It’s no secret slot-maker Bally Technologies is good at marketing. Bally dominated AGA’s Communications Awards at the 2012 Global Gaming Expo with six awards for internal and external communications, and the company’s unmatched PR people do a great job of generating press.
But advertising and PR are only part of a marketing department that has been completely revamped since being taken over by Dan Savage.
Savage, Bally’s vice president of corporate marketing, came to the company as a seasoned pro not only in marketing but in the science of improving business processes.
Leaving 3M Company to join Bally as the Great Recession was gaining steam in 2008, Savage’s expertise would prove invaluable. One of the first changes he made was to implement a data-driven marketing process. “We weren’t using data to drive our decisions,” Savage says. “More importantly, we weren’t getting the voice of the customers, the voice of sales, the voice of our internal departments before making decisions. It was a huge (problem) area, but an easy-to-fix one.”
Another immediate “fix:” product testing. Savage brought marketing fully into the game development process, by bringing feedback from both players and operators into the process of refining games, systems and, most recently, the Bally Interactive division.
“When I arrived, we were doing zero player testing,” Savage says. “Last fiscal year, about 20 percent of our products were tested via some kind of face-to-face player feedback. We also do that with operators. For the Pro Series cabinet, we went through five days with executives from various casinos giving us feedback.”
Savage says games that underwent extensive testing have consistently performed better than games that went directly to the market. The old days of hit-and-miss in game development have been replaced with an empirical approach. “We’re in the room with the developers,” he says. “They’ve got to have thick skin, but it’s not just marketing people saying a product is good or bad; it’s a third party, writing a thorough report. The whole effort is to make a better product.”
One of the most effective parts of the marketing function under Savage has been in simply getting the word out about new products. The networked Elite Bonusing Suite is a good example. One of the system’s marquee capabilities is an instant slot tournament over thousands of linked machines of different manufacturers. Last year, Bally used that to stage the world’s largest slot tournament at California’s Pechanga casino—and had the Guinness Book of World Records people on hand to record the event. Press outlets from across the country picked up the story.
“That kind of media attention doesn’t come overnight, and that’s where my team comes in,” Savage says. “It’s a ton of behind-the-scenes work, with Laura (Olson-Reyes, senior director of corporate marketing and communications) driving it all from internal and external communications.”
The other marketing improvement Savage and Olson-Reyes have embraced is custom video production. The classic boring PowerPoint demonstrations for customers have been replaced by slick video presentations that bring new products to life. At customer events like the annual Systems User Conference, custom video is accompanied by live testimonials from the operators actually using the products.
Savage’s marketing department also plays a key role in developing licensed brands—typically a 12-15-month process from conception to completion of a slot. “Our NASCAR product involved a 17-month negotiation,” he says. “You don’t get that done overnight.”
Savage’s marketing team is currently working on three games with licensed themes to be launched at G2E 2013. “We are committed to rolling out two to three licensed brands a year,” he says.
Along with that, 2013 will see an increased commitment to market testing within the game development process. “We’ve initiated what we call customer panels,” says Savage. “Once a quarter, we get 10 to 15 customers together in a room at various designated locations (last month, it was done in Macau for the first time), and we ask them what they think of Bally. How are we doing?
What do you like? What don’t you like? It’s not a selling pitch; it’s 90 percent listening.”
Also expect more grand ways of getting the word out from Bally this year—designed, says Savage, to show customers what games and systems can do, instead of just telling them.
“Without people experiencing a product, without people crowding the floor, without the media attention, it doesn’t work,” Savage says. “You’ve got to create that whole circus.”