As customers return to their favorite slot machine or table game after coronavirus closures, how you approach and leverage your brand is more important than ever.

I am writing this as a handful of casinos have reopened, and many are cautiously approaching the day they can welcome team members and customers back through their new touch-free doors. I have spoken to some marketers that assume pent-up demand will free us of marketing expenses and others who feel they have to turn up the reinvestment and turn down the advertising. The one thing they all seem to agree on is that marketing, as we know it, is going to be different.

State stay-at-home orders seems to have lasted an eternity, but in fact, we have been working and binging from home for only a few weeks. In that time, we have built bridges and communities while keeping our physical distance. Media has shifted (back again) to television and streaming. We have spent even more time on social media, Houseparty, and Zoom, testing our home internet bandwidth and speed.

We have seen new and old brands rise (or not) to the challenge of relevancy in the consumer’s life. And as consumers cautiously move back into restaurants, hair salons and casinos, they are unconsciously making decisions based on what brands have been communicating, both through advertising and actions.

The nuances of your brand have come to light.

We operate in an industry where brand confusion is quietly accepted—properties often have the same slots, same table games, and a variation of restaurants and hotel rooms. However, while we all genuinely believe we are communicating in a clear, consistent and unique manner, more often our customers see only small differences. Cover the logo of almost any casino ad, and it could be anyone.

Perhaps it is time to work toward brand “purity.” Patrick Gentempo, author of Your Stand is Your Brand, writes, “You have brand purity when it’s clear what your business stands for, when the values are clear, when the purpose is clear and everything about the visual brand, marketing copy, customer service and every aspect of your business reflects the core values and statement of purpose. When you have this brand purity, someone knows quite quickly if they should be a customer of yours or not.”

You want customers to choose you and chose you always.

 

CONFUSING TIMES

More often than not, however, we expose contradictions in our brand. There might be disconnects between what you market and what you deliver from both an internal and an external perspective. Many brands have been communicating how much they care for the customer during the pandemic but chose not to retain team members or provide for them. And if they were one of the few brands that continued to support its team members, one has to ask how long that could have lasted.

Another way we see and feel brand confusion is by casting too wide a net and trying to be all things to all people. This confusion can be profitable for a while, but eventually it starts to break down because other brands are appealing specifically to certain people.

To limit the confusion, you must be prepared to walk every day in the customers and team member’s shoes. You can’t just put on a pair of new boots and then take them off when they feel uncomfortable. The key is to stick with them until they feel like a second skin, much in the same way your brand has to feel.

Why should you want brand purity? Because, eventually, customers will spread your word to people like them. You want evangelist customers, and while we never thought customers would stand in an Apple-like line for us, it is happening at retail outlets and our properties. We naturally draw lines whenever we open a new location, but reopening after these extended stay-at-home orders has sometimes shown lines are good for business. Your customers must feel they are suitable for them as well, today and tomorrow.

 

QUESTION OF WHY

What you need to do is to make sure you have built a brand for long life. This is not a complicated process, but it does require a particular path. Start with your team members. Perhaps you were not doing this (or unable to do so) during the closures, but inspiring and engaging team members is the best place to begin. Here are some steps to take, adapted from Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why: 

  • Explain: The basic understanding of your brand purpose (why it exists) will give team members a reason to get moving each day. You can’t expect team members to read a vision or mission statement and automatically “get it,” you must explain why it is essential your brand exists. Play what I like to call “corporate serial killer,” and ask yourself what would be the void if your operation ceased to exist? This can create a level of connection that will transform the company mission into a personal mission for every team member.
     
  • Ensure: Once you explain the brand, you must ensure understanding. Each team member must understand how their daily contribution strengthens the overall brand purpose. With furloughed employees, it’s likely that this connection faded and disappeared. You must reconnect the dots between your team members and your brand purpose in such a way as to ensure they know they matter.
     
  • Connect: Finally, connect your team members to the guest experience. I discussed building brand personas in the July 2019 issue of Casino Journal. This isolation has changed us all. So, you should review the personas you previously created, and then once you’ve refined them for this new time, help team members get to know them. Spotlight how they, as brand evangelists, continue to deliver the brand promise to customers. Share feedback from customers, particularly when they say what they love about your brand.

We have moved from the adapt phase of the COVID-19 pandemic to the life beyond the crisis stage. As brand leaders, we must work both internally and externally to keep our brands focused and create journeys that are as true to the brand purpose as possible. We must understand the impact the pandemic has had on our brands and triage accordingly. Continuing to connect with consumers will have a lasting effect. We must mitigate the risks to the brand by thinking from both the outside in and the inside out.

  • Test your messages: Customer values and even the language they use has changed during this time. Our old messaging may not be effective any longer, some brand messaging will miss the mark where once it may have been spot-on. You don’t have to be the marketer responsible for making that mistake—insights from customer studies can aid you in content and creative development to meet how your customers are thinking about entertainment and gaming (and your amenities) in the post-stay-at-home world.
     
  • Improve your competitor insights: No, really. It would be a mistake to think your competitor’s brands have been impacted the same as yours. Leaders who are not monitoring the industry and competitors across multiple channels are going to miss the turn signals in the road, possibly doing their organizations (and themselves) a disservice.

Now is the time to connect your brand to both employees and customers. Brand engagement will lead you through tough times.