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The Culture of Brand

Crafting your company’s unique identity

The Culture of Brand

Every casino has a company culture and brand. Most take great care to document and support both. Still, a conundrum emerges when leaders, employees, guests and stakeholders are challenged to define the emotional elements that form the foundation and to understand whether or not the culture and brand are aligned. (Hint: they should be tightly aligned, reflecting the emotional connection that tips the scale when a guest decides whether to visit you or your competition.)

As we begin to emerge from our home cocoons, friction continues to grow as the basic needs for health and safety are met with the need to return to work and to adapt to a new normal. We find ourselves needing to not only renegotiate but commit to a new way of operating.

Two Peas in a Pod

Although inextricably linked, culture and brand should be examined individually, then together, as the dynamic duo that mutually defines your business.

Culture refers to what team members believe, how they act, the limitations and license they have and their attitudes about the business, work and contributions. Traditionally, business leaders have captured the culture in mission or values statements, but cultures tend to arise out of the operation, and how leaders unknowingly act and behave. In successful cases, these are the same.

Brand refers to how a company is perceived and experienced by stakeholders: guests, team members, vendors and investors. Beyond surface manifestations (logo and advertising), the brand is supported by all the systems and protocols leaders put into place. It’s everything below the surface.

Culture Club

Every casino company is facing a culture crisis in the wake of Covid-19. Company mission statements and vision boards may lack the insight and empathy to truly engage team members and deliver on their brand promises.

Today, operations have become paramount as companies struggle to pay bills, make payroll and refine policies to meet regulatory and evolving safety requirements. Leadership is challenged to create a safe and entertaining environment for team members and guests, plus keep all constituencies informed of ongoing changes.

When we speak of creating a company culture, many operators immediately opt to offer generous team member benefits, including reward programs, work-from-home opportunities, wellness perks and free beer/T-shirt Fridays. People often think of company culture as “what you do” versus defining “who you are.” While offering incentives may generate a thank-you today, it’s similar to giving away free play and hosting promotions. It creates a bottomless pit that yields short-term gains versus long-term profitability. Perks become entitlements, which can easily be copied by your nearest competitor. Who you are becomes dwarfed by what are you offer.

But what makes your casino unique? What do your team members believe you stand for, and what do they promote? Answering these questions will reveal your culture and brand-messaging strategies. Despite the influences, circumstances and situations that are beyond our control, casinos today have a prime opportunity to redefine their cultures and brands and help unify team members and guests toward a common purpose.

When casinos think and operate in unique ways internally, they can produce the unique identity and image they desire externally. Now more than ever, it’s imperative that casinos have team members who understand and embrace the distinct ways you create value for guests, the points that differentiate your brand from the competition and the unique personality that your company/casino uses to express itself.

Most importantly, your team members must be empowered and have the tools necessary to interpret and reinforce these values. To believe in leadership, they must see leaders practicing and embodying the tenets of brand and culture. Through example and belief come emulation. And ultimately, your guests and target customers will accept and support your casino.

Brand Basics

Many casinos rely on products to define their brands—i.e., most generous slots, best entertainment, most extensive food variety.

Great leaders ponder what differentiates their brand, and if the brand indeed relates to the company culture. For example, if a casino’s culture endorses efficiency and productivity internally, yet externally the brand preaches the company’s commitment to guest satisfaction, the conflicting messages are apt to create employee and guest confusion.

Team members may be reprimanded for lengthy conversations with guests, which creates long wait times for slot service, ultimately resulting in frustrated guests (versus those who are satisfied). This is but one example of the brand culture conundrum. This type of misalignment has a way of showing up in unexpected places, like your call centers and players’ club booths.

Recently, as casinos reopened, comfortable locations and familiar faces (albeit behind masks) brought back guests longing for “normalcy,” and visitation based on the brand promise that was previously reinforced. Yet the pandemic fallout prevails. As casinos operate in business-recovery mode, each one is fighting for competitive advantage. Generous offers (or buying the business) may propel top-line growth, but we know from experience that it’s not a bottom-line driver. Additionally, “We’re Open” strategies, along with a commitment to cleanliness, will never be brand differentiators.

It is the brand that goes beyond image. It is the genuine, authentic personality of your company, which you want guests to believe and trust. Whether your brand is categorized as disruptive, socially conscious, service-oriented, innovative, value-based, performance-driven, luxury or experiential, it is your unique identity. When this brand message is crafted to support the company’s culture, it’s a win-win. Guests and team members share a common understanding of what the company stands for and delivers.

All Eyes On Brand and Culture

As companies, we spend a great deal of time developing our external brands. We research, test and re-test until we feel everything is perfect. It’s not unusual for even the smallest regional operator to invest deeply in developing the right logos and taglines. The fact is, you can spend a ton of money developing your external brand and supporting marketing. Still, in today’s connected world, the reflection of what’s going on inside your company is what ends up being your brand story.

Today’s internal comings and goings no longer live behind closed doors. While we have been witness to a plethora of corporate wrongdoings in the media, these issues start small, but always online. Posts to sites such as Glassdoor have opened the kimono to company cultures.

Ensuring your team members are as connected to your culture and your brand requires that they understand the primary reason your company exists and the part they play in the company’s continued growth.

HR & Marketing: The Modern Power Couple

Casino culture-building is traditionally housed in human resources, as it has the prime responsibility for the team members, people processes, procedures and performance.

Brand-building has been reserved for marketing departments and agencies, which are primarily responsible for the creation and execution of programs, products and promotions (guests).

When the culture and brand unite with shared values and a single vision, the case for integrating internal and external marketing resources becomes apparent. A unique voice that communicates the passion for the culture and brand becomes the perfect match for enlightened casino operators.

What if your casino employed a human marketing ambassador, a brand culture creator, or perhaps a culture competency communicator? When Ignite Medical Resorts set out to create a culture to differentiate it in the health care industry, it refocused the human resources function and created the position of chief culture officer. A quick look at HR trends shows inspiring titles such as “chief people and change management officer,” “chief hear officer,” “chief collaboration officer” and “SVP of strategy and culture.” It’s not about the title, but the commitment to building and growing a positive culture that will bring long-term benefits to the company.

Transform Your Culture

Here are a few simple things you can do today to start your culture shift:

  • Refine the vision. Mission and vision statements tend to get lost in the wave to modernize our companies. Often written at the founding of the company, leaders feel these honored statements should not be altered. Conversely, there may have been a bold statement written at a time of industry change. For these statements to add value, they must be reviewed and sometimes rewritten to serve the current environment.
  • Ask team members what they think of the culture and brand. A simple first word that comes to mind will be enlightening. Ensure you get input from the front-line team members up to the highest leadership. Don’t forget non-guest contact positions. Pay particular attention to supervisors. They support the day-to-day relationship with many team members; therefore, their thoughts and actions can carry enormous weight.
  • Work together to find where your desired and deliverable culture intersects with your desired brand and then lean into it.
  • Reward/recognize culture in action.

Leadership Commitment

Cultural shifts require top-down reinforcement, not just approval of a memo. And middle managers can carry even more weight than the CEO. Understand who the unsung leaders are in your organization.

To integrate your brand and culture, start by clearly identifying and articulating your casino’s brand aspirations. Do you want to be known for delivering superior performance and dependability? Or is your intent to challenge the existing way of doing things and position your brand as an innovator? Perhaps your brand is about making a positive social or environmental impact.

Once you know the brand you’re aiming for, identify the values that your organization embraces. In the case of a performance brand, you might work on cultivating a culture of achievement, excellence and consistency inside your organization. A strong sense of purpose, commitment and shared values is critical for a socially or environmentally responsible brand.

When you have clarity on the values that support your desired brand, you can use it to educate and inspire other cultural efforts, including leadership development, policies, procedures and employee experiences.

How you operate on the inside must be inextricably linked to how you want to be perceived on the outside. When your casino leadership mandates that everyone walks the walk, talks the talk, and, most importantly, believes in the culture and the brand, a unified workforce evolves. This unity will solve the conundrum, generate team trust, create employee and customer longevity and aspire profits from the inside out.

Culture-building is a powerful antidote to the unprecedented threats most organizations face today, especially as the pandemic persists. As the stakes for operating any casino rise, a clearly articulated company culture becomes critical to the operation.

Cultivating talent and reinforcing the brand are competitive advantages; casinos need to pivot from traditional models. Rejecting common culture myths and deliberately defining a culture that aligns with your brand, both internally and externally, is the key to preparing your organization for what lies ahead.

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Julia Carcamo is president and chief brand strategist at J Carcamo & Associates. She writes on a variety of casino and general marketing topics, including the new book “Reel Marketing,” and established the Casino Marketing Boot Camp. Reach her at Julia@jcarcamoassociates.com. Meera Rosser is a casino marketing veteran committed to creating cultures, building brands and establishing service standards and communications solutions to enhance the guest and employee experience. Reach her at meerarosser@gmail.com.