Sarah Procopio

Automated Marketing: Why Casinos Are Slow on the Uptake and How to Change that for Your Property

If you put off getting up to speed on automated marketing and what it can do for your property because you thought it was a passing trend, newsflash: it isn’t. Marketing automation is here to stay, and it is changing the face of marketing as we know it in three key ways:

  • It drives down labor costs while increasing customer satisfaction.
  • It drives down marketing costs while increasing revenue.
  • It provides quick results from fast turnaround times.

Pretty amazing, right? Of course, there is also a dark side, which we will explore later, but for now, understand that the time has come for you to become well-versed in this area of technology and what it can do to drive revenue and profit for your hotel and casino.

Marketing automation is anticipated to be a $7.63 billion industry in just a few years. According to Nucleus Research, marketing automation drives a 14.5% increase in sales productivity and a 12.2% reduction in marketing overhead.

I recently worked with a top 10 U.S.-based gaming company to institute an automated marketing program for them after they had several false starts. I will share some tips and tricks we discovered along the way that are yielding them big dividends — their perseverance paid off.

So, What Exactly is Automated Marketing?

It is an inexpensive, highly-accessible category of technology that helps companies amplify the impact of current marketing tactics. How? By streamlining repetitive marketing actions so hotels and casinos can grow revenue faster and boost operational efficiency. Think of it like carefully hand-crafted chocolates by an artisan in Paris (traditional marketing) vs. a chocolate factory, such as Hershey’s (automated marketing), cranking out billions of chocolates a year. While we all adore the Parisian artisan, their works of art are slow and expensive. From a business standpoint, which company’s bank account would you rather have? Exactly.

Examples of marketing automation communication include:

  • SMS
  • email
  • social media
  • personalized landing pages
  • automated voicemails

Don’t be fooled, though. While many of these areas of communication will sound familiar to you, what sets them apart in the marketing automation realm is that they are triggered “automagically” in a way that seems ingenious, inexplicable or magical, through a set of instructions your marketing team defines up front. These instructions are typically triggered by a player or guest behavior that sets a series of actions into motion.

Marketing Automation in Its Ideal Form

When automated marketing is leveraged by a marketing team and performing at its best, it allows properties to nurture potential players and guests with highly personalized and relevant content that:

  • Converts people interested in visiting and playing at your property into guests
  • Delights current guests while squeezing maximum wallet share from them while they are on property
  • Keeps your hotel and casino top of mind for repeat visits and maximum player retention
  • Increases guest service levels and satisfaction while labor expenses decline

In its highest form, it generates a significant new revenue for companies and provides an incredibly high ROI. Getting there, however, is labor intensive. What you save in money via the low cost of marketing automation, you pay for (partially) in man-hours.

The Power of Marketing Automation in Action

In an ideal scenario, marketing automation could work like this for your property:

Sally Sangria is a high-level player who is “at-risk.” She has gone longer than usual without a trip to the casino and her host Tony has been trying to get her back in. She has been to your casino’s website several times reviewing the details of the upcoming car giveaway promotion, but hasn’t RSVP’d.

Automated Actions Phase 1: Ms. Sangria’s host Tony receives an email notifying him of Sally’s activity on the website. A call reminder for him is scheduled “automagically” with a note about the website activity for him to reference in a discrete, but effective way during the call. Tony calls Sally and offers and extra comp during the car giveaway. Since she already has an interest, this is exactly what she needed to incentivize her to come in and … boom! She has committed to attending the event.

Now, it is just a few days before the car giveaway…

Automated Actions Phase 2: Ms. Sangria receives an automated voice mail from Tony confirming her attendance and, since she is at-risk, offering her 50 free bonus drawing tickets if she checks in for the event an hour early (likely extending her time on the floor and maximizing wallet share). This is followed up with a similar SMS message. Now Sally feels like she is getting highly personalized attention from Tony (she has no idea he didn’t call and send the text message himself) without Tony having to invest any extra time.

The day of the car giveaway, Sally Sangria shows up and an “at-risk” player is officially reactivated. From Sally’s perspective, she received a lot of personal attention she felt like she was missing before and is happy to be back. Tony was able to do this for hundreds of his “at-risk” players successfully boosting his productivity without expanding the hours invested in his office allowing him to spend as much time on the floor as possible touching guests. Brilliant right? The customer journey related to behavioral based triggers and corresponding automated marketing messages once Sally Sangria arrives on property and post-event are in play as well, but…you get the idea.

Challenges Properties Experience with Marketing Automation

Many properties are under the false impression that marketing automation is “plug and play.” It isn’t. A ton of work goes into the front end, creating guest and player journeys that map out the experience of each visitor type or persona. A lot of time is also invested in creating the corresponding messaging patrons receive based on their behaviors at every touch point accessible, both on and off property. Many teams jump into marketing automation projects expecting them to be an easy fix only to be left crestfallen by the results. Because they weren’t prepared to dedicate the time or resources necessary to launch an effective program, the project is thrown by the wayside. There is no question it is a lot of work up front, but, as mentioned, the potential payoff is huge.

One pitfall is that marketers begin buying email address lists for prospecting and expect marketing automation to prove itself with the revenue those prospecting efforts generate. While it seems like a great way to test marketing automation, it’s not a long-term solution, nor does it create the fertile ground for a healthier, longer relationship with your future customers. To use a plant analogy, it’s sort of like using artificial chemicals or enhancers to make your plant grow faster. Sure, it seems like a good, quick fix, but it doesn’t set you up for future, long-term success. The good news is that if you have experienced similar challenges, you aren’t alone. Most companies struggle with this. Only 10 percent of marketers surveyed are confident in their ability to execute comprehensive marketing automation programs as part of a larger marketing strategy, per a Forrester study (paywall).

What Happens if I Baby Step into It?

Well, it could go right…or very wrong. It depends on your approach. If you baby step or test into automated marketing to see how effective it is for your company – or because you have limited resources – that is understandable. The best approach in this situation is to execute a single test scenario exceedingly well – one player persona, for instance – rather than doing a mediocre job on a broad level. This has two core benefits. First, it allows you to get a true taste for how effective this approach can be. Second, it ensures that you won’t turn guests and players off and push them away by providing impersonal and irrelevant messaging. We have all been victims of that from companies. It’s the worst, right? Don’t be that company.

Why Are Casinos Slow on the Uptake? Three Major Hurdles and How to Overcome Them

As mentioned above, the low cost of automated marketing doesn’t mean it is easy to execute effectively. Automated marketing requires a lot of strategy and planning. In the reactionary “right now!” environment that many properties have, it is extra challenging to break away from the daily pressures to execute an effort like this. This sets the stage for hotels and casinos arriving late to the show.

Data Silos

Challenge: We all know by now that the hotel and casino industry is the poster child for challenges related to data silos. Whether you have embarked on a data warehousing project yourself or have heard the war stories about challenges associated with creating a “one-customer view,” one thing is for sure: the struggle is real. As a result, many properties are left feeling overwhelmed and discouraged by the number of customer touch points necessary to create an ideal automated marketing solution. This is understandable.

Solution: What do you do? The short answer is: don’t wait. While IT is struggling with the perfect “One Card” solution, you could be increasing revenue, maximizing ROI and crushing your budget for this year. Besides, it could be years until your property has the perfect data warehousing solution in place that makes constructing an automated marketing program easy. Pick an area of business that holds the most data points for a guest (your casino operating system, for instance) and start there. Get scrappy. Approach this effort using the Lean Startup approach and find creative, fast and inexpensive ways to tie the data together – Extract, Transform and Load (ETL) tools are really inexpensive now, and you can find plugins or have one custom created quickly for almost anything. Keep in mind, the initial idea is to test it out on a small scale first, so it’s okay to duct tape together an automated marketing solution – so long as guests don’t feel the impact.

Lack of Speed

Challenge: The only real-time data you have access to is via your operational system, and there isn’t an ability to quickly extract it for immediate use on property – i.e., you can’t use the data for, say, pushing an offer to a player when your geotracking indicates he is on his way out the front door.

Solution: First of all, work to fix that ASAP. Real-time marketing while your players are on property is one of the most impactful ways of capturing wallet share and elbowing your competition out of the picture. But don’t wait to pull the trigger on your automated marketing efforts because you lack this ability. You’ll have your hands full mapping customer journeys and developing effective messaging for behavioral-based triggers that are time delayed. By the time you nail that down, hopefully you will have the on-property elements up and running.

Three Components of a Strong Marketing Automation Solution

Prospective guest and player (lead) scoring. How do you know the difference between a high-level prospective player or guest that has a high potential to convert and one that doesn’t? Using scoring methods that track demographics – BANT attributes and behavioral data – you will see who is ready to make a trial visit to your property and who would benefit from a more personal conversation with one of your team members.

Content management. Potential guests don’t just want to see the standard website everyone else is offering, especially guests in destinations or international markets who have more money and more time at stake selecting the right destination for their vacation. Savvy holiday planners want educational information that helps them learn through the purchasing continuum of awareness, consideration, preference and purchase. Effective content is crisp, targeted and educational. The goal of a solid content strategy is more about establishing thought leadership related to the product and service areas that your company represents. Quality educational content does not just happen. Nearly 70 percent of traditional marketing materials describe how a product works, rather than what it can do for your known customer needs – take note and ensure that this isn’t what your content is currently doing.

Measurement reporting and analytics. With marketing automation, your company can achieve deep insight into the entire lifecycle of your prospects, from awareness to consideration to purchase. Use data to strengthen customer relationships and improve campaign effectiveness in real time.

More on the Ugly Side of Automation

I mentioned earlier how detrimental a lack of personalization or irrelevant messaging can be to automated marketing efforts. Now, let’s explore some details with that and some other key elements to watch out for as you develop your marketing automation strategy. Keep in mind, the goal is to ultimately elevate the connection your guests feel to your brand and lock it into their hearts and minds.

Get creative with the data. When it comes to talking to your players, personalizing the message to specific audiences and behaviors is the single most important element to making your automated marketing program impactful. This leads to higher open rates, conversions and the revenue results you are after. Ensure you make your guests feel like the VIPs they are and not part of a herd. One way to do that is by getting creative with the data.

First, start with core behavioral economics principles in mind. If you missed my article on the topic, now is a good time to check it out. Next, make a list of the data points you have on your players and those that are available from third-party sources. For example, weather and street traffic data are two of the least expensive and most easily accessible third-party data sources – use them. How awesome would it be if you were trapped inside, experiencing the heaviest snow day of the year in Denver, and you received a text from a casino in California saying, “Ready to trade the snow in Denver for the surf and sand on the California coast right now?”

Don’t cater to commitment-phobes. There is nothing worse than emailing cold leads. Maintaining a list of people who have unsubscribed is equally, if not more, important than those who have subscribed. You don’t want to create a negative experience by continuing to communicate to people who have moved on from your brand. It’s not you, it’s them. There is also no reason to pay for them to sit on a mailing list.

Get the timing right. Nothing destroys a relationship with a guest and the credibility of your automated marketing program faster than ill-timed communication. We have all experienced this: signing up for a service and then continuing to get emails pitching you to sign up for the same service is incredibly annoying. If a player has said yes or no to services you are pitching (possibly through a host), this information has to be looped back into the system and communication adjusted accordingly. Setting automation triggers to turn off a drip email, text or automated voicemail drop campaign after someone has made the decision to reject or convert is crucial.

Back off. Give guests time to catch their breath. Attention is the oxygen of the internet, and marketers are hungry to capitalize on the moment. While instant emails are nice, there may be wisdom in sending emails hours or days later. If a customer is engaging with you on a Friday night, perhaps an email on Monday morning will be more successful than one sent over the weekend.

Be consistent. If you’re spending time and money on the services needed to deliver your marketing, then be thorough – consistently. Just like with the possibilities on preferences pages and signup forms, you need to create specific landing pages and forms for your customers. Really bring it home with a tailored success page that speaks to them the same way the opt-in page did. When all is said and done, do you want to send them to a generic page or one that celebrates their decision to convert?

Experience it yourself. With the endless customer journey variations you can create, it’s easy to move on to another aspect of automation before closing the loop on the first. Spending more time in production mode will pay off when you go live.

Marketing automation can take your revenue numbers to new heights as long as you know how to navigate the unexpected consequences and hurdles inherent in the medium. By developing a strategy upfront and putting in the work required to make these efforts successful, your players and guests will delight in this new way of interacting with your brand, and it will pour fuel on the fire of their love for your company.

Ms. Procopio has the unique ability to meld data science and human behavior to grow revenue and increase profit. Founder & President for Thrive Now, a nationally recognized, analytics and data driven marketing firm. Ms. Procopio has exceptional analytical, quantitative and problem-solving skills and deep experience in analytics based marketing. As an award-winning leader, her keen ability for leveraging marketing mediums to yield optimum ROI has earned her the reputation for turning flailing companies and marketing programs around quickly by leveraging analytics. Sarah is a current MBA candidate at Denver University and holds a degree in marketing from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.