Having led the redevelopment of European betting operator mybet Holdings’ IT Platform, the firm’s major technology development for 2016 & 2017, Sean Keogh Chief Product Officer speaks to SBC on current industry product development dynamics.
Ahead of Betting on Sports 2017 (12-15 September), Keogh an industry technology veteran breaks down the industry’s current development framework, operator trends with regards to product output and why stakeholders have shied away from innovation.
SBC: Hi Sean, thanks for talking to SBC ahead of #BOSCON2017. With the industry having undertaken mass consolidation in recent years, has product development and differentiation been ‘put to one side’?
Sean Keogh: I would not necessarily say so, no. Consolidation inevitably leads to individual companies retreating into themselves to a certain extent while they re-shape their organisations. Once that has been completed, there should be a new energy released for shaping the consumer proposition. Whether or not the ensuing product development actually leads to noticeable differentiation is questionable. Realistically, most participants see the brand as the main differentiator. It then comes down to the question: Does brand define a product in a deeper, meaningful manner or does it merely define message – or worse, simply the colour of the paint?
SBC: Assessing the current industry infrastructure and operations framework. Are operators’ products and output constrained by their relationships with technology and platform providers? What would be a good balance for innovation and development?
SK: Again, this depends very much on the operator’s sense of mission when it comes to defining a product. There is an easy quick route to market which sees the operator happily adopting and adapting the suppliers’ vanilla output. For certain markets, that can definitely work, particularly if the operator has significant marketing clout and can rake in the customers regardless of product features, usability or some form of USP. If you are a product evangelist who wants to be more proactive when it comes to the user proposition, then you need to make sure your suppliers will be able to provide you with the tools to make a difference further down the line. As the number of potential suppliers grows, their ability to give the operators flexibility will make them more attractive and thus presumably more successful, all things being equal.
SBC: Detailing the industry’s current consumer proposition, where do you feel that stakeholders are underserving their customers with regards to product and choice?
SK: Ha! Realistically, in terms of choice, my impression is that we as an industry are permanently over-delivering to consumers: bet365 showed us all the way by offering all possible markets on all possible event of all possible sports (within reason, given that there is a necessity to feel confident in the integrity of the events). So in order to keep up, most sportsbooks strive to deliver the same thing. We all know that the majority of our customers will never go near the badminton or the bowls, but we have to keep them in there because someone will complain to customer care if we do not. The same applies to the staggering number of markets on offer for each event. Delivering all of this is, of course, no real hassle, so why not? The most critical failing is making this massive offering relevant to each individual player by reducing the noise and delivering his or her signal in an efficient manner – this is particularly important in a world where a significant proportion of all turnover is being generated on relatively small screens.
SBC: Do the industries futures winners necessarily have to seek dynamic competencies and unique product offerings? Is product development necessarily a winning strategy?
SK: No, not necessarily. If you can convince consumers that your brand is best, given the commoditization of the sportsbook offering across the industry, you are probably on to a winner. Realistically, if you can retain customers better than your competitors, the product can only ever be a real argument if you can come up with something truly revolutionary. Beyond that, in my opinion, speed is one of the most critical criteria: speed of delivery, speed of bet placement, speed of understanding where to go and what to do, speed of withdrawal – all these things sound banal but have become one of the most important areas for consumers’ perception of whether a product works for them or not. So brand penetration, retention and speed are probably the critical areas of focus. The point that can be relevant for product development is the continuation of brand into the product itself. This is where brains are required: if your brand message is compelling to a defined group of consumers and you are then able to make the product reflect that message, then retention becomes that much easier. This is not quite the same thing as “unique product offerings”, it will always be a nuance rather than a complete break.
SBC: Are operators and industry stakeholders risk takers with regards to product development… Could this context be an issue for future innovation?
SK: I think that operators have not needed to be risk takers so far. Everybody has been doing just fine with the existing model – why rock the boat? If we define risk takers as those who disrupt industries, then I feel we have to bear in mind that there is far less disruption going on that perhaps we perceive. Examples such as AirBnB and Uber are comparable to Betfair to a certain extent, but it turns out that the “traditional” method of placing a bet online is still pretty attractive. Sure, it is up to the operators to find a way to make it more attractive still. There have been plenty of examples of established players testing new trends such as social gaming or betting via AppleWatch but so far, it seems to add a bet to a bet slip and then paying for the bet in hard currency still works pretty well. There is no doubt at all that the world around us is changing at an ever-accelerating pace and developments we have no idea about today are just around the corner. My perception of the industry as a whole is that we tend to jump onto trends pretty quickly, even if we did end up talking about mobile for rather longer than I might have anticipated…
SBC: You will be speaking at BOSCON2017 on product development. What do you want delegates to take away from your session?
SK: In order to be credible and to differentiate, product development should be an extension of brand development. This means that those responsible for products have to be very closely involved in brand development and keep referring to the brand mission whenever a product is being manipulated.
Sean Keogh Chief Product Officer mybet Holdings SE
Sean Keogh will be speaking on industry product development and innovation dynamics at the upcoming ‘Betting on Sports Conference – BOSCON2017’ (London Olympia – September 13-15). Click on the below banner for more information.