Social media forms a new communications arena. Its vast universe brings gaming a potent new force.
As the connective thread for younger generations and a blooming asset to boomers, it’s an essential vehicle for marketing specialists and ad agencies. Harnessing this platform means connecting to the instant judgment of customers in a world of shrinking attention spans.
Click—see it. Click again—buy it. This market segment does not evaluate the beauty of a print ad, or a one-minute television spot. A message has one opportunity to grab and hold.
Within this realm, digital ads hold unique stature and responsibility. They can supply instant, real-time product information, but can’t be disruptive enough to trigger services like Ad Block. They must subtly entice people used to ad-free content like Netflix and Hulu. Their overall value, for gaming and other industries, is estimated at $40 billion, and the tools to thrive with them may spark unconventional methods: sell the product while hiding the ad, use video, engage satisfied customers in a chat.
Specialists wrestle social media like it was a Rubik’s cube. Move it one way and see the potential of video, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Twist it another and realize these options can collide with, and blunt each other.
This is an interesting period. Social media hasn’t replaced traditional relationship strategies like classic advertising, customer service and face-to-face contact. But gone are the days when digital ads were banners on a website. Search-engine optimization, website content, email marketing and mobile capability emerged. Laptops, desktops, tablets and smartphones became vehicles to carry an advertising message, or a promo.
A gaming industry spanning several marketing eras—from direct mail and personalized hosting to couponing and player tracking—must respect the new world of visual excellence.
Seeing Both Sides of the Coin
Tina Delaporte, vice president of media for Red Square in Mobile, Alabama, sees a double-edged reality for the social-media marketing world. She has touted the benefits of Google, Facebook and the iPhone in recent years.
“Social media and video viewing are the two most popular online activities, together accounting for more than a third of all internet time,” Delaporte says, citing a comScore 2017 Cross-Platform Future in Focus analysis. “Aside from the crazy amount of time all of us spend with social media, what excites me most is its low-cost point of entry and self-serve, ease-of-use campaign creation and execution. These elements of social media have allowed smaller advertisers such as regional gaming properties to have an impactful effect by testing advertising in a timely, cost-efficient manner.”
With digital advertising, combining off-line and online metrics is a natural progression, she says. First-party databases that were typically used to segment players and execute direct mail pieces can now be used in conjunction with third-party data for a multitude of digital marketing tactics.
The digital realm, however, faces challenges.
“It remains rife with advertising obstacles,” she says. “Some of the main issues that continue to plague ad campaigns are fraud, viewability and brand safety. Advertising industry groups such as the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As), the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the Media Rating Council (MRC) are working diligently on these issues. While there’s been much progress on some fronts, such as a large reduction in fraud and improved viewability standards, brand safety seems to be a trickier solve.
“These are consequential marketing issues, for if the basis of digital measurement is fallible, an advertising ROI is, at best, unclear.”
Within the digital area, seeing is believing. And not seeing means not buying.
“Frustrated by transparency issues, Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of P&G, notoriously cut $200 million in digital ad spend in 2017,” Delaporte recalls. “His issues seem to stem from the large swing toward digitally focused campaigns. Mr. Pritchard stresses the importance of continuously cultivating new customers, using full-funnel marketing including broad awareness media. Similar concerns are now being expressed by chief marketing officers across all category advertisers.
“Two years ago, if you would have asked any marketer to explain his or her digital strategy, you would have gotten a random digital walk versus a strategic understanding of where digital fits in their brand-building model. You have to be continuously bringing people into the top of your funnel,” she adds, quoting an anonymous source cited in a Nielson CMO surveyed for a report.
The audience they target keeps getting younger. Two youthful sets of patrons, in fact, constitute a powerful block.
“Generation Z is the largest generation, accounting for 26 percent of all persons in U.S. TV homes in February 2017. Combined with millennials, these two generations represent almost half of the U.S. population,” Delaporte says, referencing a Nielson Total Audience Report from 2017.
Unlike most Las Vegas properties, regional gaming typically has an older audience, she adds. Millennials may be off-target now for those casinos, but not in the near future. All advertisers should reference media usage stats per demo quarterly.
“U.S. smartphone penetration eclipsed 80 percent in 2016, but growth is slowing as market adoption concludes its ‘late majority’ stage,” Delaporte asserts.
Grasping a Broad Spectrum
“Social media is a single part of an overall strategy in any public relations campaign, and although it is not the end-all-be-all when it comes to driving business, it is a vital part of an overall marketing and advertising strategy,” says Tyra Bell-Holland, founder of the Las Vegas-based Ava Rose Agency. “Brands that are still slow to adapt to the digital shift are missing out on many opportunities, and soon that shift will be forced.
“I have several clients who ‘don’t speak’ social media or see the value. I always love this challenge! My analogy is that social media is not a ‘language,’ and when according to statistics for 2018, 77 percent of the world’s population is speaking this language but you are not, well, then you are missing a big slice of opportunity.”
Bell-Holland has enjoyed a front-row seat for the convergence of gaming, luxury and hotel branding. She has been a president of the Southern Nevada Hotel Concierge Association and performed senior executive roles in Las Vegas, including executive director and chief concierge, in casinos that included Venetian, Palazzo and the Cosmopolitan. Bell-Holland simultaneously owns and operates both Resortcierge MD (Las Vegas’ first designated house-call medical group exclusively dedicated to the concierge community and servicing tourists at luxury resorts on the Las Vegas Strip) and the Ava Rose Agency, named after her children.
“Social media has evolved tremendously over the past five years,” she says. “It has gone from organic posting to offering a multitude of methods for brands to reach their audience. One thing social media has recently implemented is the ability for brands to engage with their audience on a live basis.
“Whether that be utilizing Facebook live or Instagram stories, this content is raw and in the moment, providing authenticity and really allowing someone to engage and connect genuinely. Some major corporations are taking advantage of these features, and some aren’t. It’s hit or miss in Las Vegas. Every time I think I cracked the code, it’s on to the next methodology.”
Influence peddling has a new connotation in this context. It does not pertain to a lobbyist or someone trading favors from a well-placed position in a company. Figuratively, this is not about twisting arms, but perhaps twisting a phrase, finding a niche.
“The most effective form of digital advertising on social media is influencer marketing, specifically in Las Vegas,” Bell-Holland indicates. “It’s so effective because it is a form of native advertising (site content and an ad blended together, cleverly designed to look like editorial), just on steroids. Brands, such as casinos, are able to partner with influencers that are on-brand with what their messaging entails, and they’re able to then advertise to their target demographic without making it feel like an advertisement at all.
“We see big brands, including casinos, partner with influencers all the time. Some casinos have even enlisted a department exclusively for influencer marketing, aside from their standard social media teams that they’ve built.”
And which vehicle is winning?
“Instagram,” Bell-Holland says. “Because the app is photo- and video-centric, brands are more inclined to share everything on there. We also see a variety of influencers on Instagram, whether that be foodies, travelers or mommy bloggers. These are the people that are influencing and shaping the way social media is portrayed today, and they are the ones that are driving business. Most influencers can no longer be found on Twitter; that is the biggest trend we are seeing.”
Bell-Holland says lessons from related industries, like restaurants, can benefit the gaming world.
“One major success would be the launch of the Stove, a local brunch restaurant and tea house in Henderson, Nevada,” she says. “In just under two months, this tucked-away local eatery has gained over 1,000 followers on each platform. The communal conversation was sparked through sharing moments and by patrons sharing their testimonials. Although professional photos are great, utilizing user-generated content is the way to spark engagement. And, the biggest rule is never to buy followers. I have spent countless hours building a venue’s credibility for clients and investors cleaning up platforms with paid followers. It builds distrust.”
The Digital Reach
Darren Kuyper, the senior vice president of Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based 44i (interactive), says the social media and digital advertising footprint plays a larger role in casino marketing each year.
His marketing agency works with Midwest casinos across all digital and traditional channels, and has a strong niche with tribal properties.
“Over the last four to five years, we’ve noticed more casinos shifting their marketing budgets towards digital channels,” Kuyper says. “Today, there is a vast array of digital products that help casinos reach current and prospective guests. And the advanced targeting techniques and analytical information they offer help create more effective marketing efforts.
“Whether that’s through targeted social media campaigns or geofencing digital ads, casinos are using these data-rich advertising methods to not only reach guests more efficiently but also improve future marketing campaigns.”
In the casino realm, modern marketing efforts use data available to make more informed decisions, he adds. Digital advertising allows an operator to learn more about the audience than traditional advertising methods.
“Its influence shows up to casino guests and players through the daily advertising they see, and we also frequently provide marketing training and assist with promotion creation for casinos,” Kuyper indicates. “We leverage the most forward-thinking digital tactics for the benefit of our casino clients. One example is our development of a unique ‘digital bounce-back’ program that keeps the casino’s brand, message, and/or offer in front of players for a specific time frame after they have visited the property. Traditional direct mail bounce-back programs are expensive to execute, as you know, but this digital option is affordable and has a strong ROI for our clients.”
Kuyper believes digital bounce-back programs and text message marketing (SMS and MMS) will be key to bringing guests back. Social media actually impacts the vetting process. His company has found that reputation management has an increasingly important role in deciding where they’ll play.
“The guests want to read positive online ratings and reviews about a casino before visiting,” he says. “Casinos should start solidifying their reputation management and review generation strategies as soon as possible, if they haven’t already.”
Matt Entringer, the company’s director of brand strategy, favors a number of tools. He likes search engine marketing (SEM), which serves text ads on the Google search network, targeting top-four placement on Google search engine results. By using SEM campaigns, keywords and ads can be tailored to target your audience with specific promotions and specials.
Entringer also advocates investing in a local SEO, saying wrong data costs U.S. businesses more than $10 billion in annual sales revenue. He considers display marketing another strong player. Contextual advertising displays ads on websites whose content directly correlates to a related product or service you offer. Audience targeting allows one to serve ads to a group of users based on who they are and what they like. It also gives operators the ability to exclude groups of people if their interests don’t align with what is being offered.
Knowing one’s audience also means avoiding generalizations. It is widely assumed that digital ads and all social media pertain to a younger, technologically savvy audience, but that’s no longer a blanket statement. The social media core demographic is skewing a bit older, meaning there are two different audiences to address in terms of content, Entringer notes.
Three companies, from the Eastern, Midwest and Western areas of the United States. They all have a focus relevant to their region, but must also know more than their geographic market.
They must draw eyeballs and then foot traffic. For those who succeed, the rewards are lucrative.