Casino marketers in non destination locations need to go beyond freeplay to entice increased patronage midweek
I no longer dread Mondays, but not for the reasons you think... I’m actually eager to get to my office and start the workweek.
But this always wasn’t the case because I work in marketing, with casino floors and hotel rooms thirsting for continuous replenishment of customers. Monday used to mean the start of another cycle of famine to feast.
Many of us see our hotel and casino visitation (and revenue) crater on Monday then steadily crawl out of the abyss by Thursday. Some properties die each Tuesday, others curse every Wednesday. It’s a treadmill, set at level “three” when the week begins, resetting to “twelve” by Friday when the two- or three-day rush begins, then it is Monday again, and it all dials back. How do you get off this treadmill?
I’m not talking to you, Las Vegas. Yes, you certainly have your challenges, I know. But with a robust convention business growing stronger each quarter, you’ve got the midweek occupancy thing mostly handled. And when the town is dead, your revenue management team will drop room rates to the floor while everyone keeps their fingers crossed. It’s an “unstrategy” that keeps on giving, until it doesn’t. But, never mind.
No, this missive is directed at my fellow regional marketers here in flyover country, those of us dependent on the day-tripper, the local gamer and the drive-in tourist. And, especially, this is for those of us in locations that are not quite destinations.
We’ve all got our fair share of reliable weekend customers—that happy throng of loyalists and thrill-seeking road warriors. Long-haul truckers and the RV camper set usually join the mix, along with the occasional clutch of conventioneers, reunion-enthusiasts and wedding parties. These weekenders contribute mightily to our bottom line, and ensure we hit our overall monthly numbers with some consistency. But midweek, ah, what to do? I know what you’re thinking: “Freeplay!” Please don’t go there.
Here’s a better way to fill your place during the week. It’s easy. First, construct an iconic brand promise that resonates, like “I’m loving it” or “Just do it.” Second, deliver on that promise with memorable, award-winning category-leading advertising, like “Got Milk?” Lastly, create casino promotions anchored by on-property activations with hosted events that entertain, excite and inspire. Hire the Rolling Stones or Lady Gaga to headline a lavish party offering a big prize give away. Maybe the American Idol producers can shoot an audition at your property.
So, execute all of that, sit back, and marvel at the results. Bask in the glow of your marketing genius and wait for the money to roll onto your casino floor on a Wednesday night, and watch your mid-week hotel occupancy hit 100 percent.
Dream on, friend.
Suppose this fantasy world was a reality, and you really could do all that. Well, guess what? So would your competition. But you can’t, and neither can they.
What can you do to beat the mid-week skids, while differentiating your property from the competition? How do you convince your target customer to venture out on a Tuesday or Thursday? How can you showcase your casino as a better gaming experience than the guy down the street, without hiring the Rolling Stones? And in the process, can you gain a greater share of the customer’s wallet, more market share overall, and vanquish your competitors?
More cynically, how many different ways can we say and do something interesting to promote a commodity product that has not fundamentally changed in decades? Until we start offering Space Invaders with a payback table, we’re in a jam here, people.
In fact, I have no silver bullet, but I come bearing suggestions. I’ve done them all and, to varying degrees, these tactics can work for you, too.
First, you need something to talk about. Freeplay and free food offers are the foundation of your direct marketing efforts, and there is no denying these offers work well with your value-centric customer. Your customers want something to talk about and share with their friends, and word of mouth is the most valuable advertising you can’t buy. Still giving away cars every month? So is your competition. Get out of your comfort zone and give away experiences. Instead of just a car giveaway, how about a trip to Baja for a racing adventure, and then send them home in a tricked out SUV? The casino events and promotional activations that could accompany this type of giveaway are limitless.
Regarding advertising, cast as wide a net as you can afford. If you’re in close proximity to a major metro area, good for you, but don’t let those media expenses bleed you to death. Big city advertising is always tempting; especially spot TV (“Wow, I can reach this huge audience!”) and out-of-home media (“Commuters stuck in traffic!”) But this can get very expensive in a hurry. A better tactic is to find a pedestrian or commuter choke point in that city and milk it. Train station dominations are a good way to make a big impact inside an otherwise media-noisy, expensive market. Malls, ballparks, arenas, transit shelters and bus wraps are also good eyeball aggregators. Your posters should offer passers-by an opportunity to engage with your brand, like a QR code or a geo-location call-to-action.
Event sponsorships can put your casino brand in front of a target customer in a sustained and meaningful way. Local festivals and concerts are affordable places to showcase your brand, and to offer a taste of your brand’s experience. Maybe you have a chef that can offer tastings from your buffet or steak house. Go bigger and bolder, if you dare. Last year we bought the home plate signage at a major league baseball ballpark. Every ninth inning, our logo and website address was there, behind home plate and on live TV. It was awesome. We saw a measurable increase in web traffic and customers originating from that market. Sure, we have many weapons in our arsenal hitting that particular market, but everything contributes.
Work your database to the bone. Your loyalty program members will save your bacon during slowdowns in your business cycle. Be aggressive in acknowledging their recent visits with reasonably generous, customized offers; be more aggressive in reminding those that haven’t visited in a while to come back. And do whatever it takes to get that customer’s e-mail address if you haven’t already, because direct marketing does the heavy lifting.
Build a big loyal following of brand advocates with creative, entertaining casino promotions. Pay attention to Facebook and join the conversation online; your customers will define your brand experience with or without you on social media. If you haven’t hired a community manager to monitor and referee those online conversations, what are you waiting for? On property and online, explore interesting ways to make your customers “Earn and Get.” Find a prize no one has thought of. Give away experiences instead of vehicles.
Finally, smile and have fun out there. After all, we’re in the gaming business.