Deana Scott: The pandemic saw marketing to “go back to basics”

Deana Scott CEO Raving
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Deana Scott, CEO of Raving – a US-based casino consultancy working with Tribes throughout the US, as well as First Nations in Canada – offers an insight into how Tribal operators have addressed the marketing challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.


Casino Review: What have been some of the key marketing issues for Tribal casinos you’ve seen during the pandemic?

Deana Scott: The biggest challenge and opportunity for all casinos during the height of the pandemic was that we were forced to operate without all of the amenities which have grown up over the last 20-25 years.

As marketers, we were required to go back to basics. But this offered us the chance to revisit the foundation of why players come to our properties.

CR: How have capacity restraints impacted on casino marketing?

Deana Scott: Capacity issues obliged us to take a fresh look at yield management – understanding and anticipating guests’ behaviour in order to drive revenue. That is something that we’ve traditionally done very well on the hotel side, but it hadn’t previously been emphasised as much on the casino floor.

Properties that really dug into their databases were able to drive additional play and revenue, because they were filling the floor with the right people.

As we “get back to normal”, operators should keep in mind the lessons we’ve learned during the pandemic and continue to pivot their businesses to a model that is profitable and really focuses on what those core players are looking for.

CR: How has pandemic affected promotions?

Deana Scott: We’ve had to get smarter with regard to how we structure promotions, to enable us to handle the crowds and still drive business. We’ve gotten better at using social media, texting and more immediate forms of communication to help manage player patterns. I think those are all great things that we need to continue to weave into our customer journey overall.

Of course, mail still plays a very significant role in the US market. But definitely email and texting have come into their own for delivering promotions, as they allow operators to change the message more quickly.

CR: What role has social media played in helping Tribal operators stay in touch with their key markets?

Deana Scott: The properties that really dove into their social media campaigns, who were able to achieve a conversational tone in their messaging, and made sure their communications were relevant in terms of what was happening in that moment – for example, in terms of proactively addressing health and safety concerns – were able to have some great conversations with their players. That has been a positive trend we’ve seen during the pandemic, and hopefully those properties will continue to build on that going forward.

CR: Vaccination and health and safety measures have become politically charged issues in the US. How are Tribal operators navigating balancing the safety of employees on the one hand, with not deterring players who may be sceptical of measures such as mask mandates on the other?

Deana Scott: It is a balance and Tribes have responded with a range of approaches. As I’ve travelled across the US, I’ve seen a variety of strategies, from properties which require vendors to do a COVID test before they enter, to those which have zero masks and minimal heath and safety messaging. That is one of the unique aspects of the US, there is no single government mandate and that makes it more challenging, but at the same time, that’s also part of Tribal sovereignty, with each Tribe responsible for deciding policy for themselves. That said, on the whole, Tribes are taking COVID-19 very seriously, because of the elder population and the disparity of how hard the virus has hit native communities.

CR: Operators across the US have taken a fresh look at permitting smoking on the casino floor during the pandemic. What kind of response have you seen from the Tribal casinos you work with?

Deana Scott: Attitudes to smoking have varied, but the conversation about the future of non-smoking remains ongoing. For those Tribes who have decided to go non-smoking during the pandemic, it will be interesting to see how many continue that once the situation surrounding COVID-19 begins to stabilise.

I think it will depend in large part of the feedback they receive from customer research and their ability to determine what the long term impact on the property will be. Nevertheless, I’ve definitely seen people talking about it in different terms than prior to the pandemic.

CR: One of the positive changes to come out of the pandemic was the chance for casinos to do away with their buffets, which had long been considered a loss leader. However, there have recently been reports of some operators choosing to reinstate them. What’s your view on this?

Deana Scott: I hope for the sake of profitability and leveraging the way that consumer behaviour has changed, that we don’t go back to the buffets. Operators should instead try to find ways to satisfy their guests while turning a profit. I would caution everybody, that instead of simply reinstating the amenities that you had before, be sure that “getting back to normal” is what you really want. Over the last two years, we have had the opportunity to change behaviour. Assuming that you have to go back to what you offered in past in order to satisfy your customers could be a costly misstep.

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