mobileStorm’s Visionary Leaders Solving the Puzzle of Effective Casino Marketing in the Mobile Age

mobileStorm’s Visionary Leaders Solving the Puzzle of Effective Casino Marketing in the Mobile AgemobileStorm has been logging groundbreaking achievements across the mobile marketing landscape since 1999. With mobile now an indispensable component of contemporary marketing in the casino and hospitality space, our sister site mGamingWatch recently caught up with the mobileStorm team to discuss their take on mobile marketing and the opportunities and challenges they see in the world casino marketing today.

After mobileStorm’s G2E party Stormtoberfest in Las Vegas earlier this fall, we chatted with Tricia Elder, the company’s Senior Director of Client Strategy, and Darren Withers, Vice President of Operations & Business Development.

MGW: One of mobileStorm’s key areas of focus today is the casino/gaming market. Why is this industry so important to your company?

Darren: We LOVE creative challenges. Strategic thinking is in our DNA and we owe a large part of our success to Las Vegas. Casino marketing is the ultimate puzzle. Its traditional method of reaching players has always been Direct Mail. Direct Mail has a ton of cons and one of them is huge… It’s expensive! The rising cost of postage and the type of direct mail piece that you have to create to stick out amongst the pile of junk mail that most Americans have to sift through daily makes it a budget challenge for most casinos. It’s also not very timely. Ideally you want to start a campaign 8-12 weeks before it hits home. In this fast-paced mobile world, it’s difficult to be that proactive in the market. Early state regulations forced this method into the casino marketing culture and casino operators have been hooked ever since, afraid to lose visibility in the mailbox to a competitor. Digital marketing needed to be 100% reliable (or at least as reliable as direct mail) to be considered as a suitable replacement. We never intended to replace direct mail, just put direct mail in its place. Regular player offers should use digital direct marketing channels and mobile makes relevancy high while keeping costs low. Save the direct mail piece for the elaborate New Year’s Eve invitation and Baccarat Tournaments.

The gaming industry is complex from the compliance perspective. It’s a challenge to market to players. We are helping our casino clients establish and own the mobile relationship with their loyal players. This is an opportunity that many casinos have not exploited and we have started to turn existing paradigms on their heads when it comes to engaging the player from the time they are most excited to be a part of the players club. We’ve educated ourselves on different gaming jurisdictions and acquired gaming licenses where needed. We work with casinos in 19 states and know all of their marketing challenges stemming from state and federal laws. We’ve made changes to our communications platform such as age gates and extended messages for SMS just to accommodate a casino mobile program. Ultimately we are passionate about the challenge of being creative while working within a complex web of regulations. Partners have become a big part of our ability to service the casino industry.

Tricia: Darren and I have both spent the majority of our lives living and working in Las Vegas, Nevada where casinos contributed roughly $53 billion to the state economy in addition to generating close to 425,000 jobs, more than $18.8 billion in income and $7.9 billion in tax revenues to local, state and federal governments. That’s in 2013 alone. Prior to joining mobileStorm, I spent the last 6 years of my career working for Station Casinos; similarly, Darren was employed by Virgin Advertising working hand in hand with casinos so we understand that vertical and its untapped potential more intimately than most. mobileStorm is unique in that it aims to build partnerships with clients coupled by a genuine desire to bring our knowledge of not only mobile/email marketing but strategic planning and goal setting to an industry that we know so well. With our intimate understanding of how a casino operates, markets, advertises, and the challenges they’re likely to encounter in those areas, we’re able to offer not just a platform, but strategic advice on how to incorporate technology so that it forms a marriage with branding, marketing and operational execution. It’s ultimately this seamless “marriage” that encourages the player acquisition, engagement and loyalty that casinos across the nation strive for.

MGW: Recently, mobileStorm announced an integration partnership with MGT that has unquestionably raised the bar for casino marketing and communications. What are the key benefits of the integration for casino operators?

Darren: Our casino clients can only be successful with their digital programs if they can capture an accurate cell phone number or email address in a compliant manner in a way that increases loyalty while maintaining player privacy. The players club is where the player starts their intimate relationship with a casino. It’s vital that we set an expectation of providing a value-driven communications experience regardless of the channel we are asking the player to sign-up for. The email program sign-up process is currently riddled with challenges. Verbally asking a 55+ player for an email address has opportunities for mistypes into the player tracking system. Asking a player to write down their email address is just as messy of a process. Signing up for an SMS program has to be compliant with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, Carrier Regulations and the WMC Global under the CTIA. Even some state gaming commissions require that cell phone data is collected in a manner where a player must reply ‘YES’ to a double confirmation message. It is nearly impossible to allow for paper or verbal SMS program signups under these regulations and text-ins don’t allow for proper identification of the player. The biggest benefit is getting accurate data collected in a manner compliant with state, federal and carrier regulations.

We approached Micro Gaming Technologies based in Las Vegas (MGT) to provide more value to our casino clients and a better sign-up experience for casino players. Together we are creating an ultra-compliant process for collecting a cell phone number from a player that is much more secure and accurate than any other process we know of. The player would need to be prompted by the MGT kiosk located inside the casino after the player has swiped their players club card and entered a secure pin. Once authenticated, the player is asked if they would like to join the email or mobile program on the MGT Kiosk if their player record does not contain an email or cell phone number. The player enters their cell phone number and/or email address when prompted, displaying legally compliant language concerning the SMS and email programs. Once submitted, the mobileStorm platform is sent the email address and cell phone number from the MGT system along with a Player ID and any other information necessary to send that player offers. Our system reacts to receiving the player’s cell phone number by sending a double opt-in text message asking the player to reply ‘YES’ to confirm the registration. Something similar can happen for email if the client wishes or we can simply send an email to the email address sent to us by the MGT kiosk to verify it is authentic. In either case, mobileStorm notifies the MGT Kiosk that the player completed the registration for email and/or text message programs and an offer can be redeemed instantly for joining each program.

Tricia: In addition to this, let’s back the conversation up to the basics of human nature. If someone at work is having a terrible day it’s not out of the ordinary that they may slip up. They may forget to mention a program or encourage a guest to complete an opt-in from their mobile phone. Even a great employee will get distracted at some point as an over-excited guest hammers them with questions about a promotion or how to pick up their Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie giveaway. That distraction isn’t much when it happens once but when you look at the cumulative results you’re looking at a program that’s not growing as quickly as it could or should. And what does that ultimately mean to a casino? Less ROI… less engagement… less of a chance to communicate with guests in a manner that’s increasingly important, extremely efficient and more cost effective than traditional direct mail. In other words, it’s a big deal. With the MGT integration we wipe all those scenarios off the table. The kiosk essentially becomes the property’s most efficient employee; one who can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, never gets distracted and doesn’t understand the concept of a bad day. You have a 100% fully compliant legal opt-in and know that any guest entering the program through the kiosk is a rated player who is at least 21 years of age. You also have just ensured that you’re not going to accidentally market to a problem gamer since you already have safeguards in place through the kiosk. The question at this point simply becomes, how can you not afford to make this “hire”?

MGW: How will mobileStorm’s integration with MGT impact the marketing experience for casinos that take advantage of this opportunity?

Darren: The integration really opens the door for our casino clients to move the sign-up process away from the congested lines at players club where players club managers can focus on new member signups and simply point to the MGT Kiosk to promote the email and text message program and let the MGT Kiosk do all of the work. One of the most attractive benefits to the casino marketing department is the end of manually updating new player email and cell data in their player tracking system. Our clients spend hours performing tasks to update their player data with valid emails and cell numbers and then also pulling that data as it is entered by players club managers for new players and sending that data to us to ultimately send those players their offers. In the process there is a lot of mistyped email addresses and other issues that ultimately hurt the casino email program. In many cases, the casino rewarded the player to join the email club only to find that the email address is not correct. This costs our clients many thousands of dollars each month and it’s a problem we have decided to work with MGT to solve. SMS is a different animal altogether with compliance and associating a player ID to a cell phone number being the 2 main hurdles that get in the way of launching a successful program.

Tricia: The integration increases the opportunity for a property to easily capture accurate data and make intelligent communication decisions. Using SMS (text) messaging as an example, you traditionally might have to take a guest through several steps to secure their mobile/email details, name, DOB, Player ID, Etc. After all that, you still run the risk that the information may not be 100% accurate. Migrating the bulk of the data capture to the kiosk provides a much better guest experience (since the guest isn’t asked for all their information over again) and walks them through the process in a streamlined fashion (which means less manpower needed to achieve the same goal). As their mobile database grows, the casino will be better equipped to execute decisions that drive business on the fly since 99% text messages are read within 3 minutes of being delivered. Powerful statement. Using mobile, a property can react quickly when the floor is slow or a competitor is executing a strong promotion by using our location based features to suppress guests already on property and trigger something like an aggressive FSP (free slot play) offer to drive traffic to the property immediately. This type of experience is something direct mail can’t even begin to touch and MGT is the tool that will allow casino operators to grow email and mobile databases faster than ever before.

MGW: From the player’s perspective, what does the mS-MGT partnership mean for them?

Darren: To the player, mobileStorm and MGT are invisible. Our partnership and the integration of our systems means a better communications experience provided by the casino for the player. We are laser-focused on making sure joining casino email and mobile programs is seamless and a player is notified when the casino loses the ability to send them their offers. The MGT Kiosk becomes the hub for ensuring that loyal players get the offers that they’ve earned and want. With our systems in place and talking to each other, the player will not have to call when they are not receiving email. This will ultimately give our clients a very serious edge when competing against the casino next door. They will be able to move faster and react proactively to the challenges of managing digital casino marketing programs. Having accurate, clean, complaint digital marketing data is something the casino industry has struggled with and is unique to mobileStorm. Combine our capabilities with our location services through our partner LocationSmart and players can expect to receive highly relevant offers at just the right time.

Tricia: There are a few really exciting doors this opens for players. For one, ease of use. Every player wants to access as many offers as they can with as little effort as possible. Driving offers and signups through the kiosk automates everything for the guest outside of the actual decision itself of choosing to participate in a promotion. We work with a large casino client in Maryland with a very engaged mobile database and one of the patterns I see is guests wanting to constantly make sure they’re in the property’s mobile club so they don’t miss out on offers. With the integration in place these same guests are able to squash that fear themselves with just a simple swipe in at a kiosk. Great user experience. The second benefit is the respect and maintenance of a player’s privacy. The guest uses their unique and secure pin to log into their account and is presented with the option to join or remove themselves from programs such a property’s mobile/email VIP club. Last but not least is the ability for a guest to execute communication preference choices themselves. Not everyone likes to be “talked to” the same way. Personally, I am terrible at staying on top of my personal email (currently at 4,832 unread emails) but I keep my cell phone next to my bed and rarely have an unread text for longer than a couple hours. Some guests may prefer email instead but either way the outcome is the same – a guest is able to choose a method of communication that’s relevant to their lifestyle, and because of that, is less likely to miss the communications they’re looking forward to.

MGW: mobileStorm once again had a great presence at G2E last week in Las Vegas. What was the highlight of mobileStorm’s G2E after-party this year?

Darren: This was the 6th annual G2E after party. There is heavy competition for the second night of the expo and we’ve managed to attract a large section of the attendees. Our first few parties were very grassroots and asking our clients to host us for a small get-together with some clients. Two years ago, we decided to invest heavily into showing our clients and the casino industry how good we are at engaging them using our own technology and our culture. The investments have paid off and it’s a chance for our teams to get creative with our capabilities. I personally love seeing all of the elements come together and we “party with a purpose” which is what sets our event apart. If you can have fun, have a few drinks and learn about new technology we’ve done an amazing job. Drai’s After Hours made a unique and intimate location. I’d like to use this platform to thank our partners again: Hidden Fruit, LocationSmart, Kre-8 Media Outdoor Advertising and Inkly helped make the party and prizes possible. They are also the partners that make our technology and strategies for clients successful. A big thanks to MGT for partnering and making this year’s G2E very special.

Tricia: G2E is always a great event for us and not just from the technology aspect; we truly relish the opportunity to spend time with our clients face to face. 2015 was the 6th year we threw our big after-party which has always been a great chance for us to showcase how we use our own technology and marketing skills to engage an audience and drive a unique experience throughout the event with contests, text voting and location based targeting. We hope that doing this inspires our clients to use get creative and fully utilize all the technologies and services we offer. The big highlight for us this year was unveiling the long awaited integration with MGT on the convention floor. It was received with a lot of excitement once casino operators were able to see first hand which doors the integration opens and how much it simplifies data capture while maintaining legal and regulatory compliance. Both companies worked extremely hard to make sure the integration was ready in time for G2E so having the simulation debut seamlessly was a huge deal.

MGW: As you look ahead to 2016 with mobileStorm in a highly desirable position to continue impacting the casino marketing space in pioneering ways, what do you hope to accomplish in the New Year?

Darren: As VP of Operations & Business Development, I’ve been tasked with controlling the data acquisition process for our casino clients. MGT is a key ingredient to achieving this goal. Once in place, we can reduce the client workload for time-strapped internal teams to free us up to move toward a higher-level digital marketing program. We want to help our clients move their focus from the small tasks to the bigger strategic picture. Our integration will allow us to do that. We are working on a new partnership with another mobile engagement solution. Essentially they offer simple ways to build mobile apps and our AppMail solution will be the hub of communication. We’ll be offering the casino industry an inexpensive and versatile mobile app solution that uses mobileStorm to power sending push notifications and in-app messages to players. This is the evolution of casino mobile marketing and getting closer to replacing expensive direct mail campaigns for certain types of casino offers. Big news to come this year for the casino industry.

Tricia: We put a lot on our plate in 2015 with the goal of being forward thinking. This means not just developing integrations, but expanding our team and skills to allow us to provide truly legendary account management for our enterprise clients. These projects have really transported us to a space where every single person at mobileStorm is laser focused on client success and equipped with the knowledge, aptitude and tools to challenge clients and hand-hold them through exercises in goal setting, accountability and even education. 2016 will be about continuing to build on a strong 16 year old foundation through casino focused projects such as integrations, automations and, as Darren mentioned, powerful partnerships. We exclusively offer professional managed service so as we automate data management we will be much more fixated on working with our clients to choreograph intimately designed custom strategic plans that allow them to “own” the mobile relationship with their guests in their own unique way. We’re fortunate to be able to say that, at this point, the fact that mobileStorm powers email and mobile messaging is a given. We’re thinking bigger. We want to help our clients create experiences for their guests.