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RD&E In Cyberspace

The internet and social media present new venues for promoting non-gaming amenities

RD&E In Cyberspace

If 2010 was the year when casino marketers finally embraced online marketing, especially the social media channels, it looks like 2011 will be the year when they start dedicating more attention to marketing their retail, dining and entertainment elements in cyberspace.

Marketers from major Las Vegas resorts and regional casinos around the country say the theme for 2011 seems to be pretty consistent—we need to better integrate the rest of our properties (beyond just casino and hotel) into our overall online marketing strategy.

The first things they talk about are Foursquare, Twitter and video marketing, but many properties have yet to do justice to their RD&E elements on their own websites. Of course, it is important to consider the exciting world of social media when coming up with a strategy, but laying the right foundation online is critical.

The Foundation

It is not uncommon for properties to have their restaurant offerings listed on one page of their website, or for restaurant pages to be done entirely in flash, a code language that doesn’t work on iPhones or iPads. The problem here is that it is critically important for both users and search engines to be able to find a distinct page for each restaurant and F&B venue on property.

If a prospective customer is searching for the best pizza in the area and you happen to have an award-winning pizza shop on property, wouldn’t you want them to wind up on your website?

Let’s dive deeper into the foundation. While the online marketing landscape is evolving at a faster and faster rate each year, it is still imperative to have a strong website and to make sure your website can be found in the search engines. The same goes for RD&E elements.

Depending on the element, taking into consideration whether it is fully owned and operated or leased out, limited service or full service, and a number of other factors, it might make sense to have a stand-alone website to showcase the offering. You are probably doing justice to your new coffee shop by having a good page on your existing website. But if you bring in renowned talent as your featured headliner or a celebrity chef to open up a hot new restaurant and nightclub, investing in a full website or micro-site dedicated to that element might be your best bet.

Search

The next step after addressing the website is search. Terms like SEO (search engine optimization) and PPC (pay-per-click) might be familiar to you already. The goal of this article is not to provide an in-depth tutorial on these marketing methods, but it is important to know what they are and why they need to be part of any strategy for promoting RD&E.

Simply put, SEO is about making sure that prospective customers find your website when they are searching for relevant keywords or phrases on the major search engines. PPC is similar, but with PPC you are actually running ads with the search engines and your ad comes up when someone searches for keywords or phrases that you have selected. You pay each time someone clicks on one of your ads, hence pay-per-click. PPC is basically an auction platform where you put in a bid that represents how much you are willing to pay for a click from someone who searched a specific keyword or phrase.

Google is the biggest player in the search space, and they have done a nice job of creating specific products that can be used to market your RD&E. We have all seen the map that frequently comes up near the top of the search results in Google with little dots and a list of businesses. There are a few different names for this box, but Local Business Results is how it is most often referenced. There is also a Google Maps search often used by consumers looking to find things in their area or near a planned vacation destination. All of these tools and products should be on your radar.

The point here is that you can’t forget about the basics. There really is no substitute for having the right website and search strategy for marketing your RD&E.

Facebook

Those are the foundations. Now let’s explore some recent trends. In just a handful of years, Facebook has moved from being a site where college students communicate with one another to being the second-most trafficked site on the web, according to Alexa.com. Businesses can advertise on Facebook, people can set up groups to connect with old friends, and more and more people are using the site to create and invite users to events.

One similarity between getting strong search rankings for your website on Google and creating business value out of having a Facebook page is that neither happens simply by creating a page and waiting to see what happens. Just as you need an SEO strategy to get your site found on Google, you need a Facebook (or social media) strategy to get value out of your Facebook page.

This doesn’t mean you need to hire a PR firm or an agency to manage the Facebook page for your headline show (though that might be a wise investment), but it does mean that you need to take a proactive approach to generating value using Facebook. You need to seed the conversation happening on your Facebook page. You need to proactively build your following by getting people to “like” the show (or club or shop), and always engage in dialogue with those people.

Twitter

One of the most talked-about channels these days is Twitter. Whether or not Twitter is worth your attention is hotly debated by marketers. As is usually the case when weighing your options, it all comes down to the product. It is unlikely you are going to be able to generate much marketing value out of Twitter for that new coffee shop. But if you are bringing in a big-name headliner with an existing fan base in the millions, it is a safe bet there will be buzz on Twitter about that star.

That buzz will pick up when you announce the act is coming to your casino, and that presents an opportunity for you to get in on that conversation and use the channel to generate ticket sales and bring new customers into your property.

As Twitter evolves, one of the key opportunities for businesses is to monitor what people are saying about your brand(s), executives, and really anything related to your business. When someone tweets about how cool it was that your famous chef came out and talked to them during dessert, seize that opportunity to double down on the positive and thank them for coming out to the property and sharing their experience.

If someone is venting via Twitter about how rude the guy at the door at the nightclub was, jump on Twitter and send that person a direct message apologizing for that unfortunate interaction. Offer some compensation to show that guest how important top-notch customer service is at your property. In many ways, the internet is the ideal channel to aid in customer service recovery.

Foursquare

One social media site that seems like it was developed especially for marketing RD&E is Foursquare.com, a site that has only been live for about 20 months. While Foursquare has a website, it is really an application for mobile devices. From Foursquare.com:

Foursquare is a mobile application that makes cities easier to use and more interesting to explore. It is a friend-finder, a social city guide and a game that challenges users to experience new things, and rewards them for doing so. Foursquare lets users “check in” to a place when they’re there, tell friends where they are and track the history of where they’ve been and who they’ve been there with.

Basically, people use the Foursquare app on their iPhone, Blackberry or other mobile device to “check in” at restaurants, clubs, stores, hotels and more. It allows them to find others who are already checked in to that place. It tells their friends where they have been. It can help you find that perfect pizza place, where the hot spot is for Thursday night happy hour, and much more.

As a business, you can add your place or venue to the Foursquare app so users can find you. A rapidly growing service they provide for businesses is the ability to offer Foursquare “specials.” Effectively, these are offers or discounts or prizes that are communicated via the mobile device when a user checks into your venue.

In August 2010, Foursquare reported having over 3 million users. When compared to Facebook’s 500 million and growing, it is important to consider Foursquare’s current reach and therefore the potential of the platform before getting too excited. But Foursquare certainly has a model that fits with marketing RD&E, and you should keep it on your radar as it continues to grow its user base.

Yelp – Ratings Sites

If you have a hotel attached to your casino, you are probably already familiar with TripAdvisor.com. TripAdvisor has been around for years, and millions of users rely on TripAdvisor rankings and traveler reviews to pick hotels for their vacations and business trips.

A number of websites have tried to get into the ratings, rankings and consumer reviews space. Yelp has risen to the top of the pile with its strong mobile applications and easy-to-navigate website. While Yelp is an international site, users are directed to their city’s local Yelp website. Why should you pay attention to Yelp? Let’s look at RD&E in Las Vegas. Yelp has listings and reviews on over 3,100 shopping venues, more than 2,500 restaurants, more than 600 entertainment venues and nearly 1,000 nightlife spots in the city.

You might be asking yourself what you can do with a ratings site. Most sites, including Yelp, allow businesses to edit and update info about their business on the site. More importantly, you should be using these sites to listen!

For years we have been trying to get customers to fill out comment cards, respond to surveys and report outstanding or atrocious customer service. Suddenly in 2010, there are millions of consumers voluntarily doing just that. Whether someone tweets from your nightclub that the bouncer was rude to them or goes to Yelp after a dinner at your steakhouse and praises your bone-in filet, you need to know about it.

Next Steps

So how do we get started? There are countless firms and agencies that specialize in online marketing. The trick is to find a firm that has experience marketing the products and services that you need help marketing. The seemingly endless range of channels online is both a blessing and a curse for marketers.

The breadth of the space means that there is a path to be found that will add value to your business, and likely more than just one path. But it also means that there are lots of wrong paths that you can go down that won’t result in a campaign with a positive ROI.

As usually is the moral of the story, make sure you find the right partner to help you navigate through the space.

Justin Cohen is a partner at Internet Marketing Inc., a full-service online marketing consulting firm that focuses on assisting its clients with interactive marketing and strategic planning to increase online exposure, improve conversion rates, and help businesses grow revenue and profits. Cohen manages the firm’s Las Vegas Gaming and Hospitality office and oversees all aspects of the company’s business operations in the Southwest and mountain regions. He can be reached at [email protected] or 702-835-6986.

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