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Loyalty Tech

Suppliers of casino loyalty systems move with the times

Loyalty Tech

Rewards programs are like clocks—intricate collections of gears and mechanisms that culminate in a singular experience. Only for loyalty clubs, you’re doing a heck of a lot more than telling the time. What makes them tick? A blend of technology, data and thoughtful approaches to marketing can create a top-tier loyalty program, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

The loyalty and rewards industries are powered by a vast ecosystem of technology. Every tiny part needs to work in tandem to give the player a seamless experience. This ethos touches every point of the industry, from supplier to operator to vendors to marketers.

Fittingly, one representative of each group’s take on loyalty programs and the tech behind them is instructive.

The Three Ds: Data, Data, Data

Retail has its long-time adage: “Location, Location, Location.” For any business in the digital space—even when it interfaces with retail spaces—trading “location” for “data” just makes sense. Loyalty programs are driven by data—it is a common thread with experts on the subject.

“Helping our customers build and enhance player loyalty is a key objective of IGT’s Advantage CMS,” says Ramya Pulipati, IGT’s senior director, global product management and casino systems. “We offer advanced analytics and a variety of systems modules that enable our customers to offer free play, personalized offers, bespoke bonuses, and much more.”

Matt Prevost

Shift from supplier to operator, and you get a similar outlook. Matt Prevost is BetMGM’s chief revenue officer, and he, too, emphasizes the importance of data in loyalty and rewards programs.

“We put data at the center of our capabilities,” Prevost says. “We are increasingly using data to personalize our rewards experiences.”

Chad Hallert is the CMO of Good Giant, a marketing agency specializing in the casino space.

“There’s not a lot of behavioral information in many cases,” Hallert says of the existing databases for casinos. “You want to generate more specific data. Say a player is at BetMGM, and you start to collect the games they like, their belief systems, their hobbies, and all sorts of data points. We work with data partners to curate that information and form legitimate profiles to inform our marketing approach. Are the customers driving Teslas? Toyotas? What does that tell you about them? Take the data you find and level it up into a customer map.”

Noah Acres, a principal of Acres Manufacturing, says the company’s hardware product, Foundation, is its superpower.

“Foundation collects slot machine data points and streams them through a standardized API to connect to third-party app developers. It’s a more robust view of player value than we’ve ever seen before,” he says. “For example, we rate uncarded play and help casinos identify and enroll high-value players who haven’t registered for a loyalty program.”

The metrics Acres provides contribute to a “Player Budget,” which Noah Acres says is more accurate than coin-in or theoretical loss. The importance of data then begs the question: how can you use it?

Personalization Puts Players at the Helm

This is where the heavy lifting must be done. Experts seem to agree that universal reward structures are becoming a thing of the past.

“Casino loyalty is badly outdated, and failure to modernize is leading to significant erosion in the player base,” says Acres.

Among the possible solutions is an increased focus on personalized experience, Acres explains. “What other industry groups customers into generalized tiers, then issues blanket marketing offers across the entire tier?”

He also cites snail mail and physical loyalty cards as relics of a past era, but personalization seems to be at the forefront of loyalty program evolution. The right rewards for the right player at the right time can make a huge difference.

Chad Hallert

Chad Hallert

Hallert of Good Giant says, “You need, essentially, a loyalty program outreach map. You want the consumer to create an action that triggers the outreach. Maybe they’re walking into the property or interacting with a specific game, and that triggers a push notification to remind them of a specific benefit or offer.”

Additionally, players need to understand the program in detail. Hallert says that can be a unique challenge. “It’s surprisingly difficult to know what it takes to get from one tier to another. We’re finding everything works better when you can reach the customer early and help them understand the program.”

He adds that a healthy mix of written instructions and instructional videos can go a long way toward player education.

“IGT integrates with a variety of player loyalty apps,” says Pulipati. “I think today’s consumers have increased their standards for convenience and personalization in nearly every aspect of their daily lives.”

That extends to casino loyalty apps, and IGT is hyper-aware of the need for personalization. It’s not just about offers and timing. It’s about making the whole experience feel personal by uniting the elements of a loyalty program. “Redeeming loyalty offers, participating in an on-machine bonus, checking tier status, leveraging cashless technology, printing a TITO ticket… all of these actions are powered by IGT Advantage,” she says.

Noah Acres,

Noah Acres,

Acres says the shift from blanket offers to custom rewards is already well under way. “Acres is leading a hard turn away from universal rewards structures,” he says, “and instead delivering a real-time, personalized data-driven loyalty experience. We’re accomplishing this using our robust real-time data stream and our proprietary Player Budget metric that identifies each player’s unique spend threshold. These tools allow casinos to incentivize new play rather than simply reward past play, as they’re limited to doing today.”

The umbrella of personalization covers those aspects and many more. Again, “personal” doesn’t exclusively mean tailored to a particular player. An experience can feel deeply personal, even if it’s the same for various customers. In other words, giving players power across a host of channels can make a loyalty club app or website feel customized to them.

Prevost of BetMGM speaks on the importance of intertwining standard online offers—think “bet & get” deals or sweepstakes—with the direct-to-player experience.

“I think (players) want consistency,” Prevost says. “They want improved service. They want some degree of recognition based on their status in the program. Some players want those ‘money-can’t-buy’ experiences, like choosing the song at the Bellagio fountain while you’re having dinner at one of our restaurant patios nearby.”

No matter the approach, making players feel special and cared for is one of the underlying goals when developing a loyalty program and its associated app or site.

There’s another common thread across each area of the industry: differentiation.

Branching Out

How can loyalty programs create modern and state-of-the-art experiences? In the age of digital betting (in some states, at least), everyone has access to a phone or computer. The unimaginable scope of the internet is in our hands at all times. It can make a person feel in control, as though infinite choices are available at any moment. And they are. Rewards programs are aiming to capitalize on that attitude in new and interesting ways.

Hallert and Good Giant support clients with tailored services and marketing campaigns to reach more customers.

“The challenge for many gambling clients is that their target audience is huge,” Hallert says. ‘They want to be everything to everybody, and in a way, they are.”

However, a wide reach in demographics requires a wide output of marketing initiatives. Hallert continues, “We’re looking for channels that can complement direct mail and email. How can we create engagement on property and via mobile? We also push for human-human interaction for top-tier players.”

Online channels are already driving differentiation, according to Hallert. “You can reach out more often without as much fatigue,” he says. “Your customer can engage from their phone, which is always with them. They don’t have to drive 40 or 50 miles to interface with you.”

Acres says there’s still a lot of progress in the online space, but the connectivity between digital and retail is still lacking. “To be honest,” he says, “there is no casino loyalty program that functions seamlessly across land-based, retail, and online gaming.”

Acres also notes that free play is becoming old hat. Acres Manufacturing actively works to bring diverse offers to players.

“Our Precision Bonusing product right-sizes bonuses to players based upon their underlying worth. Today, casinos spend about 25 percent of slot win on free play. Most of it is wasted due to inefficient player evaluations and generalized, tier-based marketing strategies.”

He goes on to say that modernizing loyalty programs is a necessity for gambling operators who want to build a younger audience—“and by younger, I mean people under 50,” Acres says. “What happens to gaming revenues in five or 10 years if we don’t modernize, and our player base continues to age because we never develop younger players? The time to modernize is now.”

For operators like BetMGM, integrating omnichannel experiences is of the utmost importance. “We are increasingly trying to tie the experiences together,” says Prevost.

Ramya Pulipati

Ramya Pulipati

“At the moment, you have a BetMGM statement and experience. Then, you have an MGM statement and experience. Those two are synchronized, but they are not a single user experience. We have common language, definitions, and whatnot. But there’s still room to unify them, which is a project for us in the coming years.”

Players can easily convert points and credits from MGM Resorts to BetMGM, but it looks like a further united experience is on the company’s to-do list. To further differentiate, BetMGM recently announced a landmark deal with Marriott Bonvoy.

“The sheer scale of Marriott is incredible,” Prevost says. “When you bet at MGM, you get points you can convert to Marriott points. Customers can link their account to Marriott to enable those transfers, too.”

The partnership will continue to expand, with plans for giveaways and exclusive experiences for players. “You can convert digital rewards into real-world experiences, which we view as a point of difference for our brand.”

IGT’s Pulipati says the proliferation of mobile devices and gambling channels has created opportunities for innovation in loyalty tech. “The ‘right here, right now’ convenience culture has inspired many of our new modules such as Tip Ticket, Taxable Accrual, and iReserve,” she says.

“Much like a smartphone places multiple conveniences in the palm of a hand, IGT’s systems solutions enhance the player experience by giving players near-instant, on-machine access to common casino tasks such as real-time offer award notification, cashless transfers, free play activation, mobile PIN entry or tipping the service staff.”

The Future of Loyalty

A seamless loyalty program tech stack should promote an easy and understandable player experience. It should be unique to the casino’s brand—whether online or in retail—and drive attention to the property or app.

“Building a top-tier loyalty system helps casinos produce more return visits,” says Acres. “In most businesses, marketing to existing customers is more cost-effective than brand campaigns targeted to the masses. But casinos have a really tough time differentiating themselves because every other casino is offering almost the exact same loyalty experience.”

The evolution of loyalty programs is in progress, and Prevost of BetMGM says you’re already seeing the impacts.

“I think increasingly, you will see more of what was described earlier, which is personalization,” he says. “And you’ll see personalization in the digital user experience. And you will also see personalization in the types of rewards that individuals are able to earn. Those are going to be a combination of low-value prizes and the ‘money can’t buy’ type of experiences that really cater to the full spectrum of individuals. So, I think you’ll see more and more data-driven personalization.”

We’ve already come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go. As ever, the gambling industry experiences tectonic shifts with striking regularity, and loyalty programs have to brace themselves for constant change.

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