Marketing: Communication Technology and Today’s Casino

Communication technology has come a long way in the past 10 years. From the time John Romero began writing up until the dawn of the 21st century, just 10 full years ago, direct mail and the telephone (which we now refer to as a landline) were the most effective and, in fact other than mass media, virtually the only way to directly reach your customers. Today we have cell phones, SMS (text/media messaging), PDAs, BlackBerrys, iPhone apps, e-mail and social marketing engines such as Twitter, Facebook and the recently introduced concept of the player portal.

Computers and smartphones are entering the market and getting into your players’ hands in larger numbers each year. How do you turn those devices into a conscientious approach to developing player loyalty? Text messaging is a great form of communicating with your players. Studies by the CSCA (Common Short Code Association) in 2008 demonstrated that more than 75 billion text messages are sent each month, with that number growing by 250 percent each year. Text users between the age of studies show that nearly 90 percent of text message recipients read their text within five minutes of receiving them.

What type of communication gives you the most bang for your buck? A simple analysis for ROI is best. But how do you track a text message offer, what are your accountability procedures, and how do you determine ROI? If you’re tracking it from excitement, a few comments from the staff and talk on the gaming floor, think again. There are means and accountability to this medium, as with many other marketing tools. Was the offer effective or did you simply give away more incentivized or free promotions to your existing customers? How do you track the redemption versus the ROI? Which revenue department received an incremental gain and at what cost?

The great thing about SMS marketing is the ability to track who read the text and when they read the text. Did they click a link or press a number for more information?

The great thing about text messaging is that it allows you to interact with your customers in a real-time basis and send instant offers that do not require snail mail, e-mail or other forms of communication. For example, if your hotel has a high number of vacancies, you can send a message out to players who have opted-in for hotel offers. Give tiered players different hotel room prices to drive good players to the hotel for a free room, second tiered players receive a room at $10, next tier an offer for $25, and so forth. This is a measurable tool that has been very effective in different properties we have been associated with. Another example would be for an upcoming concert. If your ticket sales are not what they should be, send a tiered offer to your players and drive ticket sales. Utilizing a code in the text offer, you can see who responded and how quickly they responded. What other communication medium gives you that type of response?

As you can see, we are strong proponents of text messaging and the ability to drive people to the restaurant or lounge on a slow night with a text offer for a free drink or appetizer. We have seen a lounge with three customers turn to 50 or more within an hour, taking a slow night and turning it into a good night at the rate of pennies per customer. It was an offer sent out to players who lived within 20 miles and who opted in for restaurant/lounge specials. Real-time results that are measurable, trackable and cost-effective are cornerstones to any communication plan as part of an overall marketing plan.

All this new technology leads our industry around a continually circular path, begging the question of how to manage all of this valuable information. We can gather the data to one centralized location or data warehouse where we can analyze which marketing tactics are working best with our various strategies and offers to different player segments and general population demographics. After all, these tools may be tailored to players of worth as well as non-gamblers, with the end result of driving revenue in a cost-effective manner in all retail centers.

One of the clearest tactics currently gaining in both popularity and usage is the player portal. A player portal allows players to create their own personalized web page secured to their player’s club account with their favorite casino. There are several incarnations on the market that offer varying features and benefits, all fairly modestly priced. But there are some out there that are practically on steroids, offering high-end features and customization, such as Barona Resort & Casino and Caesars high-end player portals.

The best of the portals integrates the casino player tracking system with real-time reporting and generates constant online reporting on the casino patron’s play by segment and stratification. Some portals collect in-depth psychographic survey information and, when used right, it can be that magical place where you manage and measure the effectiveness of your mail (yes, there still is a need for snail mail), e-mail, text messaging and social media campaigns. They may also provide a forum for players to have personal dialogue with the casino and its staff.

Launching a text messaging marketing plan and other communication through a portal that tracks personal attitudes and preferences is one of the most logical ways to optimize the many communication tools available to a casino, and remain on target, in a personal way to each individual player, creating a solid platform on which a casino can evolve with technology.

Another successful application of text messaging is fundraising for the casino or tribal scholarship program. I have seen successful campaigns that exceeded the expectations of the tribe by utilizing a text campaign that allowed customers to pledge $5, $10, $25, $50 or $100 from their mobile device, come to the casino and make their tax deductible donation and receive casino offers based on the level of their donation. It was slick and quick, and it made the marketing director look like a hero to the tribal council who wanted to raise $10,000 for scholarships. The total scholarship amount was accomplished with a text message campaign in days, versus the previous years that sometimes did not accomplish the goal.

Text messaging can be an effective tool to mobilize your customers and use your database for other actions, such as food pantries or raising money for Japanese earthquake/tsunami victims. It becomes a real communication tool that is real-time, cost-effective and allows you to start a dialogue with customers. With each response to various messages, your marketing staff can follow up with a live voice to answer the prompts that your player requested information upon.

There is no question that between 2008 and 2010, most properties in our industry saw their market shrink. It will be a long time before revenues that rival 2007 will happen again, due to many macro-economic factors. Current competition is savvier and, while there are increasingly fewer players out there, spending less per trip, the primary long-term objective remains to create a more fiercely loyal customer to your casino. The end result is player consolidation and, ideally, gain in wallet share on the gaming side. To compete, one must better understand the marketplace and its needs and wants, so as to provide entertainment options that are both relevant and compelling to many market segments, on the retail side.

But that’s not where it ends. We all know our core player is 45-55 years old and older. While that demographic begins to age, we must develop new, younger players and build brand identification and loyalty with a younger demographic along the way. These players are more technologically savvy than their parents were. We must also ask brand relevance questions so that when the “35s” become “45s,” they choose our property—without question or hesitation. Many of these gamblers of the future were born into a cell phone generation, and their smartphones just keep getting smarter, making the leap to this latest technology mandatory.

Embrace this change smartly and fervently.

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