For years the gaming industry was on the cutting edge of loyalty programs, database management and the collection of information.

I and other casino marketers often bragged that we knew every nuance of a customer’s gaming pleasure, and we used that information for greatness. Our response and conversion rates were “best practice” high; so much so that other industries looked to us for insight.

Yet for as forward-thinking as we were (and still are) in these areas, we made some fact-based assumptions that we unfortunately held on to for far too long. As a result, we have fallen very far behind on applying that same casino marketing model that brought us such success to digital marketing.

And this lack of transition planning is starting to show, especially as our core customers continue to migrate towards ever evolving digital devices. Indeed, while my father still uses a flip phone, today’s seniors own smartphones. They are downloading apps. They are posting to Facebook, checking their e-mails and even showrooming.

“What we’re seeing is that the older demographics are using smartphones several times a day and that half of the traffic to casino websites is from those mobile phones,” said Angel Suarez, executive vice president of Red Circle, a Minneapolis, Minn.-based full-service advertising agency. “The idea that the older demographic is not digital or mobile is outdated. We can’t continue to think this way. In addition, as we look to fill the funnel with Millennials… we have no option but to think digitally.”

Tom Martin, digital strategy advisor for Converse Digital, a Metairie, La.-based digital marketing firm, would tell you it’s about “marketing propinquity.”

“The law of propinquity states that the greater physical (or psychological) proximity between people, the greater the chance that they will form friendships or romantic relationships,” Martin said. “There are various types of propinquity including industry/occupational propinquity, in which similar people working in the same field or job tend to be attracted to one another; residential propinquity, in which people living in the same area or within neighborhoods of each other tend to come together; and acquaintance propinquity, a form of proximity in existence when friends tend to have a special bond of interpersonal attraction.

“To this list we’d add marketing propinquity. With the advent of mobile smartphones, essentially little computers in our pockets, consumers have fundamentally changed the way they interact with information and, as a subset, marketing. For the first time in history, marketers truly have access to technology and marketing channels that allow for a one-to-one, contextually-relevant messaging program.”

Delivering the right message to where our customers are and when they are in the mindset to really pay attention to what we’re saying has always been the marketer’s goal. It used to be that this meant we would advertise on the 10:00 p.m. news. Now, it means we communicate (not advertise, per se) where our customers want to get information. Those channels have to be fluid, adjusting by customer and device beyond the television.

I’m not turning my back on the traditional channels. I still see them as valuable, but we must apply them in a way that we can measure and provide some acceptable return. Today’s smart marketer knows how to target content and send appropriate messages (via e-mail, social, mobile and more). We can no longer afford to “spray and pray.” Also, don’t confuse the word “social” for “digital”—while social has quickly become a large piece of the digital puzzle, it’s not the whole picture. You need to think website, e-mail, mobile, gamification and social.

WEBSITE AS FRONT DOOR

If you’ve ever had the luck of being part of building a casino from the ground up, you know how much time and effort goes into designing and building the entrance; from the marquee to the landscaping, every detail is checked and double-checked. Now, think about your website… did you spend anywhere near as much time contemplating its design and appeal?

You should, because the website has become the new front door for the casino experience. It is where you can attract first-time visitors and leave a positive first impression. It’s also a chance to engage existing guests by providing the rich content needed to enhance initial visitation and hopefully get them to spend more time and money at the property. In addition, easily available analytics products provide the ability to understand the path a guest takes on the website and how much time they spend. These analytics make great reports and insight on how a site needs to be built. You can tell where a visitor is coming from, what they are clicking and what they are ignoring.

Here are some other tips to keep in mind when contemplating website design and management:

Most visitors will not remember that your website was visually beautiful. They will remember how easy it was to get to what they needed. A creative director I know balked at using a button that wasn’t in the brand color palette until he learned that color made it easier for visitors to get to the information they needed.

White space is your friend. It’s always a challenge for a marketer to say less; after all, we’re communicators and communication is words. We have lots of words and we’d like to use them all while we have the customer’s attention. Learn to control yourself… just because your website is theoretically limitless, managing that space for the comfort of your visitor is of utmost importance particularly given the propensity for visitors to view your site on handheld devices.

Test and test again.AB testing is a hallmark of digital design, and it is a best practice that everyone should follow. It would be easier if you were the target… you’d design the perfect website every time. But in reality, most of us are not the target or mind readers and AB testing allows you to see which layout and configuration works the best for your visitors.

Think Zappos. Zappos is proud to point out that they have a contact number at the top of their web pages rather than buried somewhere in the footer, on a contact page or (gasp) nowhere on the site. Remember casino customers are inherently social and they will want a warm body to talk to.

Refresh often. Don’t forget to refresh your site in both content and structure to keep up with the demands of visitors and changes in technology.

NO BLAST ZONE

I’ve waded through thousands of hours of research and feel that, no matter how savvy our customers are becoming, the monthly core mail is not going away anytime soon. Granted, much more of this mail is now delivered electronically, and many are trying to move all customers off of snail mail to e-mail. Perhaps a better approach is to continue to use both, and instead of treating e-mail as solely a mass advertising channel, think of it as a modern direct mail tool.

Why not put the same thought to each e-mail that we currently put into each piece of direct mail? Technology allows you to fluidly create and deliver one-to-one communication through e-mail with a faster turnaround. Boomers are still the core market for our industry, and for them, e-mail is becoming more and more important. Indeed, a recent study from Houston, Texas-based DMN3 Institute indicated that 95 percent of Boomers list e-mail as one of their top three online activities.

Ask Suarez of Red Circle what he thinks about e-mail blasts, and he’ll tell you, “… it is kind of a dirty word. We believe there is a tremendous amount of potential for casinos to do what has been successfully done for decades now in the direct marketing space through direct mail and applying it to e-mail, but we’re often failing to do so. Our proprietary database marketing software, Recon, gives marketers the sophistication so that you’re not blasting out the same message to your entire database. Now we’re segmenting targeted offers based on ADT to players and driving them to the property through a medium that has been underutilized to date.”

How can you be more effective with e-mails? Look at how you acquire the customer. Try to get data from every touchpoint. Look at activity. Is a $20 free play offer really going to motivate a person who just comes to eat at your restaurant or enjoy a concert?

GETTING SMART

Until fairly recently, vendors that came to casinos with new mobile technologies were often shown the door after hearing comments such as, “no one wants to check their phone… our customers like to get their offers in the mail… our customers aren’t on smartphones… our customers are just not tech savvy.” There were practically as many doors closing on these vendors as there were casinos. Ask a casino marketer just five years ago if they thought their best customers had an e-mail account, and I bet a very large percentage would have said no.

My, how the times have changed... according to a 2014 Nielsen report, Boomers are spending more and more time with technology, and properties such as Wind Creek Hospitality have not been deaf to this data. The Hot Alabama Nights campaign was originally designed to draw visitors to their Alabama-based Montgomery and Wetumpka resorts, but the team saw there was more to the idea than just a brand awareness campaign. They realized they had an opportunity to engage Atlanta, one of the costlier media markets, and created a smartphone-based interactive game that would deliver rewards redeemable at the resorts.

Simple instructions on all Wind Creek Hospitality advertising media guided customers to the smartphone game and how it was played. The more customers play, the more rewards they can unlock, creating a true level of engagement and brand activation. In addition, the data Wind Creek gathers from the game allows them to continue engaging with these guests. With this campaign Wind Creek has bridged the gap between the traditional advertising world and the digital world... all through a piece of technology we all hold in our hands.

And the casino enterprise has only just begun to tap the potential of mobile marketing. “The most important trend casino marketers should be paying attention to is mobile connectivity,” said Rich Sullivan, CEO of Mobile, Ala.-based Red Square Gaming, a full-service agency that focuses on casino brands. “I’m not talking about mobile websites or apps. It’s really more broadly about how we all connect to each other and the world around us. The pace of change in this area is accelerating, but utilization of the technology in casinos is still in its infancy. Wearables, beacons, AI customer service bots—these things are going to be the expectation soon. Regardless of the size of your property, you should be working on baseline connectivity improvements and making a list of things to experiment with… if you don’t push the experience, your competition will.”

IT’S ALL A GAME

Aron Ezra is CEO of OfferCraft, a Las Vegas-based provider of offer creation and optimization platforms. He knows a thing or two about digital and casino customers, having been at the helm of the development of a number of early casino mobile app projects. He is now opening up another digital world to casinos and casino customers with OfferCraft

“Casino customers are a diverse group but there’s one thing almost all of them really enjoy—games,” Ezra said. “More than anything else, games define our industry.”

This insight led Ezra to meld game dynamics with casino marketing and promotional efforts in an attempt to boost offer popularity with targeted customers. “Gamification, in the context of casino marketing, means using game dynamics outside of traditional games and across your marketing efforts,” he said. “Across more than 1,000 tests, we’ve found that giving players an offer in the form of a game makes that campaign more memorable, more fun and ultimately far more effective.

“This can have a profound impact on how casinos approach marketing,” Ezra added. “For us at OfferCraft, that means helping casinos put games into e-mail and direct mail, games on billboards and signs, games at the restaurant and the hotel, games on websites, games in mobile apps, in text messages and more. We use gamified promotions to reactivate defectors, drive incremental visits, collect e-mail addresses and phone numbers, and generally motivate and reward every kind of behavior desired by a casino marketer. Even successful programs with 60 percent conversion rates see even higher redemption numbers and data collection numbers when we add creative gamification to it. This allows marketers to get a lot more value per dollar spent.”

This is still a relatively new field, and casinos are only just now beginning to embrace the idea of using games outside the gaming floor. You can expect to see a lot more innovation here in the coming months, but some forward-thinking casinos are already seeing great results.

“Now we can create promotions out of every offer, and guests have an opportunity to win more than just the same old coupon thanks to the OfferCraft technology they are using,” said Justin Shank, digital marketing manager at Washington-based Swinomish Casino & Lodge.

SOCIAL STUDY

Meanwhile, on the social media marketing front, DMN3 reports:

• The majority of Boomers who use social media are on Facebook;

• A significant group of leading-edge Boomers (15.5 percent) spend 11 or more hours per week on Facebook; and

• Over half of Boomers who use social networking sites will visit a company website or continue their search on a search engine as a result of seeing something on social media.

Casino marketers have always loved Facebook, but as Facebook continues to tweak their algorithm and adjust their pay model, we need to become more strategic and mindful of how we use it as a marketing tool. Once you’ve built a community around your Facebook page, use the ad tool to target ads to reach the friends of the people who already like your page. You can also use the tool to create custom and look-alike audiences. In addition, the interest targeting feature allows you to reach people who already like something similar to you on Facebook.

Some best practices to keep in mind whether your social channel of choice is Facebook or another:

• Use tracking URLs to track the performance of any post, whether paid or organic.

• Mind your analytics.

• Increase the ROI of your ads by promoting content you know works.  When you notice that a post is getting a lot of engagement, promote it to reach even more people.

• Be authentic. Be responsive. Be consistent. Remember these are still “social” networks.

Now that I think of it, these are probably best practices for all digital efforts.