Marketing in Tough Times: Lessons from Other Consumer Categories

Have you ever seen a casino ad like the one I’m about to describe?

The visual is of a beautiful young couple, elegantly dressed, either at a craps table or a slot machine. They both have exaggerated looks of excitement on their faces, suggesting they have just won a huge jackpot. The headline screams “Las Vegas Gaming Excitement, Right Here in [name of your city goes here]!”

It might be a magazine ad, a TV spot or a billboard. And instead of two beautiful young people, it might be two excitement-crazed seniors. But the core message is always the same: Beautiful people winning big dough at a world-class casino, all right here in the ol’ neighborhood.

I have seen variants of this ad more times than I can count, and you probably have as well. If you have been guilty of running an ad like this in the past, please, please, don’t ever run it again. Here are a few of the reasons why.

First of all, unless your casino is in Vegas, you don’t offer the range and diversity of entertainment that only Vegas offers. The only place to get Vegas excitement is, well, in Vegas. Trust me, your customers know this.

Second, relying on a stereotypical, generic representation of Las Vegas does nothing to differentiate your property and implies that you are just like your competitors, with nothing unique to offer the guest.

Finally, even Las Vegas isn’t like the exaggerated situation depicted in this ad. Vegas casinos have a thousand guests wearing tank tops for every one guest wearing a tux. Unless your casino is in Monte Carlo, I suspect the same holds true for you.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you downscale the message and imagery of your ads. But I am suggesting you develop ads that truly speak to the retail mentality that drives every type of high-traffic, high-volume retail business, which includes department stores, grocery chains, theme parks, and yes, even casinos.

Rules of Successful Retailers
Let’s look at what does and does not work for other successful retail chains and discover how those lessons can have implications for advertising in the casino category.
In many ways, Nordstrom is considered the gold standard among retailers. Yet Nordstrom will never run an ad showing an ecstatic woman trying on shoes with the headline “Exciting Manhattan Shoe Shopping, Right Here in [name of your city goes here]!”

Nordstrom will, however, run an elegantly designed ad that captures the upscale nature of the brand, while also announcing a shoe sale. Or introductory pricing for a new line. Or a clothing discount.

Similarly, your local grocery chain will never run an ad that says “Exciting Farmers Market Shopping, Right Here in [name of your city goes here]!” But your local grocery chain will run an ad promoting this week’s “hot specials,” all with a design aesthetic that captures the essence of its brand.

Now let’s drill down a little further into the retail category. What do successful retailers emphasize in their advertising that casinos can benefit from emulating?

First of all, successful retailers emphasize value. Rather than running ads describing what it’s like to shop in their stores, successful retailers run ads announcing the special events, discounts and promotions that provide significant additional value to their customers.
Casinos can employ the same retail strategy by conveying value in all of their messages. If your ad message does not carry a clear and compelling value message, you should not run it. Save your money instead.

Second, successful retailers emphasize immediacy. Successful retailers know that every message must communicate a compelling reason to visit right now, as in today, or at the very least, this week.

Packaging value with a compelling incentive to visit now is a powerful motivation for your target customer. Be sure your guests know that if they don’t come in soon, they’ll miss your latest high-value promotion.

Finally, successful retailers emphasize cost-effective branding. Successful retailers rarely invest in messages that focus exclusively on the brand but don’t also stimulate a short-term visit. Instead, they integrate long-term brand imagery into every one of their promotional messages, thus building brand and driving sales at the same time. Much smarter. And much more cost effective.

A compelling promotional message need not diminish in any way the high value perception that you want your guests to attach to your property. Every ad should powerfully convey your promotional offer, but do so with a style and tonality that also reinforces your brand’s quality positioning over the long-term.

Take the Guesswork Out of Promotions
So, if I’ve sold you on the benefits of value, immediacy and branding, your next step will be to sit down with your team and develop a robust list of candidate promotions. But once you’ve identified these potential promotions, how will you decide which one(s) to run, and in what order?

It’s never easy to predict the outcome of new promotions, particularly in today’s economy. One approach is to simply use your professional judgment and roll the programs out one at a time. After several months and lots of money, you’ll know which concepts worked really well.

Unfortunately, you’ll also know which ones were total flops, which is the kind of knowledge we’d all like to avoid learning.

There is a better and much less risky way to fast-track your promotional concepts and accurately predict their performance, via inexpensive online research.

Online research can simultaneously test dozens of alternative promotional concepts with active gamers—and get the results back to you in a couple of weeks.

You’ll have real insight in just a few weeks, rather than “gambling” from one promotion to the next. You’ll be more confident in the outcome of each promotion. And you’ll be better rested at work due to the undisturbed sleep you enjoy each night.

You Cannot Save Your Way to Success
We all know that tough economic times create significant revenue challenges and budget pressure. Marketing is a big line item on the corporate P&L, and one that is tempting for management to reduce in tough times. However, cutting the marketing budget will exact a long-term price that far exceeds the benefits of any short-term budget reduction.

Avoid the temptation to cut back on advertising during tough times. Instead, hold the line. This is an important opportunity to gain market share as your competitors retreat. You’ll do better in the near term and also maintain your share advantage when the economy recovers.

Instead of cutting your budget, focus on accomplishing more with your money. Challenge your agency to develop innovative approaches that do more for your budget. Now is an exciting opportunity to work smarter, develop better ideas and get more than your fair share of the potential gaming market.

Don’t Panic
The smartest and most successful retailers don’t panic during tough economic times, and neither should you. They (and you) will prosper most by using this time as an opportunity to sharpen your marketing and improve your efficiencies. In all of your consumer messaging, stress value and immediacy along with branding. Adjust your promotions to address consumers’ increasing need for value. Fast track your promo ideas via online research. And don’t try to save your way to success.

Be confident. Innovate. And lead.

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