Bricks vs Clicks: Why the gaming industry should never be divided

Gaming market expert Ismail Vali has produced a short film about why the gaming industry should never be divided by Bricks vs Clicks.

Upon releasing the film (see below or click here), Vali was asked about the trip that gave him the betting business bug, how online promotions have evolved by replicating a land-based focus on what he terms “The Experience”, and how important it is that the audience see themselves as ‘players’, rather than traditional gamblers.

I wanted to work in the betting and gaming business because of a trip to Las Vegas, just before my career began. What was clear from that exposure to branded casino properties was one constant – they did not sell gambling.

Playing at roulette, blackjack, and betting on sports was inherent in everything they did…but it was never marketed or pushed to you as a potential consumer.

“The Experience” was what the brick and mortar gaming business thrived upon – a lifestyle that you could embrace, engage with and even profit from, as a player.

Over time, I took this lesson of creating “The Experience” with the teams and brands I’ve been fortunate to work with during my career, to try and achieve what the brick and mortar elders in our industry suggested as the route to sustainable and successful gaming businesses.

Online, one of few ways it is possible for us to replicate The Experience is via promotions – not simply meaning new customer deposit and reload bonuses, to be clear, but developed, meaningful and fun online events and entertainment.

Coming from many years in the Poker sector, with insane levels of competition from the early 2000’s when I experienced the shift from one operator – ParadisePoker – to hundreds in a matter of months, we learned to dedicate our marketing to “Must Play Promotions” – similar to the concept of “Must-See TV” that networks like HBO and Netflix have perfected.

Analogous to US TV Networks, operators have to create in online betting and gaming, within their core markets, one of the biggest branded “TV Channels” around, in order to matter in the market and survive the post-regulatory shift.

As an industry, what we need to focus upon now, I would suggest, is the quality and event status of our “Shows” – in other words, our promotions are key.

Every day, on every dot country variant of their sites, across all products, operators promotional offering needs to feature “must notice”, “must be able to find”, and “must play” potential, in the same way that shows like Game of Thrones are classed as “must watch TV”.

Players have to feel they are, potentially, missing out on “something” by not locating, logging on, staying connected to, and playing with your brand.

It’s not just about the cash they could win or lose…it’s about the culture they take part in by playing with your brand, and the cultural phenomenon you’re building with, and for, your growing audience.

This commitment to the mass market, with free to play offers and promotions to encourage audience awareness, trial and engagement, and segmented offers and incentives for the players, was the only way to gain and retain “membership” of your brand.

I use the word “membership” deliberately – seeing the audience as just potential “customers” encourages the “get and go” attitude from many of today’s online gamblers, and our industry response to them as “new depositing customers”, valuable only for their first month’s activity, and largely seen as “lapsed or lapsing” thereafter.

Seeing them as “members” of your branded entertainment offering, across any and all products, shifts the manner in which you meet, greet, gain and retain them…for the long term, and their critical lifetime value. During the online poker boom, it was clear that we were, as an industry, recruiting people who did not see themselves as traditional “gamblers”.

They wanted to be, and became, “players” – an important distinction as it makes the difference between a constrained, and competitive, market; and, one with sustainable room for growth and the “little but often” revenue players that form the backbone of brands like PokerStars.

Over time, the online and brick-and-mortar betting and gaming businesses will become one hybrid business – as such, I feel “The Experience” lesson from the land-based business will become ever more essential to all our shared operations going forward.

Recently, I worked with the talented team at Betsson, on the eve of its fifteenth birthday, to undertake a brand reboot for what used to be a Nordic Pioneer brand – NordicBet.

The Brand Reboot, much like revitalising an old Hollywood movie, took place across 2017. The kick-off campaign was an idea called “TransferWindow” – an idea so obvious I should probably have come up with it many years ago – whereby players who moved to NordicBet during the Transfer Window, could get bonuses on their betting, all season long.

This campaign aimed to re-announce NordicBet to the markets it most appealed to – the Nordics – and take ownership of a phenomenon in sports – the transfer market for professional footballers.

The players are the stars. Just for betting at NordicBet, you are getting a “Transfer Window” deal that values you outside of the one-time only new customer deposit bonus, common across all other operators we competed against. It values you “all season long” just like the pro footballers.

To gain this TransferWindow reward throughout the season, players must bet to a defined, but easily achievable, threshold every month. This creates, in itself, a core CRM communications platform to each player – effectively providing them with a Career Path Plan with the brand.

Your betting and gaming is not simply “transactional” anymore – you are “playing” and have moved from being a gambler, or customer, to being “a player” who, most importantly, is tied to a particular brand, given the on-going nature of this type of promotional scheme.

The success of the promotion was instant, and like the real-world transfer market has returned each January and July/August – with stand-out recognition, reactivation and ownership of core recruitment periods in the sports calendar.

Ismail Vali can be contacted at ismail.vali@icloud.com.