I didn’t always have the word “Strategist” in my title. I added it one day, after reading an interesting business article by a guy who had Chief Strategist in his moniker. I thought it sounded pretty cool, and that it seemed to suggest a solutions approach to business.
It wasn’t until much later that I actually looked up the word in the dictionary and found: “Strategist (n), a person skilled in designing and planning action and policy to achieve a major or overall aim.”
Wow, what a very impressive and high powered definition! Except … from my experience in the gaming industry, casino marketing executives have rarely been allowed into the lofty realm of business strategy creation. That has typically been the domain of CEOs, GMs, CFOs, Business Boards, Tribal Councils, Advertising Consulting Partners and others without “marketing” in their title.
It seems to be very different in other industries, where Chief Marketing Officer represents real decision-making power, and the person with that title, if not actually leading the strategy charge, is at least a real player in the process.
Not so in gaming, although granted, that is now starting to change with some companies like Caesars Entertainment and Barona Resort and Casino. And yes, even my LinkedIn connections in the gaming industry are now starting to have such titles as VP of Marketing Strategy, Manager of Social Marketing Strategy and Director of Strategy Integration.
But as a whole, I believe gaming marketers have not been allowed to be strategists around meaningful, high level strategy planning and implementation at most casino organizations. I attribute that somewhat to gaming history where GMs have usually ruled the roost, and they have tended to come from operations or finance, not marketing. In addition, until recently, gaming has enjoyed explosive growth in mostly underserved gaming markets, so the focus has been more on development and operations – getting open and getting the milk from the “cash cow” flowing.
But with maturing markets, increasing competition and the recession, the gaming industry’s challenge has more and more become a marketing challenge. And how can we meet that challenge without marketing folk at the strategy table?
The short answer is we can’t.
So what has to happen for casino marketing professionals to become real chief strategists? Well, here are my thoughts, and they focus on what marketers need to do (although there is much that organizations and senior operations leaders must make happen as well):
• Casino marketers need to get smarter - no, they’re not stupid, but there is plenty of room for them to know more about what guests are saying, how player tracking systems can be better leveraged, how finance works, what happens in slot and table game departments, where new media tools are taking us, what other industries are doing in the way of breakthrough marketing concepts, and a whole host of other learning opportunities.
• Casino marketers need to build better relationships - especially with senior management to erase stigmas of their roles and capabilities. General Managers need to stop thinking marketing departments are overstaffed, CFOs that they are financially undisciplined and regulators that they are procrastinators and sloppy in getting approvals.
• Casino marketers need to be better teachers - they need to show solid marketing principles and continually educate senior management on why they spent the casino’s money on certain marketing tactics (and not others) and how they evaluated return on investment from those choices.
• Casino marketers need to be more accountable for a casino’s operating results - and not just be evaluated on how well they stayed within their annual marketing budget or met industry standards of marketing spend as a percentage of revenue.
And when casino marketers have accomplished all this, they need to ask, no, make that demand, to be meaningfully included in the strategy process. Yes, they will be that important in driving the casino’s business in a customer focused way.
And it will be a great time to ask for a raise.