It’s hard to believe there was a time when drag queens were a part of a counterculture. Today, they are as much a part of life as a run to Starbucks. From national superstars like RuPaul, New Orleans’ own Bianca del Rio (who some might say is a national celebrity) to my very own favorite Kitty D’Litter.
I tossed around the idea of writing about how casino marketers should think like drag queens. Some thought I was losing my mind; some thought it was genius. I am neither losing my mind or a genius. I am however absolutely inspired by the essence of drag as well as a follower of Jackie Huba (or Lady Trinity, her alter ego). She reminds her followers that businesses and drag queens have a few key things in common. Both want to build a loyal customer base that supports them long after the makeup (or for casino marketers, the latest promotion) has faded. Both also share the ability to “work-it.” Here are a few other lessons casino marketers can learn from successful drag queen personalities:
Have a clear vision that is memorable
As I mentioned, my favorite drag queen is Kitty D’Litter. How she came up with that name, I will never know, but it’s creative, unique and memorable. I’ve never heard of a drag queen named Sue. The point of creating a brand (as well as a drag queen) is to create a persona that is fully fleshed out even down to your brand’s fashion sense and beauty...or graphic look and feel. Do you have a clear vision for your brand and how it makes people feel?
Create and tell your brand story
Drag queens tell a story with every brush of makeup and flash of a costume. The evolution of content marketing has created an entire industry dedicated to helping companies deliver the right content to the right audience at the right time through the right channel. A large amount of focus has been dedicated to how we tell our brand stories through third parties. However, meaningful brand connections come from a deep, human level, not an app. Those connections must start from deep within the organization—beneath the proverbial iceberg. As you develop your brand story, pay attention to your financial, emotional and human capital and how they impact the surface of the brand in terms of guest experience. These are areas that are often found outside of the marketing department—further proof that a brand must permeate the entire organization.
Details make the bigger picture
Look closely at any painting and you’ll see finite details in a single brushstroke. Alone, it’s just a brushstroke. Together with other brushstrokes, you may get a masterpiece. Without that brushstroke, the painting could be completely different. People are often fascinated by drag queens because of their seemingly seamless transition. It’s an illusion, but that illusion comes to life with a serious attention to detail. Is your brand creating seamless transitions between the casino floor and the buffet... between your brick-and-mortar experience and your online experience? Is your brand voice being heard by customers contacting your call center or is it simply the voice of the operator on duty? All of these details add up to your brand.
Bring your brand to life
Behind the scenes of RuPaul’s Drag Race, you see what goes on behind the scenes and beneath the makeup and costumes to make an impression on stage. What kind of impression is your brand making when it hits the stage? Is it just a logo or is your brand coming to life at every touchpoint? There is an old trick we play in advertising where we put our hand over the logo and ask, “Could this be any other casino’s ad?” In many ways, you have to do the same at your property and ask yourself, “Is this my brand or could it be any other casino?” This is not a bricks-and-mortar question; it is about the environment and experience you are creating in your customer’s mind… and heart.
Give them access
There is no debating that casino customers love special access. It’s why Seven Stars was created and why even the smallest riverboat casino does not go to market without a multi-tier loyalty program. Super fans, like VIPs, love access. They want to meet the insiders. They want the scoop. Consider giving fans and your VIPs first access to new amenities, sneak peaks and open machine parties. They will thank you by doing your marketing for you.
Give them something to talk about
One of my favorite things about marketing like a drag queen is the outright boldness of your moves. Some might know I once offered a group of marketers a “get out of jail free card” to try doing something bold. Sadly, many chose to stay the status quo. Do you know what that got them? The status quo. If you want new results, you must try something new. Iconic drag queen RuPaul has created DragCon—an event that has fans lining up for hours to take photos with the stars of her television show. What becomes clear very quickly is that standing out takes creativity.
Make your brand more valuable than nickels and dimes
Gaming Hall of Famer John Acres has been an icon in our industry for many years. In a recent CDC post he compared a practice of now-defunct Blockbuster to one of the latest industry practices. “You can see late fees on a video are like resort fees and parking fees for hotels,” Acres said. “It’s something you do for revenue that you need but do it in a way that isn’t necessarily pleasing to the customer. As long as you have enough customers to overcome that displeasure, you’re all right. But when you don’t have enough customers and something disruptive comes along, then all of the people that are paying all of those fees they didn’t like will instantly abandon you.”
Many of us have stood by while holds and ATM fees were increased because they weren’t “marketing discussions,” but have you considered how every decision that impacts the guest experience is in fact a marketing decision? Consider how you can create a more entertaining experience that will pay off in the long-term rather than nickel and diming revenue to your topline. You can’t monetize every moment if you want to create true loyalty. While every drag queen with a DragCon booth is there to sell and make money, some opt to charge for everything, including spontaneous selfies, while others choose to put the fans first: free selfies but a price on merchandise. Who do you think wins that race?
Like a drag queen, it’s important to court these fans to form a community that creates a strong foundation for brand growth.