4P FRAMEWORK FOR CASINO SUCCESS

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Have you heard about the 4Ps in discussions on marketing? Of course, you have. I can already sense shudders among my dear beloved readers. Not to worry. This article is not another one of those “Death By PowerPoint” lectures that talks about product, price, promotion, and place. Speaking of these four Ps, a lot of marketing professors, students as well as practitioners credit this framework to my friend Philip Kotler. In reality, it was Jerry McCarthy who first spoke of the four Ps when discussing the domain of marketing.

The 4P framework I would like to discuss is “Property Positioning for Profitable Performance.” With the competition in the gaming industry intensifying, how you position your property could make the difference between success and failure, life and death, growth and stagnation. In making such bold claims, I may be getting ahead of myself. Let us first define what we mean by positioning. Quite simply, a brand position is the place your brand occupies in the mind of your target market relative to competitive offerings. In deciding which newspaper to read, which tomato ketchup to have with fries, which car to drive, and which ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล casino to frequent, all customers use their “perceptual maps,” plot diagrams in the head representing the perceptions of positions of the various brands they are aware of. If a customer is buying a toothpaste in a supermarket, her mental map will tell her to buy Crest if she is concerned about cavities, and Close-Up if she values fresh breath.

I have asked the following question of casino marketing directors and general managers scores of times, “What is your property’s positioning statement?” Many times, my question is greeted with a look of baffled embarrassment, particularly on the part of executives at some of the smaller casinos. Yet, positioning is as critical to your marketing program as your company’s mission statement to its survival and future direction.

Your casino’s brand position represents the key feature, benefit, or image that it stands for in the collective psyche of your target market. Al Reis and Jack Trout, widely acknowledged as the pioneering gurus of positioning write, “Positioning starts with a product. A piece of merchandise, a service, a company, an institution, or even a person. Perhaps yourself. But positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is you position the product in the mind of the prospect.”

Positioning encompasses the central idea that captures your brand’s meaning and distinctiveness vis-à-vis competitive offerings. It is your positioning that forms the basis of developing all successful marketing communications. It tells you who to target, what to say, and what media and message vehicles to use in delivering your message. In their highly acclaimed book, Counter-Intuitive Marketing, Clancy and Krieg (2000) argue that from both a strategic as well as a tactical perspective, the positioning statement should be a short one, even a word. It should forcefully convey the message “you want to imprint in the minds of customers and prospects.” It gives the customer a reason to patronize your brand; it underscores how your brand is different from, and superior to, the competition.

In his article recently posted on the MarketingProfs.com Website, “The Positioning Statement: Why To Have One Before You Start Communicating,” Ford Kanzler writes that a well-crafted positioning statement should be based on answers to seven essential questions:

x Who you are?

x What business you’re in?

x Who you serve?

x What does the target market that you serve need?

x Against whom do you compete?

x What’s different about your business?

x What unique benefit does the customer derive from your product or service?

Answers to these questions should be based on collective inputs from all managers who are interested and involved in key company activities—the CFO, CEO, and VPs of marketing, sales, and customer service. If you are a casino-hotel, then both the hotel side as well as the casino side of the business needs to be involved in this exercise. And do not forget your prospective customers when it comes to providing inputs, but more about it later. The desired result is a series of crisp positioning statements and supporting messages that reflect the current reality of your business and act as a guide in moving the company towards its “sought after, achievable, differentiated position.”

Typically, you can position your property along one or more of the following dimensions: price/quality, product-mix attributes, product user, product usage, product class, competition, and symbol or icon. Regardless of the dimensions chosen, the positioning statement should, ideally, result in a strong, clear, and consistent image of your property in comparison with your competitors. This will allow for product differentiation through a brand image. Meaningful differentiation will, in turn, translate into brand loyalty, which means a greater share of customer wallet in your targeted market.

Positioning starts out with a declaration to your customer, which then becomes a reality or falsehood in her mind through accumulated experience. For the declaration to become a well-imprinted reality, periodic reinforcement through marketing communication efforts is essential. Positioning thus constitutes the backbone of your marketing strategy.

Price/Quality: Many buyers equate high price with high quality. In the casino parlance, this may equate with prices the casino charges for its hotel rooms, or the table minimum for bets. Caesar’s Palace and Las Vegas Hilton probably have established this position among Las Vegas gamblers.

Product-Mix/Attributes: “Good food specials and buffet,” and “good entertainment in the bars,” are examples of positioning along attributes of the casino entertainment provider. Circus-Circus and the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas could be positioned along these lines.

Product User: The representative user of a product can also be used to position a brand. The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino seems positioned as a casino for “the guest seeking a unique, hip and exciting experience.”

Product Usage: A product may be positioned on the basis of the way in which it is typically used. The Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia brags about its “world class shopping and dining,” and its “luxurious and indulgent accommodation.” This message conveys that Crown is not just a casino — it offers more by providing the amenities that are usually available at a top-notch luxury resort.

Product Class: It is sometimes possible to position a brand against another product or product class. The Stratosphere in Las Vegas uses the following copy in promoting its wedding chapel, “Imagine taking your vows of eternal love high amongst the clouds in a chapel so unique, your family and friends will talk about it for years. Situated 800 feet above the Las Vegas Strip in the Stratosphere Tower, your chapel is higher than any other in the entire country.” In so doing, the property (or a specific component thereof) is positioned against chapels and function halls, not casinos. Another example of product class positioning is the way in which casinos in Queensland, Australia position themselves against the various pubs and RSL clubs, “Our slots pay more, it’s the law.”

Competition: Comparing, either directly or indirectly, a brand to its competition is another form of product positioning. In a recent lead article in Gambling, Michael Shackleford provides a comprehensive and credible comparison of Las Vegas reel slot returns. The Palms Casino had the highest payout on nickel slots — 93.42% against a median of 91.7% payout. Palms Casino could use these statistics in positioning itself against other casinos in Vegas.

Symbol or Icon: Companies sometimes use a symbol or an icon to position themselves in the minds of consumers. Over time, this symbol can become synonymous with the company or brand. Thus, the “golden arches” have come to symbolize McDonalds and “big blue” is tantamount to IBM. Paris Las Vegas uses the Eiffel Tower as its icon in all its marketing communication, even on the shampoo bottles in its hotel rooms. The hope is that with the passage of time, most consumers will have a clear image of the casino by merely seeing the symbol.

In choosing which dimension or dimensions will be used for positioning, the casino should first identify the differences that might be established in relation to competition. However, merely identifying the differences is not enough. The company needs to isolate the most powerful differentiators from the perspective of the target market. Once isolated, these differences then need to be forcefully communicated to prospective customers. The image the company strives to create in the minds of the target market needs to be constantly fortified with the use of symbols, through written and audio-visual media, and through the physical atmosphere of the property.

Let us now look at the three common errors in positioning: confused positioning, under-positioning, and over-positioning. Confused positioning arises due to an uncertain mental image in the minds of customers due to multiple claims and/or frequent repositioning on the part of the casino. For example, a casino cannot position itself as “a casino for locals” one day and as “a good place for foreign traveler” the next. Such contradictory claims are bound to result in confused positioning.

Under-positioning is said to occur when your customers cannot identify anything special about your brand. Such perceived lack of differentiation is often the result when the differentiators chosen for positioning are not valued enough by the customer or are not forcefully communicated to the customer. This was probably the case with the Claridge Casino Hotel in Atlantic City.

Over-positioning results when a company positions itself too narrowly, resulting in the buyers having too constricted a picture of the brand. Fewer customers will then be attracted to the marketer’s offerings. For example, if a casino positioned itself solely on the basis of its “good check cashing services,” it would probably be over-positioning itself.

As the needs of companies, competitors, and – most importantly – consumers evolve over time, your brand position may also warrant changes. This process of creating a new image for an established brand in consumers’ minds is called repositioning. It involves changing people’s existing attitudes and beliefs, and is therefore more costly and more difficult than positioning a new product. Periodic assessment of your brand’s position vis-à-vis the competition will indicate whether you need to embark on an expensive and risky repositioning exercise.

Repositioning begins with as assessment of the brand’s current position. A decision then needs to be made on the desired position the company wishes to own for the brand. An analysis of the competitors who may be strongly embedded in this position is then carried out so as to assess the chances of repositioning success. Factors such as the aspirant’s monetary resources, tenacity, and creative strategy are also weighed in to predict the success of repositioning efforts.

Finally, one last authoritative observation about positioning. Recall that positioning is the place your brand occupies in the minds of your customers. When it comes to deciding the dimensions on which to position your casino, the best source you can possibly turn to is your target market. Al Reis and Jack Trout observe “The average mind is already a dripping sponge that can soak up more information only at the expense of what is already there. Millions of dollars have been wasted trying to change people’s minds… Once a mind is already made up, it’s almost impossible to change it.” If you want to come up with a short list of effective and relatively inexpensive positioning statements, the minds of your prospects may be the best place to begin! Here you will find treasures of product benefits and imagery associated with various brands that your customers already believe and accept. Your chances of successful positioning or repositioning will be significantly improved if you can understand how the various brands are stacked on those “little ladders” in the heads of your target market. This can only be achieved through market research.

Now that you know my 4P Framework, it is your turn to let me know what your casino’s positioning statement is. Let’s hear your justification of why you believe the current positioning to be the best.

Date Posted: 01-Jan-2003

*Sudhir H. Kale, Ph.D., has successfully repositioned himself from being an academic involved in scholarly endeavors to a widely acclaimed expert in the field of casino marketing. He has published scores of articles on various aspects of marketing within the gaming industry. Sudhir consults and trains for several organizations involved with gaming. You can download Sudhir’s insightful presentation, “CRM In Gaming: It’s No Crapshoot!” from www.egamingpro.com, or contact him by e-mail: Sudhir_Kale@Bond.edu.au.