Mobile first: Bid farewell to a desktop-centric world.

Staring down at all of these e-mail messages polluting my phone, I remain dazed and confused.

Every day, offers arrive from casinos and hotels that cannot be read on an iPhone. I access websites through my mobile browser that must be pinched and squashed to comprehend. E-newsletters pour in from countless consultants and vendors, and the vast majority are communications designed for a desktop-tethered world that no longer exists. Some examples include dark background colors with reversed-out type, multiple columns of text, unresponsive templates whose pages don’t scale, phone numbers displayed without click-to-call functionality, and text elements rendered as graphics. Never mind the pre-smartphone era — these anachronistic designs are throwbacks from the earliest days of HTML.

My favorite misfire is the mobile-friendly e-mail message, shouting out an enticing offer, but after clicking on a link, a webpage is rendered that can’t be read on a smartphone. At least one very large Las Vegas operator still does this with great frequency. I don’t unsubscribe from their e-mail list because I can always use a good laugh.

Wandering through casino marketing conferences, I marvel at all the signage and brochures devoid of hashtags. Rarely does a QR code accompany the advertising for an app download. Advertising infrequently mentions geo-location tools such as Foursquare’s Swarm, Facebook’s Places or shareable content enablers like Instagram. Recently, I listened intently to a keynote presentation on targeting the millennial customer segment, given by a C-level executive with a major regional casino operator. Her company recognizes that where technology and engagement intersect is critical for effective marketing communication but admitted to having no mobile engagement strategy. I was stunned.

Those among us who work hard to embrace the “mobile responsive web,” and survived ‘mobilegeddon’ (Google it!) still get it wrong. Ultimately, this is not about ‘mobile’ at all; it’s about cognizance of how, when and where our customers consume media and entertain themselves in the second decade of the 21st century.

Imagine creating a radio spot, and then running it on a television network. That’s our industry’s mindset concerning digital customer interaction. The majority of casino marketers stubbornly refuse to embrace our mobile-enabled, social-media-empowered landscape, and this neglect is breathtaking. The deficiency of digital awareness cuts across all spectrums of our industry, from the international public companies to the regional, locally-focused, independent operators.

What’s going on here? First, let’s be generous and agree that the pre-smartphone era (PSE) effectively ended in 2007 with the birth of the iPhone. We’ve had nearly eight years to figure this out. Love it or not, we now live in a world where virtually everyone is nose down, and fully entranced by their mobile device. Why do marketers remain in denial about this disruptive force all around us, and prolong their love affair with the desktop? It’s easy to criticize, and cowardly to rant without solutions, so permit me to recommend and illuminate a path forward.

First things first: Are you still struggling with your efforts to create mobile-responsive websites? Stop. The app revolution began in earnest in 2007, and the apps won. Move away from desktop-centric thinking, and refocus your efforts on a mobile-first approach to marketing that includes building an app that works hard. “Build it and they will come,” but advertise and promote your app wherever you can, with a particular focus on your casino floor and your hotel rooms.

Design: A hard-working app should accurately reflect your brand identity while presenting just a handful of top-level links. Primary functionality should include loyalty program access, online restaurant reservations, and a searchable promotions and events calendar. Your customers have aggressively embraced mobile devices for all matter of travel planning; if you have a hotel, include the ability to book a room. When displaying phone numbers, always utilize the “click to call” feature. When displaying links, be certain that you direct the customer to a mobile-friendly page.

Communicate: Focus on over-educating your player services and the host team. Frontline team members need to drink the mobile Kool-Aid and become passionate evangelists for your app. Put QR codes and click-to-access URLs on everything to keep your app top of mind for your team members and your customers. Advertise aggressively throughout your property and within your outbound marketing communications materials. And don’t limit this effort to only customer communications. Back-of-the-house and onboarding collateral should also embrace a mobile-first mantra. You most likely provide a corporate intranet for your team members to request time off, print pay stubs, see upcoming company events and perhaps read the company newsletter. Can they access this intranet on a smartphone? Why not?

Be fearless: I know what you’re thinking: “What about my older players? Do they really understand all this mobile stuff? Will they download and use my app?” Here are two things to keep in mind while you wring your hands and worry needlessly about alienating that core group of loyal, older slot players. Seventy percent of all e-mail, both personal and business, is opened on a mobile device, and that number grows daily. And guess which customer segment represents your fastest growing social media users? Women 55 and older. That’s right. Recognize and act upon these two salient facts, and you can join the winning side of this still-raging marketing revolution.

If you must build a desktop-only website (and soon you’ll stop doing this) be sure to redirect your mobile users to Google Play and Apple iTunes for easy downloading of your app. Hey, if this publication can do it, so can you!

Mobile first: Wide QR code adoption is a reality in most corners of Western civilization, and it continues to gain traction here in the U.S. Even if very few people today appear to scan your codes, include QR codes in your collateral and signage regardless. Your customer’s embrace of this technology may surprise you. Alternatively, hot links within a mobile browser will make it easier for your customers to access and download your app (and they will.) The app-enabled customer is an extremely valuable member of your database, and these loyalists are more easily enticed into engaging with your brand.

Our marketing team enjoys playing offense in our toughest feeder markets. One of my favorite tactics for wreaking havoc on our competitors depends fully on the app-based digital ecosystem. We have used location services to target our competitors’ properties enabling offers to be sent directly our customer’s smartphone at the moment they visit one of these properties.

Test: We recently conducted a test, dipping a toe into this new digital bathwater utilizing our mobile app’s strongest feature, “push notification.” We pushed a variety of freeplay offers to a small, select group of our app-enabled customers when these mobile folks visited one of our competitors during a specific timeframe. We basked in the glow of a 40 percent redemption rate. Not bad, but it will soon get better because we also enjoy 25 percent app adoption among our rated players. Shortly, we’ll segment our offers based not only by customer geography and their ADT but also by preferred communication channel (app-based vs. e-mail) to sharpen our focus further.

“Push notification” is a beautiful thing when it displays the right offer sent at the right time. But what’s the right offer? Look at your active customer, and map their behavior during the previous half dozen visits to your property (or whatever frequency model is appropriate for your situation.) Note which redemptions flow to the top — freeplay, most likely, but perhaps other amenities at your casino or hotel are drawing the customer to your door. Experiment with aggressive offers; mix up the redemption requirements. Offer a choice between $50 Freeplay for one visit versus $30 for two visits. Then, keep the timeline tight by expiring the offer after 48 hours, if not sooner.

Remember where we began: E-mail remains an extremely important weapon in your marketing arsenal. Pleasedesign your e-mail templates with a mobile-first mindset. If your e-mail (and e-newsletters) are legible on a smartphone, they will look fine on a desktop browser — not so the other way around. The great thing about mobile responsive templates, whether for the mobile web or e-mail, is that the best mobile-first user experience requires both scrolling and swiping. Keep in mind how you (and your customers) use mobile devices!

Walk the walk: Finally, let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture. What truly contributes to any operators’ success is “walking the walk” when it comes to experience delivery. Our marketing efforts would all be for naught if we did not offer a competitive gaming product. Games with a reasonable hold giving players more playing time to enjoy, all supported by team members who deliver authentic customer engagement. Good, old-fashioned, high-touch, customer service, delivered with a smile, is vital to our operation because, like you, we offer a commodity product in a competitive environment.

Win the revolution: For our casinos and resort hotels, these product and service attributes all congeal to create a customer experience that resonates, contributing greatly to our industry-leading direct marketing response rates. However, it’s not just about creating a pretty postcard or e-mail blast with an enticing freeplay offer. Anyone can do that. We manage a successful enterprise, not by giving away the store, but by delivering on a believable brand promise. Further, a well-managed mobile marketing ecosystem is useless without your loyal customer base. Those advocates will respond to your offers because they believe in your brand’s ability to deliver on their expectations. Do that well, and these loyalists will share those experiences on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Then, you can truly bask in your success because you have won the revolution.

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