As direct mail fades, gaming quickly auditions its replacement.
The industry will award billions for companies able to enhance point-of-play marketing on their properties. Messages, rewards and comps posted in real time target customers likely to stay engaged on games. Real time means real money, because it elevates the slow, scattered direct-mail process into instant-access reward and redemption. A customer in or near the building is an excellent target for increased comps and play.
Promotional coupon and mobile-application specialists now stalk real-time riches. FutureLogic and TransAct Technologies aim their coupon-printing arsenal at a growing industry need. Joingo, a mobile-app rising star, prospers in an era when smart phones meet gaming. All three companies, which launched recent live trials and product implementations, have begun reaping some rewards from this lightly tapped, highly significant market.
This industry sector has company, of course. Signage companies place messages in neon and slot-service windows alert players about deals. The fight for stature in the real-time world is fierce, but rewarding.
FutureLogic, TransAct and Joingo have a good early start. The next year can become highly beneficial for them.
A Natural Evolution
The coupon influence has grown from the art of printing ticket-in/ticket-out (TITO) vouchers to dispensing sleek, timely coupons for show tickets, restaurant specials or room discounts. They come right from the slot machine, where the player is already immersed in visual bling. The gratification is instant. The reward actually finds them.
Operators like it. Coupon mechanisms integrate with rewards programs and also help identify un-carded players. They can build, shape or expand a property’s marketing base. Casinos reach a targeted audience likely to produce a far greater coupon-redemption rate than customers marketed by mail.
Players like it. The promotional-coupon system inside the casino and a mobile-application setup outside of it feed their ego. What’s better than landing at an airport, switching on the smart phone and receiving an offer? It rivals the thrill of being paged at a public place. The promo can be utilized by the person and several of his friends and the information can soon be converted into a coupon that prints at the slot machine inside the casino.
Customers already embrace the coupon concept for groceries, theater tickets, oil changes and outlet shopping. They print discounts or live tickets from their personal computers. Many young patrons, and an increasing amount of baby boomers, comfortably conduct business on their phones.
This savvy consumer group offers gaming a fertile gaming revenue stream, and they may also enjoy the best of both worlds. On a smart phone, casino patrons review specials without the quick-button touch that automatically purchases a product, say, at a department store. Even an impulse gaming decision must, for the most part, be accompanied by a trip to the casino to redeem the product.
Coupons: A Nice ‘Transact’ion
TransAct Technologies develops market-specific solutions, including printers, terminals and software for industries like gaming, lottery, banking and hospitality.
The Hamden, Connecticut-based company operates a gaming branch out of Las Vegas. Its major casino impact began with the Epic 950 printing system, and has evolved into a system called Epicentral. The original Epic 950, unveiled in the mid 2000s, was a TITO printer with a secondary port designed for future coupon printing. In 2012, the company launched Epicentral, the software system that connects to the printer so that the Epic 950 ticket printer now prints both TITO tickets and promotional offers directly to players on a game.
Epicentral also connects with the casino server and connects with management systems, food and beverage, etc.
“This is game-changing technology from the aspect that it affects how casinos can market to their players,” says Tracy Chernay, the executive vice president of sales and marketing for TransAct. “Marketing has progressed from the standpoint of targeting the player at the mailbox to communicating with players while they are in a casino. It’s a major difference.”
Communicating in real time, she indicates, is a major advantage. Nothing spurs adrenaline like an on-the-spot comp.
“How casino marketing departments worked in the past was to put a mailer out to the player, for free credits during a certain period of time,” Chernay says. “I have one on my desk right now from a local property. It starts 10 days from now. I have to remember to bring that with me. Now, that’s OK, but it is a lot more exciting for me to get some free play while I am right there, at the casino.”
Conversely, redemption rates for mailers are significantly less than those produced at the casino. A mailed coupon, for instance, can be tossed in the trash. It also may be too small to coax a gambler into traveling to the property. Yet if the patron is already engaged on a game, the comp has progressed from inducement to reward.
Two of the most intriguing uses of Epicentral involve the near future of gaming. Its Mobile Host and Mobile Player components address the smart-phone era of gamblers and hosts. It is one of the manners in which technology can actually increase inter-personal contact. Mobile Host, for example, enables casino personnel to walk the floor, spot players and offer suitable comps.
“Let’s say I’m the host and I say, ‘Thanks for playing; I see you’ve had a lot of play tonight; I would really like to treat you to dinner; how does that sound?'” Chernay inquires. “You might say, ‘No, I just had dinner,’ and I would not have known that. So now I’m going to offer you a room upgrade. My list of offers is right there in front of me. If you like the room upgrade, I can see that on my iPad. And then it can be told to print right from the slot machine where you are sitting.”
Mobile Player enhances the concept, literally putting coupon control in the player’s hands. This solution enables players to select from promotional offers they’ve earned and then print them at the slot machine using their own mobile device.
Chernay says Epicentral made a smashing debut at the Nisqually Red Wing casino in Olympia, Washington, early in 2012. The program, launched in February in the property’s 975 slot machines, spiked enrollment, visits per player and top-tier play. Chernay says the casino reported a 25 percent increase in club players who qualified for top tiers and a 10 percent rise in guests earning reward play. The coupons and targeted promotional offers are keeping customers in the property longer.
Chernay says the technology has succeeded on many levels. “We call it the ‘yep’ system,” she says, laughing. “When we get together with the marketing departments and they ask, ‘Can it do this?’ ‘Yep.’ ‘Can it do that?’ ‘Yep.’ Watching the casinos react when we make our presentations is exciting.
“It gives them tremendous flexibility. One thing that’s great, for example, is what if you tell players at a bank of machines that if somebody wins a jackpot, everybody wins something, whether that is a free play, a drink at the restaurant, etc.?”
Chernay says the Epic 950 has landed in five of the six new casinos that opened in the first half of 2012. That includes Revel in Atlantic City, Hollywood at the Kansas Speedway, Horseshoe in Cleveland and Hollywood in Toledo, Ohio. All have more than 2,000 games. In Ohio, the company later added Hollywood Columbus with 3,000 games and Horseshoe Cincinnati, 2,500 games.
This installation of the 950 system could pave the way for Epicentral to follow in these properties. The Epicentral movement continued at the G2E 2012, when the company demonstrated the Bally Technologies iVIEW Display Manager working with the Epicentral print system in helping slot players pick from multiple prizes and promotions. It revealed how a coupon-printing mechanism can complement customer service slot windows.
The Future Is Now
FutureLogic appears aptly named for its PromoNet solution. The Glendale, California-based company believes it has begun to usher in the next wave of marketing.
PromoNet, first unfurled on a large stage at G2E 2011, is running a live trial in several markets, according to John Edmunds, vice president of products management and international markets for FutureLogic. Before the year ends, he expects it to be operational in places like South Point in Las Vegas and throughout London.
PromoNet works by way of a dual port inside the slot machine. One connection fits the game, the other handles promotional couponing. The company spent about four years developing the concept, assessing customer feedback and designing the solution to help casinos market in several ways.
The system works in real time, Edmunds indicates, and can help casinos track a player it did not even know about.
“A lot of player tracking systems store information, but they won’t give you the rewards and coupons at the game,” he says. “It’s almost a retrospective system. This is what we will give you based on your last visit, etc. The rewards build up over time. And if you are a new player with no club card, the casino has no way to reward you for your stint. With PromoNet, you can be rewarded right away.
“If you played on the game for an hour, and you have put coin in for over $1,000, all of those triggers are listening in real time and you can be rewarded straightaway. A casino can decide that it certainly can invest $100 for your dinner tonight because you have played like a high-value player.”
Edmunds says real time is a crucial element, to the extent that even minutes count.
“Anything that relies on a back-office system has a time lag,” he says. “Some of these systems can have a five- or even a 10-minute time lag. That may not sound like too much, but if the player has left the machine, you run the risk of couponing the invisible man.”
PromoNet works in two major categories. Its “bank” operation relates to a group of isolated machines. The operators can arrange to have adapter boxes placed inside the games quickly, usually inside of a week, Edmunds says.
The PromoNet “campaign,” dedicated to most or all of the casino floor, involves several mechanisms. It ties into the e-mail network, allowing marketing people to create the design, slot operators to approve the reward triggers and amounts, accounting departments to determine the number of coupons allowed and then slot operators to download the adapters into the games.
Edmunds believes operators can view PromoNet as a sophisticated set of marketing eyes.
“This is exciting,” Edmunds says. “The first thing is you are enabling the casino to reach out to a high-value anonymous player. Imagine a pyramid, where you have sharks and whales on top, and then VIPs and high-valued players. Well, what about the bottom? Do you want to invest in so many floor-walkers and issue a lot of generic messages? You can’t invest in every player. You don’t know if the recipient is worth it; you can’t give free hotel rooms to everybody.”
Edmunds touts the suddenly devised reward coupon. Not only will players feel valued with the instant attention, but casinos will exceed the industry-wide redemption rate of 2-8 percent, he says. This has spiked return on investment, and increased player time and revenue.
Another benefit occurs in the growing online area, Edmunds says. A barcode on a coupon can enable a player to reach the casino’s website via his smart phone and then redeem rewards. This process also extends to a person’s home computer. The player can type in the barcode number and reach the same website.
What about a coupon printer’s role versus that of a slot service window? Some consider the two a duplication of service, thus rendering one unnecessary. Edmunds says both elements are important. A player in the heat of action can forget the message recently displayed, he indicates, and a comp may go unrealized. A coupon, however, is tangible, printed and less likely to be forgotten.
By his perspective, there is nothing wrong with having both.
Joingo, the mobile-application specialist company headquartered in San Jose, California, views a gaming market with boundless potential. This company combines social media, marketing and the global reach of technology with the customer’s sense of importance. The end result is the Mobile Loyalty System.
Launched two years ago, the Mobile Loyalty System is a marketing tool that integrates with an operator’s existing data systems. It allows casinos to create, manage and deliver targeted mobile campaigns. Joingo has specialized in feature launches in the last couple years that include mobile web app support, integrations with the popular web traffic data tool Google Analytics, and with the leading provider of real-time online restaurant reservations, Open Table.
“When you talk about that airport offer, think of how popular you are with your friends when you receive an offer on your phone that’s also good for five or six people you also select to come with you,” says Brenda Boudreaux, vice president of sales and marketing for Joingo. “It means the casino property knows you are nearby and they want you to visit.
“We provide operators a blank slate and give them the ability to use it with their marketing objective. They have the ability to brand themselves to be different than their neighbors. That’s important because at Hard Rock, for example, you can be hanging out at the pool and you need to show some type of card to obtain something. You can just shake your phone and then an image shows up on your phone that you can show the attendant.”
Joingo drives viral adoption of their customers’ mobile programs through advertising in Facebook timelines, Twitter feeds, and other social channels. Users of Joingo-powered apps can share any content, forwarding offers and promotions they’ve received.
The Mobile Loyalty system performs a critically important second function. It has a quick-response code embedded in the product. This enables the offer to be printed on the casino site, thereby connecting the mobile-application and promotional worlds.
Most recently, Joingo’s mobile application system helped IGT become a finalist in the American Gaming Association awards at G2E for 2012. That’s no surprise.
For all three of these companies, good news continues to spill out.