Advocacy versus loyalty in an increasingly wireless casino world
If you think being an advocate for a brand and being loyal to a brand is one in the same, then you are not a casino marketer. Brand loyalty in the casino industry is non-existent. Brand advocates, on the other hand, are everywhere.
Arguably, casinos cater to the most promiscuous customers of any industry and Las Vegas provides all the evidence one needs to support this assertion. The typical Las Vegas tourist will visit six casinos during a two and half day average stay. They will carry player loyalty cards for every one of those properties, and most will play hard to earn enough points for some sort of entitlement redeemable during their brief stay. Biloxi, Atlantic City and Macau customers are no different. There is no loyalty.
For the card carrying, rated player, how and where the entitlement—points and comps—is eventually earned and redeemed is inconsequential. In commodity centric environments like Las Vegas, Atlantic City and other gaming destinations, a room is a room, and slot machines and table games differ not from place to place. “I’m going to gamble at six different properties; if I can earn a free room at Excalibur, then play roulette at Paris, who cares?” That’s ‘loyalty,’ casino destination-style.
This is not to say that loyalty programs as a mechanism for retention and trip generation are not effective. Of course they are, particularly for regional operators. But loyalty programs do not necessarily encourage brand advocacy. Does earning a room or meal comp mean that something is good or memorable or worth sharing with friends? Not necessarily.
“We need to deploy a more aggressive apparatus to track prolific posters and bloggers, and reward them in kind. Acknowledging the brand advocate and rewarding them for the potential of referred business is not a risk, and may be as lucrative as rewarding customers through players’ club programs.”
And what about those eccentric players that remain loyal yet refuse to sign up for the programs or insert their player cards into a machine? In their case, the term ‘loyalty program’ is a misnomer. Although we’ve managed to enlist about sixty percent of our customers into our loyalty program enterprise-wide, a significant portion refuse to join or use the cards when they play. Their reasons are mysterious, with many claiming that the act of inserting the card into the machine somehow enables the casino to alter the outcome of the game. I have engaged in numerous, passionate conversations with many of these customers, attempting in vain to convert them to card-carrying, card-using members of our loyalty program, ‘The Club,’ but to no avail. These unrated players are a superstitious lot, but they’re still ‘loyal,’ even if they refuse to be recognized as such.
But what about those patrons out there generating conversational currency on behalf of your casino through Facebook, Instagram and good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth—aren’t they practicing brand advocacy? These individuals without argument represent the most valuable contributors to your brand reputation and theirs is the only market voice that matters.
I’ve conducted quarterly advertising effectiveness surveys on behalf of my casinos for two years. Consistently, 50 percent of our customers are hearing about our properties and our promotions through word-of-mouth, not through traditional media channels such as TV, radio or out-of-home advertising. These brand ambassadors help spread the word and are priceless contributors to our bottom line (and yours) and yet no one has yet figured out the mechanism for recognizing these valuable advocates. Why is that? We recognize that conversational currency is born from the experiences we create at our properties, experiences that are worth talking about, and worth sharing online. Ultimately these experiences translate into posts on Facebook and Instagram, often shared and…then what?
We see hints of measurement mechanisms and potential processes for recognizing brand ambassadors and advocates, but these efforts are still too ‘beta,’ and all mostly tease. The software developer that figures out an API linking Facebook activity to a customer’s CMP account will upend casino marketing.
“This is not about measuring the effectiveness of advertising or determining its value. It’s about discovering the true worth of social media-empowered advocacy, recognizing their contributions and developing actionable programs to reward them appropriately.”
We need to deploy a more aggressive apparatus to track prolific posters and bloggers, and reward them in kind. Acknowledging the brand advocate and rewarding them for the potential of referred business is not a risk, and may be as lucrative as rewarding customers through players’ club programs.
If an advocate on Facebook shares an experience at our casino with 300 of her friends, what is the value of that post? What is the mechanism for measuring conversion rates of these shared posts? Are we willing to roll the dice, and take a guess that 300 Facebook ‘likes’ will generate three room reservations or three players generating $750 in casino wagers? And if so, how do we recognize or reward the advocate?
It’s a reasonable question to ask in the shadow of an advertising media strategy that essentially executes the same Hail Mary pass. If we buy billboards along the interstate, how many of those eyeballs we’ve captured translate into paying customers? What’s the conversion rate? This is not about measuring the effectiveness of advertising or determining its value. It’s about discovering the true worth of social media-empowered advocacy, recognizing their contributions and developing actionable programs to reward them appropriately. After all, these advocates are building your brand.