Highway to the Twilight Zone

Marketing planning in a pandemic

“The secret to handling change is to focus on progress. If you can make progress on a regular basis, then you feel alive.” – Tony Robbins

It’s marketing plan season again.

Today’s casino marketers are approaching strategic plans in a world with few answers and unending, unpredictable questions.

Fluctuating rules and regulations, combined with an unprecedented future, make the challenge of developing marketing plans a trip to the Twilight Zone.

The Budget Boondoggle

It all starts with the budget. Financial planning in a pandemic is like peering into a crystal ball and getting a black eye for your trouble.

Whether you are saving your way to success or experiencing a continuing revenue stream, the way to a solid bottom line remains hard work. However, even the winners in the pandemic revenue and attendance lottery face doom and gloom should COVID-19 show up at their doors.

A percentage of casino companies are holding on and struggling to keep revenues ahead of expenses. Nobody really knows what’s ahead.

Assume Nothing, But Assume

Casino operators start the marketing plan with budget assumptions.

Operators now look at each quarter without history or prior experience to pave the way. Past budgeting assumptions based on capital improvements, competitive changes and market conditions look like moonlit, beachfront dining compared to today.

Quarter by quarter, casino leaders are trying to predict when the world will return to normal, or at least the new normal.

Current budget assumptions are based on when a vaccine will be widely available and when medical breakthroughs will control the virus and beat back the fear.

The Pandemic Planning Solution

When developing next year’s strategic initiatives, do you play it COVID-19 safe, or do you feel lucky? Nobody, and I mean nobody, in the casino industry wants to be responsible for a super-spreader event or promotion that can be contact traced back to YOU!

The best solution to the problem is, unfortunately, simple. Take your best shot today with situations as they are now, then plan to rebuild each marketing function slowly.

Planning today means rebuilding marketing department functions that crashed and burned due to COVID-19. Your marketing plan should consider each positive step and retool every marketing function until you build a bridge to success.

The best strategic approach is to make broad assumptions on growth and analyze your way to the next steps as opportunities present themselves.

Partying Like It’s 2019

When building a pandemic marketing plan, consider that past achievements were based on that big party we had in 2019.

Today, many marketing functions are stripped down and need to be rebuilt.

1. Database

Database history was based on years of data going all the way back to Michael Bolton, padded shoulders and Die Hard movies. Today database thinkers are trying to glean answers from a few months of data and trends that change almost daily. As you think and plan direct mail, find the segments that are responding and laser focus on positive trends as they develop. You can try to predict when your loyal, but inactive players will return, but it’s a question if they will return at all.

2. Brand Planning

What happens to your brand planning? Do you continue the brand promise of the past? How much safety messaging is too much? Or not enough? Planning brand messaging becomes a dance between selling the fun and communicating the safe. Brand planning should be based on what’s working and what’s keeping your fans returning.

3. Player Development Planning

Player development planning becomes another predicting problem. Planning the future of player development events, hotel comps, concert accommodations and VIP parties becomes a guessing game. The best player development departments are keeping it personal by staying in touch with players and building relationships for when the party restarts. Player development departments can plan to slowly reopen specific events that can be conducted safely, like time-spaced tournaments and small group parties.

4. Promotions

Will promotions continue for a year as no-touch, robotic promotions? When do you dare to introduce crowds? The dilemma facing promotional planning revolves around when close contact can be reintroduced to the toolbox. Kiosk promotions, virtual drawings, points multipliers, continuity programs and hot seats work in a COVID-19 environment. Larger, crowd-attracting, in-person promotions must be planned further out into the future when crowds will be permitted.

5. Special Events

Special events, shows and concerts are candidates for long-term planning. Several casinos have attempted concerts in outdoor, widely spaced venues. The coming of winter and uncertain rules for crowds in each state will keep concerts and events abated for some time in marketing planning. You can reserve dates for concerts in your calendar, but keep informed on concert trends before pulling the trigger.

Fog Driving

Marketing planning in a pandemic is like driving in the fog. You have to ride the brakes in case something jumps out of the haze.

The best solution is to keep your eyes on the immediate future and build on successes. Major functions in the marketing toolbox have been diminished or stopped cold by COVID-19 regulations. Marketing planning during COVID-19 requires predictive strategies and step-by-step rebuilding of marketing departments, functions and branding.

As for the future of marketing planning results during COVID-19 … only time will tell.

“Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” – Sun Tzu

Tom Osiecki 25 Articles