I am lucky to have been able to work with all sizes and types of casinos in the U.S., with varying resources, and I can say with great certainty that what is not done nearly enough in the industry is meaningful research.
Many operators field longitudinal customer satisfaction surveys, with marketing staff bonuses often tied to service scores. Since money is involved, operators will want as much statistical confidence in the sample as possible, but the actual surveys themselves tend to be more of a convenience sample with no real statistical confidence.
Do casinos go beyond satisfaction surveys to really understand guest preferences and behaviors? The answer, more often than not, is that leaders think they know what’s best for the player, so they push down to them what they think they want. This is not only costly, but will alienate your players from making a trip if they feel you missed the mark on your offerings; if the guest wants vanilla, best give them vanilla.
Recently, I had the pleasure of catching up with Heidi Hamers of Strategic Marketing Casino Solutions, who I have worked with numerous times over the years. She is a 30-year veteran of casino gaming and has held vice president of marketing positions for most of her career. We discussed how casino properties should be thinking about market research and when conducting these surveys are appropriate. What follows are some excerpts from our conversation:
What advice do you have for those trying to improve their slot performance from a market research perspective?
HAMERS: There is usually a disconnect between marketing and slots; slots typically orders product without marketing input. Slot performance meetings are usually conducted monthly and, also, typically without marketing involvement. Slot placement and moves are usually done in a vacuum.
Marketing aggregates slot data to form spend metrics. Number of visits, date of last visit and geography often also play a role, but again without slot involvement. The two functions are separate and distinct.
Buyer behavior of a slot player happens at the session level, yet marketers do not review key data points when making reinvestment decisions. Gaming entropy, average bet, velocity of play are all measures that can add granularity to the player’s earning potential and help guide reinvestment decisions.
A market basket analysis, or game preference analysis, would also help determine which games players are playing. Are they high-volatility or low-volatility games? Are they new games or older games? Are you playing a mix of games? Also, with a market basket analysis, you can place games strategically on the floor to optimize the customer journey and experience.
Traditional primary market research can help give context to observable data on the gaming floor. It can start with qualitative data in the form of focus groups to understand game preference and speed of play. This can frame customer personas for the customer experience. In turn, you can design a quantitative study to validate findings from the focus groups.
Today, it is all about creating a custom curated experience on the gaming floor to maximize the customer experience and increase brand loyalty.
Casino marketers tend to fall back to free play when they need an aggressive offer for any of the direct and digital channels I’ve managed for clients, such as e-mail, SMS and mobile. There is usually a big incentive of free slot play for downloading an app or joining the e-club. How does “free play” affect the hold of a slot machine?
HAMERS: Free play can have a significant effect on slot hold especially when marketing over-incentivizes the player database with offers, artificially increasing slot coin-in, which decreases hold (free play does not increase slot drop). Aggregate free play used and slot hold should be tracked daily to understand the nuances of the effect of free play on hold. Free play exposure and its potential impact on hold should be agreed upon collectively by slots and marketing. This decision is usually siloed within marketing, yet slots is responsible for keeping the hold to a budgeted number.
Any final thoughts for our readers?
HAMERS: You can’t be a great marketer without understanding buyer behavior. Take the time to work with the slot department to really understand the granular data points of the slot floor and make decisions together.