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Digital Delivery

How casinos are marketing their products on the World Wide Web

Digital Delivery

Casinos celebrate the tangled “web.”

Tangled for them means interconnected, far-reaching and beneficial. The web is a trigger point to lure first-time customers, fortify existing relationships and maintain real-time speed in the frenzied gaming world. Although the web may be cluttered by millions of online ads, it brings new mechanisms to reach customers.

Most casino websites display tabs for promo offers, hotels, gaming, tournaments, nightlife and conventions. One click reveals a hotel suite, replete with square footage, a scenic landscape and comparisons to other rooms. Another prompts a booking opportunity. Just click it and pick it—launch an entire trip through a computer screen or mobile app.

Transactions via the web appear limitless, and marketers must know how to target customers. They know that guests carry multiple devices, and that digitally connected screens are everywhere, including at kiosks. Marketers find ways to message their players, stroking the ego of a patron who finds a personalized room rate or restaurant special sent to his phone.

No technology replaces eye contact, the time-honored face-to-face marketing skill issued by hosts and executives. Patrons do love having their own contact provide a sense of importance. Yet technical innovations enhance the efforts.

The web forms a magical weave between age groups, geographic regions and income levels. Although considered relatively young, the web has nonetheless become sophisticated, and internet advertising revenue exceeds $40 billion annually in the United States.

Technology has moved online marketing beyond its classic role of using the web and email to drive direct sales via electronic commerce. Digital marketing channels include email, social media, game advertising, online public relations and video advertising. Operators must sift through this menu to tailor offers and realize the slowly shifting sands of general beliefs. Social media may be still widely used by young people, for example, but boomers have steadily become savvy. So have their forefathers. And mothers.

“Granny is on Facebook,” a gaming executive says proudly of his grandmother. “And she is 88.”

While casinos enjoy the bells and whistles of the web, they must remember a fundamental truth: content remains king. What they put on the site, the function of marketing information and their own research, has the same importance as where they place it.

The Casino Line of Scrimmage

The web is an equalizer for gaming operators. It is an avenue they all travel, regardless of property size. What distinguishes top performers, in this context, is the skill of information assessment.

“It’s a continual balancing act,” says Seth Schorr, chairman of Downtown Grand casino in Las Vegas. “The traditional customer (baby-boomer age) still represents the sweet spot as far as disposable income in our business. For this person, an email is very effective. It is important that the layout is thoughtful. You don’t want too much information in that the presentation may look busy, but you want that person to open up an email, see a beautiful hotel room and know how to reserve it.

“You also want to relate what casino promotions are going on. The layout is important. Too much and the main message gets lost. You may want to mention just your most important thing.”

Millennials react to a different visual. Social media channels entice them to a property’s website to assess promos and room rates. This generation, which navigates offers quickly and easily, grew up with social media.

“This group is more savvy than their parents regarding technology,” Schorr asserts, “and for them, social media channels are, in many cases, more important than the website itself to communicate different promotions.

“They don’t open emails too much. You want to reach them on Facebook, Twitter, even Yelp. You may want to talk about your nightclub, mentioning that you have a big DJ. You tag him, people who already follow the DJ now know he will be at your casino, and when.

“In anything you promote, you can tag relevant sites, and people following those sites can see what you are talking about.”

The different promotional facets come together quickly.

“The beauty of digital marketing is that the analytics are very clear, as opposed to a billboard, for which, unless somebody tells you he saw it, pulled off the road and came to your property, you won’t know if he saw it or not,” Schorr contends.

“When people click onto your website, you know how many are doing that. When they click within your website to find something, we know that too. When they click to get onto reservations and book a room, we’re very happy about that.”

The web’s dynamic launched another promotional realm for this company. Downtown Grand has begun luring players to an extravagant mid-December slot tournament that will award $250,000 to a single player. Entries are being driven through the web. Contestants will be recruited all year and assemble for the tournament, several months hence. The web plays a pivotal role by creating buzz and excitement about the tournament. Consider the reinforcement of Facebook and Twitter, as players use the forum to brag to friends.

The tournament figures to play a long-term role in forging long-term customer relationships as well.

Downtown Grand also reached out to video-game players. Every Friday, it awards $250 to players who win a particular contest. It can be a shooter game, fighter game, etc.

How are these people found?

Flagging Customers

The connected world forces operators to think beyond mobile devices, apps and social media. They must reach customers across all touch points.

Innovations help provide more effective marketing, according to the heads of Zebra Technologies and Cozumo. The next generation of web marketers is learning how to target and send appropriate, coordinated messages to guests.

“We have seen that today’s most innovative marketers are working with what is identified as ‘contextual location awareness’ technologies,” says David Wolmetz, senior OEM account manager, hospitality and gaming, for Zebra Technologies, which is based near Chicago and was just named by Fast Company as one of its Most Innovative Companies for 2016.

A global leader in solutions that provide real-time visibility into organizations’ assets, Zebra was cited for groundbreaking work as the NFL’s “Official On-Field Player Tracking Provider,” tracking high-speed game data and converting it into real-time, usable statistics.

“We work with marketing executives to provide and enable what is seen as an immersive yet relevant marketing offer,” Wolmetz says. “And when this works, it closes a key loop in guest engagement, encouraging a lift in measured spend that can be used just about anywhere.”

“Just like our retailer customers, gaming operators are marketing offers to customers using location-based technologies to establish one-on-one customer engagements at every touch point whether in venue or not,” adds Steve Okun, chief technology officer for Cozumo, based in Toronto.

As a partner of Zebra, Cozumo employs Zebra technology, adding a plug-and-play, turn-key solution to deliver customized offers.

Finding The Right Outlet

Red Square Gaming employs several strategies to help clients reach their audience. The Mobile, Alabama advertising agency, which focuses on casino brands, is a big proponent of digital marketing.

Tina Delaporte, the company’s vice president of media, says this medium carries multiple benefits.

“This is increasingly what people spend most of their time with (considering all digital platforms),” Delaporte says. “A digital strategy is the most important piece of digital marketing. Advertisers must define who they are trying to reach and what they are trying to accomplish. Once these are defined, user statistics can lead to social channels such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat or Facebook, or they could lead you to search engine marketing, online display, mobile video, etc., based on your objectives.”

Each business entity, like gaming, needs to find its web fit.

“Online marketing is heavily used for e-commerce businesses, where users can be exposed to advertising and directly purchase a product through digital platforms, resulting in a true ROI (return on investment),” Delaporte indicates. “Re-targeting (re-marketing) is extensively used in the retail category due to its high conversion rates. Testing audience preferences such as colors, sizes, prices, etc., helps these advertisers gain timely insights on trends.

“For gaming, the path to purchase is usually not as direct. That’s why digital advertisers should consider both micro conversions and macro conversions. If a user submits an email address through a lead generator, for example, this micro conversion can be an indicator of a new, loyal customer or a macro conversion.

“By determining the percentage of those that sign up versus those that convert to a loyal customer, a value can be attributed to each email obtained.”

Delaporte ticks off the innovations that contributed to the quick prevalence of marketing platforms: Google in 1998, Facebook in 2004, the first iPhone in 2007. The web has room to mature on many levels, she indicates. Delaporte anticipates the incorporation of third-party data into marketing campaigns, more segmentation and testing of audiences in 2016.

Information Reigns Supreme

What about content? There are more places than ever to put it, hence the urgency for updated and flexible information. There is also more visibility, with a company’s product line on display for its competitors and the entire web world.

That’s why an important dimension lies beneath the glitz of fancy website designs and slick promos. It’s a world inhabited by numbers-crunchers. They measure more than an internet hit. They focus on the product placed through the web and costs associated with it.

Casino operators use data from Las Vegas-based Duetto Research to enhance revenue strategies for their resorts. Duetto is a widely used resource for hotel-room pricing decisions. It recently unearthed some important information for its clients in the jockeying battle between operators and online travel agencies (OTA) like Expedia.

Properties already invest in customer relationships via internet ads or by using the online agencies. Those outlets often take 20 percent of the room rate in exchange for helping to lure the business. Casinos have the option to augment their marketing strategy by placing room rates and promo coupons on their own websites. This allows a more personalized interaction between operators and their customers, enabling casinos to pocket the commission, place some of it in a room offer, or do both.

A recent announcement by Expedia raised the stakes of the hotel-OTA relationship. Expedia said it will let businesses bid up for prime space. EBay on Expedia? This tactic increases operator costs by inviting bidding wars.

The development will be closely watched by gaming companies. It may become the impetus for them to adopt new loyalty programs and invest in technology platforms that can integrate them to the hotel’s management systems.

That’s one part of the advice Duetto provides casino operators. The other is information enabling casinos to know what they place on the web. That answer is the result of scientific research.

Rory Fagan, vice president of global casino accounts for Duetto, says a big hurdle casino marketers must clear is determining the value of their most profitable guests. The challenge also brings opportunities.

“Hotel room revenue, food and beverage, and golf and spa packages bring in a lot of money for casino resorts, and those with attached nightclubs or entertainment venues are also doing tremendous business,” he says. “Gaming spend only gives properties part of the picture. Casino marketers need to know a customer’s total worth calculated upon his or her spending across the entire resort. Advanced revenue management systems today have the ability to analyze total patron worth and price based on it.”

This gives casinos the “big data” needed to price rooms according to demand, calculate reinvestment ratios that maximize profitability, and create personalized offers, he adds.

“One loyalty club member might have a $100-a-day slot budget, and another might not gamble at all but spend several hundred dollars in a day at the spa, the restaurant and at the nightclub,” Fagan says. “Should the same reinvestment percentage apply to their room rate or the comps they receive? No, it shouldn’t.”

Fagan envisions casino marketing connecting to loyalty programs and leveraging big data to determine total customer worth. It will be one thing for casinos to adjust rates based on demand for peak days based on data produced by Duetto. It will be another for them to display it properly, and quickly.

And so the web arena unfolds, providing immense opportunity and competition for the casino world.

From gaming operator to advertiser, research-provider to real-time specialist, companies find digital marketing a complex, yet inspiring puzzle. Conducting business on the vast internet may be daunting, but what a web it is.

Nearly every business tries to maximize it, including those outside of gaming. Golf courses provide virtual tours, restaurants display menus and certain industries can tease customers: Newspapers have been implementing paywalls on their websites, showing part of a story and asking customers to subscribe in order to read the rest, as they seek to recoup revenue lost to declining subscriptions.

For anyone who can grab a niche, the web presents the Golden Goose age.

Casino Connection Sports Editor Dave Bontempo is an award-winning sports writer and broadcaster who calls boxing matches all over the world. He has covered the Philadelphia Flyers in the playoffs, as well as numerous PGA, LPGA and Seniors Golf Tour events, and co-hosted the Casino Connection television program with Publisher Roger Gros.