People stand in line to exchange points earned on their casino cards for gasoline Tuesday, July 25, 2006, at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn. Under a promotion being run Tuesday and Wednesday, Foxwoods was exchanging each point earned for a dollar worth of gas. With gas prices averaging $3.23 a gallon in Connecticut, customers said it was worth the three-hour wait to get hold of the cards, which can be used at Exxon and Mobil stations. (AP Photo/Bulletin, Claire Wright)

Chasing the Competition

Toby O'Brien
9/23/11

Employ Original Marketing Tactics that Maximize Your Casino’s Strengths

You’ve heard it done, and, if you run a casino, you’ve done it yourself: The venue down the block (or across the city or over the state line) gives away $100 an hour. So you give away $125. Then they give away $150. A gaming property offers to take all competitors’ coupons. You decide to accept them and double the offer. The competition advertises two-for-one buffets. You make it 50 percent off plus $5 in free play. They promote a Prius-a-month; you go BMW.

And so the fight goes until someone realizes they’re not making any money—that they are so overinvested in their customers that the bottom line is being strangled.

A recent call from a casino client got me thinking. The management team was aggravated by how a competitor was aping their promotions. The opposition wasn’t just giving away the same small prizes over extended periods of time, but actually stealing the theme names of my client’s promotions. Although the property was maintaining its profitability and is twice the size of the competitor, it was frustrating for the executives who sensed they might be losing market share.

“They’re really starting to tick us off,” they said. “Why can’t they come up with their own ideas instead of stealing ours?”

There are times when “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” is no comfort. In a maturing market, coming up with creative promotions and maintaining a unique brand is always challenging. So, what’s a casino to do when its successful and profitable retention models are being diluted by its neighbors?

Here’s my advice for properties who want to retain their edge when the competition sinks to mimicry.

1. Keep it professional, not personal.

Whether you’re the marketing director or general manager trying to run your company ethically, it’s hard not to take an affront personally. Sometimes you’re dealing with an employee who has left the company and taken some well-learned tactics to the competition; sometimes you’ve been involved in choosing the marketing projects and feel like your efforts are being undermined. Remember that every executive of every company is going to use whatever tools they have in their arsenal to produce the most profitable business. Involve your operations people in marketing; get your most creative frontline employees to participate. When you keep the decision-making and planning group too small, you can limit your ideas and miss opportunities. And if it really is a former employee using what they’ve learned, take some consolation in the knowledge that they learned well from your tutelage.

2. Don’t let pressure push you to change a model that works for you.

Knee-jerk reactions are often the most damaging responses to marketing success. Just because the Smiths and Joneses are copying your efforts doesn’t mean you should alter the programs that have proven successful to your business. An example: a casino had improved its promotions by involving all of the management team in the decision-making process. The promotions were more fun, they were driving incremental revenue, and the employees were buying in and selling to the patrons. When the casino realized their promotions were being copied, they assumed there was a leak, and stopped including the larger group in the planning. The result: disconnected employees, a reduction in support, less creative input and—no surprise—the competition continued to poach. If you’ve got something that works, make what you have better.

3. Emphasize your unique selling proposition.

What makes you different from your competitors? Do you have a better slot product and/or more gaming options? Are your food venues open 24/7? Is your deli the only one that serves Nathan’s Famous hot dogs (arguably the best on earth)? Do your employees offer the most personalized service and do they really know the names of all of your best players? When you market your promotions, remind your customers that you always have and still do provide the best gaming and entertainment experience in town.

4. Critically examine your best marketing tactics and look for ways to fine-tune them.

Do you hold your drawings primarily on Saturdays? Then look at Sundays to expand your reach and go after incremental visits and new revenue. Do you give away cash through hot-seat drawings? Make the program more exciting by having winners play a game that offers them an opportunity to participate in the amount of cash won, or receive a bonus based on the outcome. Use costumed characters to interact with guests and distribute money and prizes. Supplement drawings by giving every player a gift to take home if they earn a designated number of club points.

5. Add an enhanced benefit for your players of worth.

Even promotions designed for the masses can be tweaked to better attract your high-end players. If your players club is tiered, offer top members multiple drawing entries. Tier the prizes: If a bronze-level player who wins gets $100, offer your silver winners $200, your gold winners $300 and your platinum players $500. Add a VIP component to your promotion. Can your players earn free tickets to a concert? Then plan a private meeting, and greet the best ones with the performers. Giving away 10 cruises? Offer an upgraded cruise (balcony suite, beverages, land excursions, etc.) competition for your high-end players.
6. Leverage new marketing tactics that you haven’t been utilizing.

Are you supporting your promotions with your direct-marketing program? Offer extra entries as part of your monthly direct-mail offers. Add a voucher for a bonus prize if the player wins a drawing; this drives visitation and participation for club members who might not otherwise attend a promotional raffle. Rely on e-mail to remind customers to join in the fun, especially if they received their direct-mail piece more than two weeks earlier. If your competition isn’t using these marketing tools, you’ll get an extra boost.

7. Remember that your employees can be your best friends or worst enemies.

If you’re worried that your staff is leaking information about your marketing strategies to the competition, keep this in mind: Happy employees who feel engaged in the success of your property and are recognized for their value probably won’t jeopardize your efforts. But disgruntled workers are more likely to gossip about your business. Keeping employees positive and supportive about your marketing efforts is simple: Ask for input on making promotions more exciting; then recognize anyone whose ideas you use. If you’ve had an exceptional revenue day, do what one of my clients did: Add a crisp $50 bill to each employee’s paycheck or pay stub and say, “Thanks for making this a great event/day/weekend. Our success is yours, too!”

Toby O’Brien, vice president of marketing and client services for Raving Consulting Company since 2001, provides marketing expertise, mentoring and training to Native American, commercial and government casinos.

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