe seven) figures for a Kardashian to post once on our behalf. The notion of mega-influencers is quickly becoming an outdated concept which defines who is indeed an influencer. If you broaden your view and look at influencers with a smaller number of followers, you can increase your most effective reach. Dan Seavers of Talkwaker suggests, “You don’t need bigger budgets, just better budgets.” A celebrity influencer can cost you five figures easily per post.

So, what’s a small market marketer to do? Look to micro- and nano-influencers. To say there is a generally accepted definition of influencers is a reach, but for our purposes, we look at five categories.

  • Mega-influencers – 1M+ followers
  • Macro-influencers – 500K – 1M followers
  • Mid-Tier influencers; 50K-500K followers
  • Micro-influencer – 10K-50K followers
  • Nano-influencers – 1K-10K followers.

These smaller tier influencers are obliviously good at social media. They have created a niche audience that understands the topics they post about and who love the content, generating up to five times the engagement rate of mega-celebrity influencers. The loyal following and high engagement is the reason many brands are opting to work with micro- and nano-influencer

You have to ask yourself, “Do I want to partner with someone with one million followers and low engagement or 1000 followers with extraordinarily high engagement?”  What if each of those followers represented a $400 theo but was spending the large part of their wallet somewhere else? The key is to understand who is engaging with the influencer and if they are the ones you want to reach.

Like all good marketing programs that are based on an overall strategy, strong execution can be extremely effective. The influencer marketing industry continues to grow, with many brands adding the channel to their marketing plans. Early 2020 reports indicated that 65% of businesses had planned increases to budgets due to the addition (or shift) to influencer marketing. The industry is set to be worth up to $10 billion this year, further suggesting influencer marketing is here to stay and should be a part of your casino marketing plan.

A shortened version of this column appeared in the March 2020 issue of Casino Journal.

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