Staying on top of public perceptions is key to maintaining a good reputation in the casino industry

Brand management is undoubtedly complex. It evolves from past choices, current cultures and future goals. Because every hotel and casino strives to separate itself by providing a unique experience to guests and visitors, it is imperative that marketing managers have an accurate perception of how their brand is received and perceived by their many audiences.

One of the biggest hurdles I predict the hotel and casino industry will face in implementing a brand management strategy is switching from a reactive to a proactive mindset. Being a rooted industry with a long-standing, successful history gives your brands a solid platform from which to build marketing campaigns, but there is always room for improvement. Most hotel and casinos can be more active in the online conversation and have more control over their reputation by monitoring the online chatter about their brands.

On a day-to-day basis, brand management gets pushed to the bottom of priority lists, but ideally, marketing teams should be monitoring brand reputation regularly. In most cases, this only seems necessary in a crisis situation when a brand is at risk for losing its reputation or respect within the industry; however, if assessed frequently, brand management can actually help marketing executives stay ahead of negative publicity in the event of a crisis.

Because the hotel and casino industry relies so heavily on customer/visitor satisfaction, it is imperative to maintain a positive brand reputation to attain overall business goals. On the hotel side, customers must be confident that their information will be secure when booking rooms online, and customers want to be reassured that they will enjoy their stay. People visiting a casino or staying at a hotel are utilizing their expendable income, and for a casino to create loyal customers, the visitors must feel it was worth spending their money. This is going to become especially important with the current economic slow-down.

Managing online reputations

Managing the brand of a hotel and casino will take a great deal of effort across many different fronts. With so many forums like travel booking sites, guest reviews and industry blogs, there are countless platforms where contented and disgruntled guests can voice their opinions. While these sites may seem like an Achilles heel of sorts, from a brand management standpoint, they are pre-established channels of communication straight to your ideal consumers. They are people who have either previously been to your hotel and casino, are interested in going there or interested in your competitors, and an added bonus is that they care enough to share their feedback.

If resources allow, it is best to respond to dissatisfied visitors personally after they vent about their stay at the hotel or casino - especially if their comments are on a blog. Because blogs are so easily accessed, it will be easy for a disgruntled poster to either retract their comments or update their readers after you contact them. Whether it’s via e-mail, phone or their own blog, respond to it positively so that they have the chance to spread positive publicity about your establishment to the very same people that read their negative comments.

I also recommend proactively reaching out to the big blogs covering this industry to generate amicable relationships with these thought leaders before there is a crisis. This way, if your hotel and casino does experience a backlash or brand tarnishing, you can easily reach out to them because the contact already exists. When attempting to rebrand or counteract unflattering publicity, it is hard to get official, balanced information to cut through the online clutter, but having access to thought leaders will help get your message out.

Crisis management

If your hotel-casino does experience some brand-damaging press, the first thing to do is respond strategically. In the absence of information, people will listen to whoever is doing the talking, so it is important to be apart of the conversation. This can be releasing a video of a top manager explaining the situation on an aggregator site like YouTube, MSN Video, or metacafé; disseminating a press release to the media; or sending out a personalized e-mail to every customer who receives your newsletters.

Once there has been an attempt to counteract unflattering publicity, one way to gauge a campaign’s success is how long it takes to create a different news cycle. If you are able to generate different news about your hotel and casino and essentially push the negative information to the bottom of search results pages, you have accomplished quite a feat. Similarly, how long it takes to regain your previous ranking within search engine results is an additional way to benchmark a brand management campaign. If your property has been proactively managing your brand online, you can use prior Web site traffic and blog post rates as a comparison during a negative news cycle.

Another important aspect of proactive brand management is to utilize the information learned when negative sentiments do surface around your hotel and casino. Using an example outside the hotel and casino industry, JetBlue serves as a prime illustration of how to turn negative publicity into positive. After planes and passengers were stranded for hours on runways around the country, customer backlash erupted and the brand’s reputation was at risk. To counteract the negative publicity, JetBlue created a passenger bill of rights as a step to ensure that similar events would not happen again. When searching for blog posts and online news articles, the establishment of the bill of rights gained great traction and was a hot topic of conversation even in light of the original critical publicity.

The main objective when facing negative publicity is to address the problem and reinforce your strategic messaging and re-establish brand confidence. The overarching goal with online brand management is to have control over your reputation before there is a crisis situation, so there are more options and communication outlets through which to combat negative press. Trust is hard to earn and easy to lose, but with effective online reputation management, your hotel and casino’s brand is in a better position to address negative concerns and to keep your reputation intact after the situation is under control.

Andreas Roell is president and CEO of Geary Interactive, a full-service digital marketing firm founded in 2000.  With offices in Las Vegas, San Diego and New York, Roell has built a successful online company specializing in Web development, media buying/planning, search engine and e-mail marketing. He can be reached at (619) 239-5953 or via e-mail at andreas.roell@gearyi.com.