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Casino Marketing—Art or Science?

The first Casino Marketing Monitor examines job performance, satisfaction and challenges

Casino Marketing—Art or Science?

When I started my adventures on the vendor side of the casino marketing equation, I often found myself trying to describe a typical day to other business owners trying to get in the door.

The truth is, there’s nothing standard about a day in casino marketing. Our days are influenced by fellow department members, bosses, little old ladies out for a day of value and fun and high-touch VIPs—sometimes all at once. We work crazy hours, and sometimes those hours may find us in a costume.

But I wouldn’t trade my time in this industry for anything in the world.

I decided someone should mirror the “Casino Gaming Executive Satisfaction” study, by Bristol Associates Inc. and Spectrum Gaming Group, but with a specific focus on casino marketers. I kept this on my wish list, and then mentioned it to Mary Loftness of Profitable Customers and Michael Meczka of MMRC, Inc.—both experts in the industry.

Along with our ongoing businesses, all of us are deeply involved in training and educating the casino marketers of today and the future. We pooled our contacts, dug for a few more and sent an extensive survey to a wide swath of casino executives to create a baseline for future studies and deeper cross-tabulation.

The result is the Casino Marketing Monitor, born of a desire to examine the casino marketing environment across all gambling enterprises in the United States. At this point, we can only guess at the impact the Covid-19 pandemic will make on Year 2 responses.

Life as a Casino Marketer

Casino marketing is a team sport. A majority of respondents (58 percent) informed us they have six or more direct reports, with another 34 percent having one to five. Marketing executives balance responsibility for the development of their teams while working closely with the highest decision-makers to grow revenue.

And, like the vast majority of full-time employees in the U.S, they look for ways to find a seemingly elusive work-life balance.

As a casino marketer, I always thrived on the fun we had working together and hitting our goals. Our baseline responses showed I was never alone. A whopping 83 percent of those surveyed pointed to their contribution to the property’s success as the No. 1 driver of job satisfaction, with the fun environment coming in second (60 percent) and salary a distant third.

As referenced previously, the Casino Gaming Executive Satisfaction report has become a benchmark for the U.S. gaming industry. It’s interesting to note that, of the eight choices given to respondents in that study, opportunity and growth were prioritized. Compensation placed second, with culture third. However, while Monitor respondents place salary and growth as lower factors in satisfaction, they still play a significant role in dissatisfaction.

Eighty percent of respondents reported being somewhat to extremely satisfied with their work, despite working many hours. Twenty percent reported working 44 hours or less a week; the extended work week comes as no surprise, as respondents report some level of participation in nearly all aspects of marketing.

Unsurprisingly, when asked to provide the single most significant challenge, respondents said growing revenue, followed at a distant second by developing their teams.

Areas of Responsibility

As of this writing, nearly half of U.S. casinos have reopened. The casino marketers associated with these openings have already started to experience shifts in their reliance on specific tools. What follows is a mix of what was learned from the study and what we’re seeing as the future of the casino marketing toolbox, in order of the currently unfolding priority.

Database Marketing

It’s often said that the battle for the casino customer is fought and won or lost in the mailbox. Nowhere is this key battleground more important than in regional markets, where only a very few continue to benefit from monopolies.

Although optional market share answers were only provided by about half of respondents, we clearly see that 85 percent are competing in the mailbox for that precious local business. Sixty-nine percent of respondents see more than half of the casino’s revenue from locals. Only a small minority have what was once considered a monopoly (8 percent) or duopoly (6 percent). Half of the respondents reported they share the market with two to four competitors within an hour’s drive. Thirty-six percent battle for market share with five or more competitors.

As many databases in the hospitality industry migrate to digital, the casino industry continues to see its most significant returns from dear old snail mail, but growing use of email. The database continues to be the primary channel that we use to create visits, and we’re using it pretty regularly. Sixty-one percent are sending a high-value player more than six messages a month. Forty-four percent of mid-value range players are getting more than six.

Analytics and Key Metrics

This dependence on mail and reinvestment makes it essential that marketers have access to critical metrics and the tools to assist them in making decisions that will drive revenue at an appropriate investment. The casino industry has seen a veritable explosion of third-party tools to assist them in this process.

Respondents are confident in their access to key metrics and the analysis of drivers of the business, utilizing tools ranging from third-party tools to in-house data warehouses and desktop tools. It’s interesting to note that, while the majority of respondents use third-party tools to gain insights into key metrics, properties using in-house and desktop tools (Excel, Access, SQL, Tableau) rate the quality of the information at a consistently higher level.

Player Development

Person-to-person contact with the most valued players has been a long tradition in the industry, and shows no signs of being replaced. Most respondents reported six or more employees with that responsibility. While the median number of players for each host ranges from 151 to 400, the majority are responsible for building personal relationships with up to 800 guests.

Advertising

The majority of respondents (77 percent) were involved in or had a responsibility for advertising of the property. Although respondents expected budgets would remain flat or grow, very few planned cuts for 2020. Now we know that, because of the closures prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic, many of our expectations for both revenue and expenses have been revised. We will have a clearer picture of the impact in the 2020 version of the Monitor report.

Additionally, although 2019 advertising budgets were spread over all media forms, the change in communications channels brought on by the pandemic should likewise be reflected in revised budget allocations. Of interest is that while some industry pundits continue to look to millennials as a prime target audience, often advising a change in message and strategy, a large majority of respondents have not chosen to view their messaging and marketing in terms of audience age.

Creative design and online work continued to migrate in-house, further adding to the workload we see in the number of hours worked per week.

Entertainment, Promotions and Events

As we begin to return to our operations, a few marketing tools have been put on hold for the time being: entertainment, promotions and events.

Entertainment has been a standard casino offering since the days of Elvis and the Rat Pack. As regional markets developed their offerings, the ability to provide headline entertainment became a must. In 2018, respondent properties hosted ticketed shows at a nearly monthly rate, if not more often. Marketers were generally on pace to increase this frequency in 2019 and to carry the pace into 2020. Today, we’re restricted in capacity and encouraged to stay a safe distance—two things that will surely dampen the energy of concerts.

While smaller draws may still be a possibility, they won’t have as great an impact on the customer experience or profitability, as comps to high-worth guests have traditionally been a significant part of the attendee equation.

Eighty-four percent of respondents saw promotions as essential to meeting revenue as well as creating energy on the gaming floor. While properties have seemingly found a thriving calendar of events, marketers are now faced with the challenge of meeting these expectations in ways that don’t draw crowds, are touch-free and are still engaging.

The good news is, we know what prizes gaming patrons are looking for— prizes that keep them in play, rather than big-ticket items. Ninety percent of promotions are under $50,000—not life-changing prizes. Promotional awards are being spread over multiple winners. Seventy-eight percent of impactful promotions are based on player value and delivered one to one.

The challenge today is not the development of promotional ideas. The community of casino marketers loves to share best practices through platforms such as trade shows and conferences, our Casino Marketing Masters Facebook group and spotlight events like the annual Romero Awards. Additionally, casino promotion vendors have been quick to adapt existing programs into touchless and touch-free options.

Knowledge Enhancement

As mentioned earlier, after growing revenue, casino marketers view staff development as the second most significant challenge they face.

As a lifelong student of marketing, this was one of the areas I was most interested in, because while I love to attend and participate in many casino marketing gatherings, it’s that moment when a marketer clicks with a concept or idea that makes the effort worth it in so many ways.

The opportunity to provide relevant, accessible training is what we noticed when we created Casino Marketing Boot Camp, and it’s why we continue to develop programs to enhance marketer skills and ready them for advancement. With most training coming through self-service options such as books, webinars and newsletters, only 11 percent give high marks to the training currently available. Considering the challenges respondents have identified, training programs and options need to help them grow revenue and develop their staffs.

The pandemic has forced many in-person opportunities to reschedule or cancel, but we must not lose sight of the need to create great marketers.

A Look at the Future

Casino Marketing Monitor remains committed to the development of an accurate portrait of casino marketing in the U.S. The next survey will be out in the fall, and I expect that we’ll see quite a different picture in terms of the reliance on certain tools. Still, the goals of growing revenue and developing staff will continue to be of significant importance to us as individual marketers and as an industry.

Visit casinomarketingmonitor.com to download a copy of the topline report of the inaugural study and to add your name to the 2020 survey pool.

Julia Carcamo
Julia Carcamo is the chief brand strategist at J Carcamo & Associates consultancy. She has held leadership positions at the property and corporate levels at medium to large casino companies. You can contact her at Julia@jcarcamoassociates.com.

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