Marketing expert David Meerman Scott recently challenged my thinking. During a live stream, he asked, “Do you want loyalty, or do you want fans?”
The question stayed with me. Casino marketers seem to be perpetually focused on the concept of loyalty. The reality is that even our most loyal guests can be “disloyal” at times—spending their time and dollars on a competitor, and more currently, on other entertainment options.
If there was a silver lining to 2020, it was that we learned many lessons—as people, as parents, as homebound workers, as consumers. For marketers, the most important lesson was that our tried-and-true programs are no longer our go-to’s. We learned we need to be much more connected and responsive. Nothing is status quo anymore.
The time has come to invest in genuine connections with our guests, building relationships so strong that they will come to our defense and support, no matter what. We need to invest in a love affair with our customers, and the month of February seems like a great time to start.
Our creative director, Skeet Hanks, compares marketing to dating. We start as strangers (think new member). After a few interactions, we become acquainted with our guests. And after we successfully deliver our brand promise to them, repeatedly, we move into a friendship stage. See where I’m going?
When guests see a consistent delivery of positive brand experiences and experience mutual trust, a romance begins to blossom. They begin to let emotions drive some of their decision-making. As brands, we begin to have a role in their lives. Soon, they’re our most dedicated fans. As long as we deliver the excitement of the brand promise that attracted them in the first place, we can live happily ever after.
As casino marketers, we accept that some guests like us (because their ADT and visits tell us so). But are we sure? Given a choice of two brands offering nearly identical offerings—say, like two casinos—which would they choose?
In a 1986 interview in U.S. News & World Report, Elie Wiesel remarked, “The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference.” Too often, in our rush to make our numbers, we lose sight of creating love. We find that our guests feel indifferent about their investment in us.
Brands become indifferent in the consumer’s mind because they fail to stand for anything. They fail to cement a spot in the consumer’s mind and heart. They’re not better, different or cheaper in the consumer’s mind. By failing to create connections with consumers, brands potentially invite fewer repeat visits, lower visit spend and lower brand loyalty scores. Indifferent brands are often characterized as being too product-focused. Acting like commodities, they fail to separate themselves from the competition.
Indifferent brands often rely on price promotions to drive volume. This approach can squeeze margins for retailers, but for casino operators, it can mean we’re quickly upside-down in our reinvestment and offers. Without a unique ownable position in the consumer’s heart and mind, investment in advertising and innovation becomes harder to justify.
But with brand love, guests will spend more time and money with you, improving marketing program ROI. Ad recall and brand tracking scores may increase. Guests will be invested in your success at a profound level. For example, when Golden Nugget Las Vegas Vice President of Marketing and Advertising Holly O’Brien participated in a post-Covid reopening discussion, she commented that the most loyal of their guests were following protocols rather strictly. It appeared this particular guest segment felt invested in the success of the reopening. That comment hit home for me.
There’s little disagreement that those who love our brands will voluntarily tell their network and share their stories. Plus, we may be more successful with our new product because our most loyal guests will be automatically curious about what’s new.
Lastly, our internal stakeholders will become much more active. Brainstorming sessions will be a draw rather than another meeting, and our vendor partners are more likely to be excited to be a part of our circle, even going so far as bragging.
Love Is in the Air
Examples of brand love are all around us, typically in other industries. With love comes bigger news stories, and there’s no reason we can’t get there. The casino industry is rich with history of iconic brands. The brands rose to that level because of customers who loved, cherished and possibly defended the brands. It’s one of the reasons I’m so excited to see Bally’s rise from the proverbial ashes. It’s why, with a rich history of its own, Eldorado chose to adopt the Caesars moniker. Iconic brands in our industry have created near-magical experiences that inspired generations.
Modern-day brand love shows up in a variety of ways.
It is no surprise to find Instagram, Google, Apple, Spotify and Amazon holding the Top 5 spots in the NetBase Brand Passion Report: Top Global Brands Love List 2019. Brands like Apple, Nike and Sephora have developed an almost cult-like following. How else would you explain standing in line (seemingly immune to the high price point) for a new piece of technology that you could easily order if you were willing to wait a week? How else to explain the tattooing of a brand logo on someone’s body?
Away luggage found a unique way to solve the issue of carry-on luggage. As airlines became much stricter with carry-ons, travelers dreaded discovering that their carefully packed bags were too big for the airplane bins. Away eliminated this issue and in doing so, created a cult-like following. As a perpetual no-carry-on traveler, my biggest complaint is picking up damaged luggage at the airport carousel. Briggs & Riley’s no-fault luggage repair means I no longer worry about it. That company shows love for me by not asking questions and getting the job done. I love the company in return and recommend it to others.
How Do You Create Love?
In the 2004 publication The Lovemarks Effect, Kevin Roberts proposed a theory that three factors create love for a brand:
- Mystery – Does it inspire the customer?
- Sensuality – Is the brand experienced with the senses?
- Intimacy – Can an emotional relationship be created?
The first step is to understand where you are on the relationship spectrum. Then you can focus on moving your relationship along. Are you still a bit of an unknown? Have you succumbed to temptation and fallen into indifference? Are consumers starting to fall in love?
Getting to Know You
If you’re in the unknown stage (for instance, expanding into a new market), you want to focus on standing out and being noticed. Understand the consumer benefit, and create an expression of that benefit. Then build everything around that idea, both internally and externally. Passionately express that position and promise until it becomes a rallying point.
Most importantly, keep your focus steady. At this stage, it’s tempting to throw out one idea for the other when you don’t get immediate results. Remember the dating scenario. We don’t often strike gold on the first pass.
Develop an action plan for this stage in your brand-love journey. Include core messages, marketing communications and the guest and team-member journeys. Launch this initiative to build awareness with all your stakeholders. Use the energy of your early adopters for momentum.
For indifferent brands, the focus should be to establish a clear position and differentiation in the consumer’s mind. It would be best if you focused on proving the differentiation point that drew your early adopters. Cement your idea, so you can stand apart from the clutter in the market. Continue to put passion and emotion into your touchpoints.
Are you finding your brand at the point of indifference? You should develop a new or evolved positioning or perhaps reinforce your current positioning to shift the current mindset. Examine the gaps between the brand promise and the experience. Find ways to fill them.
Additionally, it would help if you increased the share of mind. Whether that means expanding advertising or increasing mail and touchpoints, you want to draw more attention to yourself (than your competitors) by proving you’re better or different. This stage is an excellent opportunity to rely on the PESO Model approach to your communications.
I Think I Like You
When guests start to engage with you and show they like you, it’s time to separate even more from the pack and create unique experiences. With an established success in the market, your brand promise is what guests want, yet they may lack your brand’s emotional bond.
Many marketers err by assuming the engagement can continue without assistance. They might cut back on touchpoints such as advertising. At this stage, you can become more vulnerable as competitors move in and build up their awareness, tempting guests to turn elsewhere. As a result, a brand can end up spending more on promotions to regain the lost attachment. Rather than reducing or eliminating touchpoints, consider layering in emotional benefits to create stronger bonds.
Your action plan is all about increasing visits and spend, adding to the guest experience by cross-selling and creating a routine around your brand.
Once love starts to blossom, keep tugging at the emotions and cement your bond with your most loyal guests so they’ll begin to speak on your behalf. At this stage, brands should see further increases in visits and spend as the brand becomes a significant part of the guest’s life. We often see this happening at the VIP level, where hosts become like family. They start celebrating life events with guests, just as they would with their real families.
While marketing spend on each person may be higher, the return for that investment becomes a more significant percentage. Marketing is more efficient as it opens up a pathway to increase revenue. Moreover, net promoter scores, word-of-mouth marketing and positive reviews increase.
But there’s still work to be done. At this stage, brands must continue to identify unique ways to tighten the bonds with their most valued guests:
- Create a community of brand fans.
- Create brand rituals that will be special to the guests by building memories.
- Continually challenge and perfect the guest experience.
- Identify gaps and fill them before the competition does.
Customers can love a brand for years, and in some cases, all their lives. Besotted customers will forgive mistakes and look to contribute to the success of the brand. However, unlike the kind of unconditional love between two people, the love between a consumer and a brand is somewhat one-sided. Consumers can quickly fall out of love with brands that don’t continue to differentiate themselves or provide great guest experiences.
Roses are red. Violets are blue. Love makes customers choose you.