In my opinion, the entire casino industry is ready for reinvention; but for some marketing leaders, the path to reinvention first involves getting back to basics of marketing, branding and being genuine. For certain properties, messaging takes the front seat when it comes to customer communications, and the free stuff they offer continuity players along with this messaging often fails to resonate with them.
Indeed, the acumen of the older slot player is taken for granted when properties fail to challenge them. Branded tchotchke giveaways don’t create much long-term value or brand equity with the experienced core player—it just shows a property is more focused on getting a trip than building a brand that will keep the slots ringing and slot handle up.
There are better ways to communicate and market to our players. Recently, I sat with Todd Moyer, corporate vice president of marketing and business analytics for Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E), one of the best and most experienced casino marketers I know. I first noticed Todd back in 1999, when he was vice president of marketing for one of my all-time favorite casino brands—Hard Rock Casino & Hotel Las Vegas, which was the epicenter of my world when I first moved to the city. We discussed player communication and marketing in the time of COVID-19. What follows are some excerpts from our conversation.
Please describe your gaming journey…
MOYER: It’s been a crazy ride and it has really come full circle. My career started at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, and after successful stints in Nevada, Iowa and Pennsylvania over the past 30 years, I am now back in New Jersey overseeing marketing operations and business analytics for Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, a gaming company with properties in New York, Virginia, Kansas, and Iowa.
Do you have any tips for our readers on how to speak to their players?
MOYER: Stop selling toasters. This industry is managed by people who don’t wager on slots. Our players are coming out to game for entertainment and a chance to win money and prizes. Our players are smart; let’s not dumb the messaging down. These folks can figure out 100 pay lines on a penny slot and the eight steps to redeem their free play, they deserve our attention to detail.
With the current COVID-19 safety issues, how do we make players feel safe?
MOYER: Keep people informed. Explain the new protocols that you have put in place to mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19. Make them feel comfortable. Give them the details, show them what you are doing and show them the importance that you have placed on health safety.
At our properties, we create videos hosted by our various general managers to explain all of our changes. We gave them personal assurances that we would always do the right thing—for their safety and for the safety of our team. We continually asked for feedback from our guests, and I am proud of the fact that our properties achieved a 98 percent approval rating from them. Transparency is the key to success.
In this era of “the new normal” as some are calling it, are there terms you don’t like to use when communicating with customers?
MOYER: “New normal” is one of them. There is also “abundance of caution,” “crisis,” “unprecedented,” and “social distancing.” These are on my list of banned words when speaking to our players and guests.
Social distancing… isn’t that the primary term that many folks are used to hearing? What would you say to tell people to remind them to stand more than six feet apart?
MOYER: I encourage everyone to say, “physical distancing.” We don’t want people to gather and we want them all to stay safe, but guests visit us to socialize. We adjusted our properties so that our guests can socialize but still say safe. The playing field has changed but the game remains the same. Wider aisles, temperature and symptom checks at the entries, spacers between the slot machines, plexiglass at table games, physical distancing floor markers, continuous cleaning, disinfectant wipe stations at every turn—health safety measures throughout. Our goal is that these new measures don’t distract from the experience; rather, the safety and comfort they provide will actually enhance the experience.
So with all of the mask wearing, cleaning, closure of the buffets and physical distancing happening, how do you make your players feel like winners?
MOYER: Casinos are well-positioned for maintaining a safe environment. We have the budgets, the training programs, professional managers, large facilities and the infrastructure that can respond to dynamic change. You have to prepare the playing field. Create an expectation of safety in the casino environment. It has to be a given for the player to feel safe in gaming with you. Once you have that foundation, only then can you give them that feeling of being a winner.
We talk about winning a lot—we have jackpot parties, photo shoots, feature real customers in our advertising and their pictures flood our social pages. In fact, we have created such an expectation that if we don’t publish someone’s winning jackpot photo quickly enough, they let us know about it. They can’t wait to share the news (and our post) with their family and friends. Our goal is always to create superfans.
All of our marketing messages have a “winning” component to them. We don’t sell free play, free gifts and parties. Sure, we have a very aggressive marketing reinvestment program that includes all of those things (and more), but our “sell” is escapism, fun, great service and, yes, that winning feeling because that is truly the best thing we have to offer. Remember this while many marketers think they are “selling” that 10:00 p.m. drawing where they are giving away $10,000—each and every one of your players can come into your property on any day, at any time and win $10,000 by doing, guess what, gambling! And going on a 90-minute roll at a hot craps table or lining up that last 7 for a hand-pay slot jackpot is a feeling you won’t soon forget.
What have you learned through your career that you want to share?
MOYER: Get back to creating experiences. Appreciate the customers. Appreciate the incredible team around you. Appreciate the fact that we get paid to show people a good time.
What do you hope will continue out of all the behavioral changes the players have had to endure?
MOYER: Many of the physical changes that we have made on property are here to stay—wider aisles, a little more elbow room to play and the renewed attention to cleanliness and health safety. But I hope we can soon get back to the excitement of high-fiving a total stranger who just went on an incredible roll at a craps table, toasting a big win at the bar with friends (old and new), seeing your favorite band at a sold-out show or even seeing if you can eat your weight in shrimp at the all-you-can-eat buffet.