In this second of a two-part series, Pandemic Promotional Execution, we discuss what it takes to build your promotional calendar during COVID-19. Click here to view Part I.
It’s all about the gaming!
That was the conclusion during the 2021 Raving NEXT: Analytics & Marketing Conference panel entitled, “Do Your Promotional Offerings Line up with Your Players’ Desires? How to Build a Bullet-Proof Promotions Calendar.”
This sessions was moderated by Raving CEO Deana Scott with panel participants Bryan Brammer (Managing Partner, Profit Builder & Raving Partner), Mike Meczka (Principal, MM/R/C) and myself, Tom Osiecki (Raving Partner).
The conclusion was exceedingly simple. When creating your promotional calendar for FY 2021, the smart money is on gaming-centric promotions.
When it comes to promotions, the panel developed three major guidelines for successful COVID-19 era promotions.
- Promotions that focus on the core player
- Promotions that extend play
- Promotions that reward changes in behavior
COVID-19 Era Promotions Start with Safety: Acting by Reacting
Safety is an important driver of promotional calendars for 2021 and beyond.
“Promotions that cause crowds are promotions that you can’t do from a practical and operational standpoint. Promotions that are gaming-centric, that actually enhance the gaming experience of guests, remain viable and will influence your bottom line.”
“Promotions strategy today is really acting by reacting. The COVID-19 world is driving what we can execute. Safety drives the kinds of promotions that you can do. The research is telling us now that the type of person who comes into casinos is interested in gaming. So promotions that have a gaming focus are best to appeal to the current guest profile,” I contributed.
Meczka said that COVID-19 safety is the new safety leader in research. “It’s become safety from the virus, more than safety and security. Players want to be safe to return to the property to play more and play again.”
I stated that to be successful today, virus-centered cleanliness has to become part of the brand and the brand message for all casinos.
The Smart Money is on Gaming-Centric Promotions
Scott asked Meczka, “Based on your research, what do our guests want from promotions?”
Meczka replied, “People want time on device. They want their budget to last as long as the time they allocated for gaming. People want to feel appreciated and they want escapism.”
“My mantra is, ‘It’s the gaming, stupid,’” Meczka said.
“Players have told us time and time again, I’ll give you my entire budget, just give me time on device for the time that I’m in the casino. Players tell me that they are not here to win big. They are here to be in action and to play. They are here to be entertained,” Meczka said.
Promotions that Extend Play and Enhance the Gaming Experience
I added, “Right now we are working with what the circumstances present. You have to look at the research that tells us we are primarily attracting gamers. You have to look at the trends. We are currently less likely to attract the weekend warriors and the entertainment seekers. The trend is that gamers are more likely to come to your property. If you combine that with the fact that you are blocked from doing crowd-attracting promotions, then you end up with the sample list of promotions listed below.”
- Variable cost promotions
- Continuity programs
- Gift programs
- Earn and get promotions
- Play-up promotions
- Point multipliers
- Hot seats
- Kiosk promotions
- Timed tournaments
- Virtual drawings
- Mobile promotions
- Social media promotions
Meczka sees it as a way to reallocate players’ budgets. “Casino guests can’t go to the show, many of the restaurants are closed or limited, certainly the buffet is closed. If we want to work out at the fitness center or go to the spa, that’s restricted or closed. The race and sportsbooks are down to one or two operators in that area. In some places, casinos have restricted their hours. The only place that I can spend my money is at the machines or tables games.”
Promotions that Reward Changes in Behavior
Brammer said, “Promotions create a retail message, and they create compression. The current environment that we live in is a vastly different world. We cannot create compression because we can’t create large events. Giving away cars or giving away vacations does not make sense right now.”
“For the first half of 2021, I think it is important to find promotions that spread people out over time, so you don’t compress people into the casino at a single moment. We have seen a lot of success with staggering direct mail tiers into different days of the week. We have seen success with earn and gets. What that does is it gives the guest more time on device.”
Scott pointed out that a return to normalcy could force casinos to add additional options and return to old ways of doing business.
“We have the template here for how to create max profit potential, yet are we going back to giving away a car a day and doing things that hardly pencil out?” Meczka answered.
A Complex World
Brammer added, “We have to consider that we operate in a complex world. There are retail guests, there are foodies who specifically come to our properties for nice restaurants. We have the perfect template now. We have seen the perfect template for what an avid gamer wants to do. It’s how we layer in the retail promotion for non-gaming guests that’s incredibly important as we come out this.”
“And right now, those players aren’t visiting. We do not have those amenities. We understand that we have the guest who only wants to game. But as we come out of this, we have more markets than just avid gamers.”
More Efficient Casinos
I see the ability to reallocate marketing spend to more gaming-oriented promotions. “COVID-19 made the gaming industry more efficient. As operators we have saved expenses; and we should come out of this as more profitable, efficient companies. One of the things you can do is take the money that would be spent on entertainment and large crowd events and put those resources into promotions that enhance the gaming experience. As a marketer you can be more efficient and benefit your property.”
Brammer said, “As we exit COVID-19, we can create more retail promotions. But I think there are still going to be a lot of gun-shy guests who are not going to come back for big events. Through the balance of 2021, creating more gamification, earning badges, doing things digitally online, finding ways to do drawings that do not draw big crowds. We are at a great time in history when technology supports those kinds of programs. As marketers, we have got to break away from the concept that the last Saturday of the month we routinely give away a brand-new car.”
All About the Gaming
The conclusion from gaming experts on the Raving NEXT: Analytics & Marketing Conference panel was that executing promotions in a COVID-19 environment is all about the gaming experience.
As we progress into the end of 2021 and into 2022, will gaming operators return to previous ways of operating, or will they take advantage of the new gaming-oriented template?
As we continue to operate under COVID-19 and learn, we will hopefully move into an environment that places gaming up front.