Since last fall, Rebecca Carr has been chief marketing officer at Foxwoods Resort Casino, a position she was recruited to after holding top jobs in telecom, including vice president of global marketing at Verizon. Executive Editor Charles Anderer recently spoke with Carr about the transition and what her brand of thinking has meant for Foxwoods.
How’d you wind up in gaming?
Carr:I spent the first part of my career in telecommunications. I came to a juncture in my career and said I’m halfway through, have another 20 years, and I want to learn something different. I was recruited so I wasn’t necessarily seeking out the hospitality industry. Two things struck me about Foxwoods: This is a marketer’s dream. The entire business is dependent on effective marketing. Plus, I have the ability to be even more creative than I have been in the past with such a dynamic set of assets. I wouldn’t say I have just come to gaming because this is a destination resort with dining, hotels, entertainment and retail, not to mention meetings and conventions. So it really offers a broad mix of assets.
Have you experienced any positive surprises about casino marketing, meaning things that work pretty well?
Carr:I was very pleasantly surprised at the depth and sophistication of the database and data mining. The opportunity is in using that information more strategically. Casino marketing has been very promotions-oriented and segmentation has been very black-and-white. A player spends this much money, they fall into a specific category and they get a specific offer. What I was excited about was the ability to leverage the data to do more behavioral modeling to make our segmentation more strategic and personalize the kinds of offers we deliver. That’s really where marketing is going in this business. If I take two gamers who spend the same amount of money on slot machines, there are a lot of other attributes that come into play in terms of what will encourage them to visit your property. What other things do they like to do when they’re on the property? Do they usually stay at the hotel? Do they live ten minutes away or two hours away? There are so many other attributes that we can encapsulate and translate into the right offers at the right time to the right people.
So the theo mindset needs to be expanded?
Carr: Absolutely. We’re already doing it. Certainly theoretical win is the baseline and I don’t think it will ever go away, because that’s what dictates the level of reinvestment. It’s just how you reinvest that has got to change. Through some very measured and focused tests, we have been able to change offers and not change the redemption rate and drive more profitability. I could sell every single room in the hotel and have 6,300 slot machines filled but you’ve got to have a balanced focus on top line and bottom line. Three years ago that wasn’t an issue.
We don’t know exactly when, but Foxwoods will be facing some significant new gaming competition from Massachusetts, but you’ll still have an edge on the amenities side. Will that be a focus in your marketing?
Carr: It will. Gaming is still by far the most important part of our business, but we so much more to offer to virtually any consumer. If you’re a foodie we have 5 star and celebrity chef restaurants. If you enjoy the spa, we have two world-renowned spas. You can tailor a weekend getaway to include everything from a museum visit, to golf to spa, gaming and more. As for changes in marketing, I developed a role called a target market specialist, and aligned it with meetings and conventions, retail, F&B, Asian marketing, bus marketing, etc., and have someone on the team who’s focused just on that. That all cascades up to the macro brand and business plan, but those individual businesses now have a marketing person solely focused on helping them achieve their respective goals.
You also developed a new brand campaign called Anything But Ordinary, which centers around five characters considered to be the typical Foxwoods customers; the Ace, who is smart, sophisticated and serious; the King, who wants to be treated like royalty; the Queen, who likes to be pampered; the Jack, who is the life of the party; and the Joker, who comes to Foxwoods for a great time. How did that decision evolve?
Carr: We conducted a brand study to really understand both the attributes associated with our brand and the attributes that attract gamers. That really helped us understand the foundation that we were building on. The focus was on differentiation. You can go play a slot machine anyplace. If you really want that special moment or weekend, Foxwoods has the breadth and depth of amenities to enable you to do that.
Anything but Ordinary really speaks to the experiences. It’s by no means “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.” It’s more like, “Come to Foxwoods; you can be who you want to be.” You can come here, be yourself and have any kind of experience that fits what you’re looking for. The refresh of the brand gives us the opportunity to market the full complement of what we do, the different kinds of experiences we have here based on the wealth of amenities. I’ve seen more and more gaming businesses going that route recently. We needed to come out in a very vibrant way and claim a brand promise. I don’t think we had one that permeated the patrons as well as our employees. This campaign was just as much about an internal rallying cry around a brand promise that we can deliver extraordinary experiences. That is certainly foundational in the decision as to whether or not you’re going to be a repeat customer and remain loyal.
Were there other elements tied to the campaign?
Carr: The reward program was completely re-launched at the same time and it does have elements that tie to the brand. But the changes really helped reinforce the investment that we have in the market. We took what was a sleepy reward program that was for all intents and purposes conventional. Getting free valet parking and front-row line at restaurants is not very compelling for a high roller. We built a very exciting program with a lot of property discounts and a lot of offers that we were giving our patrons with promotions have been built into the loyalty program. Now there is really clear expectation about what it takes to get what kind of offers.
Foxwoods CEO Scott Butera is a finance-oriented executive who I assume wants to see the ROI of everything you do. I imagine your previous background helps with that.
Carr: I love it, because I lean toward the science of marketing; I show him more spreadsheets than I do pictures. Because there is so much going on in a casino this size, it’s very hard to say, “Because I did this event, it drove X amount of revenue.” That said, we’ve been doing a lot of analysis to see what our key drivers are. We look at an individual player and say when we give them a specific promotional incentive, do they play up, down, to the level required, how did it affect time vs. wallet? We’ve got incredible analytics. It’s about using them to drive and reward specific behaviors.
What do you think of the quality of software solutions that are out there right now for casino marketers?
Carr: I think they just keep getting better and better. They allow you to be much more strategic and efficient because you can automate processes. In the past, you used to have to pull the list at a specific time of the month to see where people are in relation to hitting the next tier of the reward program. Now, you build business rules, and the software engines and modeling does it all for you. You’re getting to the point where you can let those programs run and think about the next thing. The challenge with software, and I don’t think it’s ever going to change in my lifetime is the level of customization that each property wants. We’re working right now on our CRM integration to optimize it for our business and that requires customization and that takes time.
There’s some division in the industry as to the actual importance of social media in marketing, and that direct mail is the present and future king. What’s you view?
Carr: They’re distinct animals. In my lifetime, direct mail will never go away, but it has a time and place and it’s for certain audiences. That said, I think social media first and foremost is a customer service venue. People are going to be out there talking about you anyway, so why not be involved in the conversation? We need to understand what makes them happy or sad and address it immediately because it drives personalization andimproved satisfaction. I’ve formed a lot of relationships with patrons who are fans on our Facebook page. You get to know what they’re talking about instead of being up in your glass castle not knowing. Just putting up a Facebook or Twitter page is not enough. You’ve got to have a fully integrated plan. You’ve got to leverage sweepstakes, advertising, cross-promotions. It takes a concerted effort, but I am a huge proponent of social media. We’ve learned more about the business, addressed it immediately, and gotten real-time clarification of information. We’ll always have social media as a key component of overall campaigns. We had 34,000 Facebook fans when I came in and now we have 110,000, so that probably shows how serious I am about it. I’ve used it to get feedback on ideas for restaurants and concerts, new rewards programs. We’ve used it a lot.
This is a pretty intimate business compared with the global focus you had at Verizon. Do you have more answers now at the end of the day than you did at your previous job?
Carr: I think so. You definitely have the opportunity to have a more immediate impact on the business. You’re right here and you’re close to it. If I’m wondering what patrons think of something, I’ll walk to the casino floor, hang out at a table and talk to people, versus devising a marketing plan for Asia when you’re sitting in Atlanta.