Thursday, September 29, 2005

Tips for Successful Electronic Casino Marketing (Sept. 05 Casino Enterprise Management)

A successful casino marketing strategy obviously relies on many different variables. Advertising, special events, promotions, and direct mail are most often used to attract guests and increase gaming revenue. In order to impart the marketing message to the widest audience possible and to assure the maximum exposure to the message, it is very important to use as many marketing channels as possible. This is where electronic marketing communications enters the picture.

Marketing communications for many years has typically been in the form of advertising through direct mail, television, radio, billboards and print media. Over the last few years, technology in the area of electronic communications has been advancing steadily and now there is a wealth of new methods for communicating marketing messages to prospective casino players.

The Road Sign
Once only seen on the Vegas strip, Atlantic City, or in sporting venues, these signs are now seen at tribal and corporate casinos across the country. The static or monochromatic signs of the past are slowly fading away and now full color high resolution video displays are often the norm. These moving billboards produced by companies such as Daktronics can display graphics, text, images, animations, and pre-recorded video clips as well as live video. The sequences which run on these screens can be scheduled down to the minute you want them to run and are easy to administer remotely from any location on a regular PC equipped with the sign software and hardware. By purchasing an animation and video editing program, sophisticated eye catching sequences can be created by in-house casino staff members or existing commercial footage can be converted and used for the display.

The uses of this medium are varied; advertisements of upcoming promotions, special events and entertainment, giveaways, and live or pre-recorded video feeds of special events such as slot tournaments and entertainment acts. What’s important to note when employing this type of dynamic billboard is that it is a highly visible message center and the information needs to be updated on a regular basis. It’s also key that the messages placed on the sign only run in short sequences and the amount of text is kept to a minimum as most people only have a few seconds to read them as they drive past. Sequences which need to have more impact or are of higher importance can be scheduled to run more often than less important ones, making this a flexible form of advertising which can be administered quite easily in-house.

The Video Distribution System
The size and clarity of these displays (normally plasma or LCD screens) make them an eye-catching way to impart your casino marketing messages. Information regarding promotions, giveaways, special events and other advertisements for your resort can be shown 24/7 to guests in high-traffic areas as they wait in line for a slot machine, at the players club, or at the cage. These networks are simple to set up and can be supplied with material from a desktop PC or server running a simple presentation program like Microsoft PowerPoint. Another reliable way to send video to these channels is through the use of a video server such as the Firefly by Visual Circuits. They are essentially a large hard drive that digitized video is stored on. These systems have one to four different channels of output and the video can be scheduled and changed as needed. The systems are easy to use and feature a web interface for making changes to the server. Internal Marketing or I.T. staff can change the content on either of these broadcast systems and the network is scalable to any size you desire should your property grow. The same content can also be piped over a video distribution system feeding traditional television sets on the casino floor, in retail and restaurant outlets, and in other high traffic areas of the resort. Placing these monitors in areas where lines naturally develop grabs a captive audience and reinforces the marketing message.

If your property has a hotel, this same video can be piped into guest rooms on an open channel or channels. Commercial televisions are highly customizable now, and can be set to always display the in-house channel when they are first turned on. If your property had a video on demand system such as Lodgenet or Nstreams, you also have the opportunity to add customized content to one or two of their channels and this information can be customized and updated for promotions and special casino events as well.

Another great way to use in-house displays is by broadcasting live video. For a relatively low cost, you can install small remotely controlled cameras in a stage lounge area or in different areas of the casino floor. They can be powered, controlled, and their video signals can be transmitted back to a video distribution system using a single cat 5e wire. Uses for these live feeds could be broadcasts of poker and slot tournaments, large scale promotional events, or entertainers performing on stage. Remote hand-held cameras can also be hooked up to this network for more flexibility and switched video can be sent back to the distribution system. Another way this remote camera network can come in handy is for videotaping promotions that require documentation for gaming compliance reasons or for insured promotions that require videotaping as part of their contract.

One important pitfall to avoid with a video distribution system on the floor is the improper use of the network. You want to build in the flexibility to show a variety of channels which you may obtain from either the local cable or satellite company so you can broadcast important sporting or news events. What you don’t want to do is allow this free advertising medium to be wasted by having the displays tuned to CNN or ESPN all the time. There must be an understanding among the different casino departments that the televisions and plasmas are there for imparting the casino’s messages, not necessarily for the entertainment of the guests and staff.

There are several ways to avoid this problem. One way is to zone the televisions so that control of individual sets and the channels they display is controlled from a central location such as the machine room in the I.T. department. Another way is to lock out all the channels on the individual sets with a master remote except those in-house channels you wish to display. Whichever method you choose, it’s important to keep tabs on what’s playing in the resort just as you would track outside media such as television and radio commercials.

The Audio Distribution System
Most casinos have the typical piped-in music playing over tinny overhead speakers. It serves as background noise and really doesn’t add much to the overall experience. Building a comprehensive audio distribution system is a good way to add to the guests’ experience and provide another channel for providing marketing messages. Change the music selections daily and have themed days with appropriate music. The wide selections of music available from local cable and satellite providers allow a casino property to tailor the music played to the specific promotion or event being hosting on a particular day.

Don’t scrimp on speakers. Use high quality speakers from a company such as JBL and make sure that coverage and the volume of different zones sounds even as guests walk between zones. Group the speakers so you can control different areas of the casino separately and they can be adjusted for different levels of traffic, background noise, and noise from the games on the floor. It’s even possible to create a system which will self-adjust the volume levels based on the level of background noise so the speakers’ volume does not overpower small crowds or fade to inaudible levels in large crowds. Have a variety of different tuners that can send separate music selections to different parts of the casino or resort. That way it’s possible to have a separate musical selection playing in each different restaurant or common area depending on the needs of that particular casino venue.

As a back-up, think about investing in an MP3 server. This can be a standard PC with a large hard drive and a good sound card which hooks directly into the audio distribution system. It serves two purposes. The first purpose is to provide music if the satellite or cable provider is down. The second purpose is to provide customized music for special events and promotions. For example, if your property is having a particular country star appear that weekend in the amphitheater, play his music the day of the concert. Caution must be exercised, though. Make sure that your licensing is up to date with the appropriate music licensing agencies ASCAP, BMI, and SEASAC and don’t play MP3’s that were downloaded from the internet; only use those which were actually ripped from a CD that was purchased through an appropriate vendor.

Another common feature of the audio distribution system is paging. Informational announcements from the players club and pages for guests are a necessary part of this system. Make sure there are hard wired microphones in the player’s clubs, wireless microphones for use out on the floor during promotions and special events, and phone paging for areas that these microphones won’t cover. Make sure that paging can be heard in all of the outlets and hallways for big giveaways so people don’t miss hearing their name being called for a drawing. This will give guests the flexibility to continue gaming, eat meals, or visit a retail venue while waiting to hear drawing results and will also keep congestion in the drawing area down.

Also consider having pre-recorded announcements play over the audio distribution system. This could mean running radio ads or actually recording special audio segments and messages to play specifically on the casino floor speakers. It’s also fun to have employees read live scripted messages at different intervals throughout the day detailing promotions or other information. Most importantly, pack as much information on this system as possible so guests are up to date and informed of all of the casino current events.

Control of the audio system doesn’t have to rely solely in the hands of the Information Technology staff. A control system such as Crestron can be used with touch-panels strategically placed around the resort and in the casino outlets. This type of password protected control system allows key employees the ability to change music sources and volume levels on the fly without chasing down technical staff.

The Web
Every casino has a web page but the quality and amount of useful information that are imparted by each page vary greatly. The first key to a good casino website is to have a main page where surfers are pointed to which has dynamic and up to date information that is both important and relevant. This is where the most recent promotions, special events, and other information such as upcoming entertainment should reside. Also on this page should be links to all the other pages of the website which a guest might want to use to find information such as sections for gaming, hotel, dining, and group sales. If the information is not useful and never changes, people will stop visiting the site.

Pack as much information as possible on the web-site. Rates for the hotel, prices of meals in the dining outlets, lists of the most recent slot machines and table games on the floor, rules for poker tournaments, and gaming guides are all fantastic pieces of information to have online. This will alleviate the number of calls coming into the PBX and to marketing staff from patrons looking for information and will also serve as one more medium to get marketing messages out to the world. People prefer to get their information via the web because it’s more immediate and time saving so take advantage of this fact.

One way to add value to the web experience for your guests is to put some type of exclusive web offer on the main page such as a coupon which is redeemable only online. This will help drive traffic to the site. Avoid having flashy animations and videos on the site and keep the graphics sizes to their minimum. Although all of these items look fancy, they can slow download times of the page drastically. It’s important to remember that there are still people using dial-up modems out there to access the internet.

On-hold Messaging
On hold music is a standard part of any PBX based phone system. Guests often have to wait on hold during busy periods. This is another opportunity to broadcast your marketing messages to a captive audience. It’s easy to digitize radio ads and copy them to a device which will play them periodically over the on-hold music. You can also record customized messages and place them on this system as well. Some companies will even record and update the messages in return for a small monthly fee.

Another way of getting the message out via the phone system is to have staff members update their outgoing voicemail messages with a short marketing blurb of the day. Keep these short and update them daily to maximize their effectiveness. The phone system is another weapon in the marketing arsenal that often gets overlooked, so maximize its potential.

Content and Collateral
Re-use existing material to save money. One radio ad can play not only on several radio stations, but also on your in-house audio system and your on hold music. A television ad can play on television stations, the in-room hotel channel, on the road sign and on the plasma display network. The digitized audio and video can also play on your website, but be careful of the file sizes. Similarly, graphics created for buck-slips and print ads can be reused on the web, road sign, and video distribution network. Re-using collateral marketing materials as much as possible drives down the cost per message delivered and helps to keep advertising expenses down. It also assures that the messages all have a similar theme and style giving the marketing campaign thematic continuity.

Cooperation between Information Technology and the Marketing Department
One last point which cannot be stressed enough is that cooperation between the technical and content creation staff is critical. All of these new methods of marketing communications are technically complex and need regular administration to operate properly. It’s important to have a good relationship between the Information Technology and Marketing departments at the casino property. Regular communications internally between the two groups need to be maintained to assure that the content on the different marketing channels is correct and up to date and the internal systems need to be maintained regularly to achieve a high level of “up-time” guaranteeing that messages are not lost to potential receivers.

The line between content and delivery mediums in the casino industry is merging so that marketing directors and managers are required to become more technically savvy and I.T. professionals are required to think more like marketing staff people to achieve the goal of successful marketing communications for the property as a whole. Look for new ways to get the message out there and use as many different methods as possible to reach your target audience. Chances are that if you have an idea for getting the message to your audience, a communications technology exists that can get it there.

Cean Burgeson is the Communications Administrator at Little River Casino Resort in Manistee Michigan. He holds a Master of Arts in Telecommunication from Michigan State University and has worked in Washington DC and Los Angeles in the broadcast and entertainment industries.

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