A strategy differs from a plan in that a plan is a collection of “whats” and “to dos.” A strategy is the “why” and the signals along the path that tell us we’re on the road to success. A solid strategy simplifies the actual marketing, making it easier to implement the right plan. Many marketing initiatives will fall short if they are executed in a strategic vacuum. I realize working on marketing strategy is not as dazzling as creating an ad or designing of a website, but skipping this step is a big mistake.

Times have changed. Between the economic downturn of the early 2000s, the growing reliance of data and analytics and the shift in generational interests, it’s more important than ever to have a solid marketing strategy. Whether a multinational operator or a single location situated along a river, a clear strategy will be a roadmap that helps set measurable goals that will get a business to the promised land of success and growth. More importantly, a clear, articulated marketing strategy can provide several benefits if it’s realistic and easy to understand and implement. In addition, a marketing strategy can eliminate potentially catastrophic ad-hoc decision making since all decisions will have to comply with an established strategic roadmap.

Some items to consider while formulating a marketing strategy include:

Determining market position
The process of developing a marketing strategy forces an understanding and acknowledgement of a property’s position in the marketplace and what can be done to differentiate itself. For many years, there were operators who considered themselves to be in a monopolistic position. Sure, they may have been the only ones for miles around possessing a gaming license, but were they truly the only entertainment option? Is this the opinion of customers as well?

Determine if your property is a market leader or challenger, and do not be scared if it is the latter. By and large brands will tend to tell the same story. Understanding the competitive set can open the doors to more creative ways of approaching marketing.  Who doesn’t love a feisty brand willing to cut through the clutter and stand in its own light? And in an age when “hack” and “disruption” have become the business buzzwords (or some might say nervous marketing tics), breaking the mold and offering a new way to look at a brand is almost demanded from consumers. Strategy focuses you on understanding who you truly are as a brand.

Product and pricing direction
A marketing strategy can guide capital allocations because strategy work begins with market research—identifying key targets, likes, dislikes, motivators and turnoffs, as well as trends that are starting to impact business. The resulting information can then be used to determine changes and improvements that can differentiate a brand in the consumer’s mind.

Pricing is also guided by marketing research. Do customers want an ultimate luxury and a luxurious price or are they looking for a fun, friendly value? How many of us have tried to market steakhouses that are closed more days than open because hungry customers depart to find an affordable three-meal concept? Are you operating a full spread of table games while high-end customers leave to find a desired table limit at another casino?

Resource efficiency and profitability
Looking for a way to bring more to the bottom line? Stop wasting time and money on efforts that will not get the property to the earnings promised land. Having a strong strategic foundation leads to better focus on budget and staffing by showing where to invest. Focus only on the marketing programs that will support the overall business objectives. Historically, operators have been tempted to buy the business through reinvestment. Some erroneously believed that offers made customers loyal to a specific brand. But the emerging casino generation can’t be so easily bought. Millennials have a new set of values, and how they give their loyalty is completely different than what we’re used to.

Focused communications
A well-considered strategy drives communications, both internally and externally. It will provide agency partners with clear direction, eliminating the need for revision after revision. So, instead of jumping to the fun stuff first—those exciting marketing tactics—take a moment to understand who you want to talk to, what motivates them and how to consistently communicate value to them. Consistent external communications will paint the picture you want customers to envision when they are deciding where to spend entertainment dollars.

Lest you believe the marketing and communications strategies are for external use only, understand that employees are very valuable communications tools. This same strategy must be considered when thinking about back of the house tools, resources and communications. Ultimately, the application of strategy in both front- and back-of-house will allow employees to understand the brand and better deliver a consistent experience, making everyone’s day all the better.

Channel efficiency
When I started my career in marketing, there were four basic ways of communicating to customers. Today, there seems to be an overwhelming number of channels to use, but not all of them are the right fit for a specific brand or its target customers. Armed with a strong strategy backed by research and data, a facility can now pick and choose the strongest channels.

“The generational shift with the emerging market means we need to explore new channels of engagement to reach our target audiences,” said Jan Talamo, chief creative officer for M Partners. “That takes a skilled agency partner and a solid strategic understanding of those audiences.”

“That’s why today’s casino marketers need think omni-channel—not dilutive, but laser focused, channel by channel—pushing the buttons of the proper channels at the right times to grow awareness, impressions, engagement and visitation,” Talamo added. “Are we in the entertainment business? Then let’s start entertaining. The channels are there. We can use them to build a meaningful audience who loves what we have to say and is inspired—not just informed—to come and play.”

Consumer preference
At the end of the day, the goal is to have target customers choose you over your competitors. A marketing plan based on a clear strategy built with the appropriate foundational elements will allow customers to attach themselves to you.

Casinos can subscribe to the status quo and continue developing marketing tactics, but today’s savvy CEOs and CMOs are demanding more. Gaming leaders are feeling the fiduciary pressure. As marketers, we are expected to grow the business in ways the status quo cannot. A casino marketing strategy needs to take the long view. It will pay dividends, today and tomorrow.