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Embracing (the Need for) Change

Apparently we humans are wired to both hunger for and shy away from change. As we gaze longingly into the world(s) beyond and dream of what we might find there, we remain solidly planted in the tried and true; the more familiar environment from which we muse. So when things aren’t too painful for us, we rarely look outward with the purpose of implementing change, no matter how beneficial those changes might potentially be.

We have spoken with scores of casino properties about their Casino Marketing and Player Development operations, and when someone is talking to a technology vendor, it seems they are considering making some changes to the way they do business. This change is not necessarily representative of a big shift in the company’s processes, but often heralds an adjustment to the way they look at things as a starting point for improvement. In other cases, a total rebuild of a department’s function is under way, or at least being considered.

Shifting marketplaces, tightening competition for discretionary dollars, and an increasingly entitled customer base, among many other factors, make it tough for casino marketers to continue with the status quo today. Now, more than ever, we have to identify and pick up any dollars left on the table. Finding efficiencies in order to get more done in less time (and with less money) has become a normative practice in nearly every kind of enterprise. All of these realities mean that change is inevitable. Our best move now is to manage the change and make it work smarter for us now and into the future.

In speaking with casino operators, I have learned that the reasons for making changes are as varied as the markets in which these fine folks do their work, yet they remain somewhat universal. For example, properties who have traditionally had host teams who hug rather than hunt are looking to shift the team to a more sales-focused function. Casinos whose core marketing mailer has traditionally been mailed to *everyone* in the database are taking a more nuanced approach in determining what offers go to whom. Heck, even slot manufacturers are coming up with fresh new spins on old favorites to broaden their appeal. Markets tighten, customers churn, and the same “been there, done that” methodology just isn’t cutting it any more.

These changes are happening all around us. Spreadsheets are being replaced with dynamic tools that make it easier for middle managers to see the effectiveness of the casinos’ programs. Executives can shift their time from analysis to observation of the property’s operations. Front-line employees have been empowered to really take care of their customers. Processes are being scrutinized and modified for increased efficiency and effectiveness. All of these represent a fundamental change in the way business is being conducted. The hard truth? None of these beneficial adjustments will occur unless change is embraced. Even if implemented, lack of commitment to the change will result in less than optimal results.

The key is finding a solution to your business problem(s) that allows you to maintain control over the change process, empowers you to implement the changes you identify as your best practices, and improves the overall efficiency and effectiveness of your programs. As you begin to distill your wishlist, the actual work of finding the right solution for you will become easier.

Embracing the need for change is only the first step. Determining the course the change must take is obviously a much more involved process. Make the process easier by finding a technology vendor who wants to be a technology partner. Choose someone who understands what you are trying to accomplish and can help you get there. There is a better way.


Advertising on the Biggest Entertainment Stage

“Ad Bowl” 2015 is all about grabbing our attention and not letting go. What can you learn from this approach?

Casinos, Brands, and More

As most marketers have done today, I’ve read many posts and articles about the big game last night: the winners and losers of the “ad bowl”; why Nationwide made such a goof; how Loctite took a gamble and how everyone spent most of the game crying.

This year’s Super Bowl was certainly worth remembering. As NFL fans, we work ourselves up to a frenzy in anticipation of this one game, but all too often, we are disappointed by a lopsided score and a game that doesn’t really feel as competitive as it should be. If you know me, you know I’m a Saints fan. So, the 2010 matchup will always hold the top place in my heart. However, I do have to say that this year’s game was excellent…true entertainment experience from beginning to end. I know I wasn’t alone in that moment when I gasped thinking my cable signal…

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Getting Your Casino Player Development Team Back On Track

“What should I do if my team is behind pace for achieving their goals?” If you’ve ever asked that question, this post is for you.

There are a number of great ways to get the team back on track, and not a single one of them involves anything painful. (Well, maybe just a little emotional pain is involved if anyone who is part of the process decides to make excuses or tries to pass the buck.) Being proactive is the key here, as it’s nearly impossible to make up lost revenue at the end of a quarter. For your team’s success, look at the numbers as often as possible and discuss the situation with your team at least weekly to ensure the feedback loop is fully functional.

The first thing to do is determine which goals are presenting the biggest challenge. Presumably, your host team has more than one goal: theoretical, retention, and either acquisition and/or reactivation numbers to achieve. If the team is struggling with theoretical, then improvement in any one of these three major patron groups will have an immediate impact on theo aggregation. If new or inactive players are where the team is struggling, there are some really effective ways to get those patrons back into your casino before the quarter is out, provided you reach them quickly. When retention (maintenance) is the issue, perhaps there’s a bigger problem afoot. Identify where the “missing” players are, and you’ve got a starting point.

So, once you’ve identified the patrons who need to be targeted, it’s time to determine the root of the problem.  (That’s right, the next step involves analysis. You saw that coming, didn’t you?) Determine which segment of the “missing” players is most responsible for the shortcoming. Are your local patrons not making as many visits as they once did? Are you having trouble activating new members for a second or third visit? Is a competitor actively courting your regulars? Is the weather keeping your older guests from driving to the property on weekdays? Did the direct mail offers not move the $200-$300 ADT group? Are your hosts simply not connecting with their players as they should? Any one of a zillion factors could be at play, so you need to figure out which one(s) are affecting the numbers.

Then, it’s time to come up with a plan to mitigate the loss(es) and make up that lost ground.

  • If the locals are making fewer trips, a low- or no-cost event may be the way to go. Assemble some of your guest-friendly executives for a town hall -style meeting to ask the patrons who keep your power on, “What’s keeping you away?” (Be prepared to hear some crazy responses, and make sure no one makes promises the property can’t keep!)
  • While I’m not a proponent of matching competitor offers, knowing what the other properties are doing is the only way to ensure your patrons can’t play you against one another. Shop your competitors or develop a relationship with a good player (or several) who regularly visits several properties to keep abreast of what they are offering. If your budget allows it, retain a company who can provide you certain ADT range comparisons and offer updates from the properties you choose.
  • For icky weather, drop a postcard that extends a special offer to motivate weekday visits after a particularly cold or snowy period. I’ve seen both point multipliers or mail offer date extensions do a great deal to bring in folks who just couldn’t make it in when it was nasty out.
  • If you aren’t sure the host team is doing all it can (or even if you think they are…), monitor host contacts daily to ensure they are making every effort to build relationships with the players you’ve assigned to them. Hold them accountable if they aren’t.
  • For new members, coordinate with your traditional marketing and direct mail teams to ensure the new member offers are reaching mailboxes (or inboxes or voice mail boxes) in a timely manner to engage worthy new cardholders. Target the best for host contact as soon as possible after the first visit.
  • Most importantly, don’t accept excuses or the status quo. Hosts who aren’t doing the job need to know that’s not acceptable. Offers that don’t get a response should be evaluated and, perhaps, tweaked or replaced. Competitor moves that impact your numbers must be countered in a cost-effective way.

Taking a little bit of time to identify the cause of any shortfall will give you the best basis for making a difference with whatever you decide to do to make it up. Relentless analysis and postmortem evaluation will help you learn what works and what doesn’t. Regular two-way communication and coordination with all the parties involved will enable you to stay proactive and make up lost ground sooner rather than when it’s to late.

What tactics have you used to make up revenue you might have otherwise lost? What worked and what didn’t?


Quantifying Casino Advertising Spend

My friend gives you a roadmap to measuring your ad spend. This is a great way to start 2015!

Casinos, Brands, and More

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

—John Wanamaker

This post originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Casino Journal.

As advertisers you’ve likely seen this famous quote more times than you can count, and as such, it probably makes you cringe. It should, because like all marketing efforts, if you don’t know what you’re measuring, you can never defend the use of resources. Yet, as more and more channels of communication become digital and measurable, the pressure is on to determine how effective your advertising spend is.

Historically, we have relied on our media buyers to guide us in ratings, frequency, reach and GRPs. These are all great measurements of efficiency, but what good is an efficient buy if it’s not effective? In today’s challenging gaming markets, it’s more important than ever to use all your resources…

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Social Gaming and Casino Player Development

Log into your Facebook account, if you would.  We’ll wait.  Okay.  Thanks.  Now, click on the words “Games Feed” in the Apps menu on the left side of the page.  It’s probably next to one of the first items displayed in your News Feed.  Got it?  Great!

What you see there (and will see in your News Feed if you haven’t blocked them) are updates from your friends who play social games online.  If you look in the Apps menu, you can find literally hundreds of games and see which of your friends are playing them.  You can, if you wish, join your friends (Facebook encourages you to do so!) and play “together.”  You can spend real money (but you can’t cash it out), exchange gifts with other players, receive gifts and rewards for playing the game(s), and have a great deal of fun.  For those of you who can’t play the slots at work, you can play slots or blackjack online with your friends.

Sound familiar?  If you are reading this blog, it certainly should sound like a familiar world to you.  It’s filled with people who find enjoyment in gaming (of some sort) playing together (in a manner of speaking) for relaxation.  It’s the same kind of activity your casino provides.  And they are people with lots of similarities to the ones your host team takes care of and nurtures relationships with.

Even if you don’t participate in social gaming yourself, you can look at your own Facebook Games Feed and see that lots of people are playing lots of games.  People you know.  In a surprise twist, I found friends online who played casino games who I never imagined in a casino in all my years.

Since the casino patron pool is aging, it is important to continue driving trial visits from new patrons.  Getting those new patrons into the rewards program and marketing to them directly is going to be key, particularly in the competitive US gaming markets.  Because so many young gamers are completely comfortable in the online space, it would be beneficial to any casino operator to reach out to those players and build a bridge to induce a trial visit to the property.

How can a bricks and mortar operation appeal to an online gamer?  It ought to be pretty easy, in theory.  But the reality is that a younger casino patron is going to expect something more for making the trip to the casino, as she can get a very similar experience online, at home, in her pajamas if she wants.  Start by finding someone who is completely comfortable in the social gaming arena and ask them to help you come up with a plan to identify and appeal to social gamers in your casino’s marketplace.

To attract the casual social gamer, casinos should provide value.  Once you’ve identified them, here are some things you can do to get them to visit your property.

  •  When purchasing entertainment, be sure to include “acquisition” acts that appeal to a younger audience.  Price the tickets to accommodate an audience who may not have as much disposable income as any of us would like.
  • Offer a variety of really good food options and price them in alignment with (or lower than) comparable restaurants in your area.
  • Train ALL of your employees to acknowledge new faces and encourage new visitors to join the players club so you can market to as many people as possible.
  • Make sure your gaming associates understand how to communicate with a variety of players and that they provide a positive experience.
  • Create the right environment for the guests you have at any given time.  Adjust lighting, music, and even staff to accommodate the customers you have.  For example, on Friday morning, oldies or doo wop makes sense, but on Friday night, you’ll want music from the ’80’s or ’90’s since there’s likely to be a younger crowd on the gaming floor.

Then, once you get them into the database, make sure you are mining regularly to identify those who have just joined the club so you can begin marketing to them right away.  Have hosts call those with the highest worth to make an offer even before your mail reaches them.  Ensure that new member offers are personalized and appeal to the recipient based on gaming preference, market,  and gender.

Social gamers are just casino patrons who don’t know it yet.  It’s your job to give them a reason to come to your casino instead of a competitor’s.  Find someone who can help you navigate this new territory and invite those players to see what you have to offer.

Assessing a Player Development Team

In most companies, employees receive annual evaluations to document their performance over a year’s time.  Some companies also require team leaders to evaluate their workers periodically (monthly, quarterly) to ensure they are on track and that their job performance is meeting certain milestones along the way.  I have long believed that an annual evaluation should never hold surprises for the recipient, as ongoing feedback and course corrections are beneficial to both the individual and the organization.  Wouldn’t it be even more beneficial, then, to have the ability to see on a daily basis whether a single employee or the entire team are on pace to achieve their goals?

In Casino Player Development, hosts sometimes miss out on bonuses by a few thousand dollars of theoretical.  When one has a goal of around a million dollars in theo over the course of a quarter, a miss of $5196 is a huge disappointment.  In the same way, it is embarrassing to miss a new member target by only a handful of active players…you see where this is going, right?  Knowing on a daily basis how each member of the team is trending makes it easy to provide ongoing feedback and encouragement to help them avoid that disappointment.

Establish reporting to give you an update every day on which hosted players were at the property, what you spent on them and what they spent with you.  Aggregated according to your department’s goals, see how many new members joined or returned, how many overdue guests have come back, how much theoretical has grown, and how many trips the regulars have made.  Every day.  As soon as someone is off course, both the host and team leader are aware of it so corrections and adjustments can be made.  Now.

If you aren’t already tracking the achievements and pacing to goal for your PD team (or if you’re a host who is flying blind) please allow me to recommend that you begin by taking a look at past achievements in order to plan for the future.  Setting a benchmark allows you to look back at past performance to show growth or where efforts are lacking in comparison.  In my series about setting and tracking host goals, I suggest that breaking a goal down into equal parts spread over the course of the goal period allows one to track whether one is on pace or not for each goal and objective.  That way, it’s easy to determine where the hosts’ efforts should be concentrated on any given day in order to ultimately achieve the goals he’s working toward. If you are a team leader, you are already responsible for reporting on the achievements of your team, and you need to be able to speak to their individual achievements as well as the aggregated accomplishments of your team.  So it makes sense to track how the hosts perform over time and note trends, how often they reach objectives and goals and which ones present a challenge to the team.

Using the benchmark, it’s a simple matter to show either the host or the C-suite what the strengths and weaknesses are for the team as a whole or as individuals, and where daily information has had an impact.  Along the way, be sure to compare the PD team’s results to property performance amid any market fluctuations, weather issues, construction, etc. that may have affected numbers.

Your host team should be driving play at a higher frequency, activity percentage, average theoretical and profitability than the direct mail program does.  Ideally, you’d be able to compare and contrast hosted players with unhosted players of similar worth, as in a split test.  If the hosted players aren’t spending more time and money at your property than those who don’t have a host, figuring out why can have a positive impact on your property’s bottom line.  Individual hosts who understand which players to move and why will also see their bottom line increase if your program includes bonuses for goal achievement.  That way, everybody wins!

You Don’t Have to be a Director to Provide Direction


It really doesn’t matter what your job title is, you are responsible for directing something during your day.  Maybe you direct a guest to the hotel elevator.  You could be asked to train a new co-worker.  Perhaps you are in a leadership role, but you aren’t “the decider.”  Whatever you do for a paycheck on a daily basis, you can provide direction in your role at work.

How?  It starts with understanding what you and your team are charged with getting done.  Then, observe the processes and procedures with which things actually get done (or not).   Surely there are things you do each day that aren’t being done as efficiently as they could be.  Maybe there are tasks that just don’t make sense to you. If you deal with guests directly, make note of the feedback you get from them, giving special attention to things you hear more than a handful of times, particularly if the same comment comes from a variety of guests.  Put on your thinking cap, come up with some ideas for making everyone’s life easier, and share them with your boss.

Think all the way through the idea, ask some trusted co-workers for their input, and decide on the best way to communicate your suggestion.  THAT is providing direction.  Additionally,  you benefit from any improvements that may come as a result of your idea.  This is direction that directly affects how readily you and your co-workers are able to accomplish your tasks, objectives, and goals.