Casino and hotel giants fail to take advantage of their direct and online marketing strategies

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Battle of the brands: MGM and Caesars duke it out
Battle of the brands: MGM and Caesars duke it out

MGM Resorts
15 U.S. properties
2011 Revenue: $7.8 billion

Caesars Entertainment
39 U.S. properties
2011 Revenue: $8.8 billion

Las Vegas is all about glamour, recreation, partying and, of course, lots and lots of money. Your money. MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, the two largest casino and hotel operators on the Las Vegas Strip, are in the business of getting you to have fun, let loose and spend. However, neither company hits the jackpot when it comes to overall direct marketing strategy. The companies integrate across almost all mediums, including rewards programs and email campaigns, but both companies need to double down on website design and social media engagement.

Walking from one end of the Strip to the other, customers pass several recognizable properties (the world famous Caesars Palace and Bellagio, for example) most of which are controlled by these two companies. The core difference between MGM and Caesars is their consumer. Caesars has highly popular locations across the U.S., including Horseshoe Hammond outside of Chicago and Atlantic City, while maintaining Las Vegas as its core destination and marketing target. MGM, the single largest employer in Nevada, has mostly Las Vegas-based properties, and, as such, it focuses most of its U.S. marketing efforts on Las Vegas.

Each of the experts with whom Direct Marketing News spoke agree that the weakest aspects of both Caesars' and MGM's direct marketing strategy are their corporate websites.

“The MGM Resorts site looks more like a print advert than a website,” says John Hayes, business development executive at iContact, an email and social media marketing company. “There's no call-to-action.” Hayes is equally critical of Caesars' website, too: “It's very dated. It looks like a Flash video from seven years ago.”

Bernie Pitzel, creative in residence at the Jacobs Agency, describes Caesars' website as representing “the bad part of Vegas. It's really loud and aggressive and in your face,” he says.

“Then again,” he concedes that perhaps his college-age son would find this branding more appealing than he does. “Maybe that's what they're going for,” he says.

Sherri Gilligan, MGM Resorts' SVP of marketing, says that executives believe consumers prefer to interact with MGM properties individually rather than interacting with the parent company. Each property has an individual site for booking reservations and promotions, she explains.

Chase Cornett, director of strategy at KBM Group, says he felt Caesars' website edged out MGM's. However, he says both brands might want to consider a stronger global navigation across their properties and consider a universal domain redirect structure.

In terms of social media, neither company really stands out, Cornett says. However, MGM slightly edges out Caesars because of its “consistency amongst properties and brands, integrating other social media efforts like YouTube and Twitter.”

“It's interesting that neither company is using the Facebook Timeline yet to sell their personality,” Hayes says. “I would like to see more connection between the brands and the various resorts.” Caesars, he suggests, should be promoting its wildly successful headliner, Celine Dion, across its social media platforms.

“In a battle, is it possible for them both to lose?” Hayes asks. “It's called social media for a reason. It's about engaging consumers for a reason.”

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, a one-off property that opened to the public in January of last year, uses social media and their website in an engaging way. It talks about general interests — food, concerts and more — while maintaining a consistent, high-end, targeted brand. The Cosmopolitan interacts with customers on a personal level. If a consumer tweets about a cool experience he or she had — say, a Jay-Z concert or dinner at the property's steak house — they're likely to get a personalized response from a hotel social media staffer.

Although Caesars and MGM are larger, more complex, expansive companies, they both may want to take a page out of Cosmo's unique, ultra-hip playbook. “Cosmo does a great job with this stuff,” Pitzel says of their website and social media strategies. “MGM and

Caesars don't know what they're doing.

With regards to email marketing, both are also fairly underwhelming. Three days after signing up for MGM and Caesars programs, Cornett says he received confirmation emails but no offers. Pitzel also received no offers in that time. “I feel both brands missed   key opportunity to take advantage of an engaged consumer by utilizing my profile information to deliver a relevant welcome experience that focused on conversation, offers, bookings and more,” Cornett says. “Both suffered from an underwhelming welcome program.”

In many ways, the casino and resort business is about keeping hotel visitors, Vegas show-goers, diners — and, of course, gamblers — after the initial capture. If you've booked a room at MGM's Monte Carlo resort and casino, you should be ready to subsequently receive lots of offers in the coming months. However, the problem is that neither MGM's nor Caesars' email marketing strategy does much to draw in new customers. Both resort companies focus too much on retaining old ones. That's no way to build a business.

However, both of these resort giants really shine when it comes to their rewards programs. Caesars' Total Rewards program, which was expanded in March, ties all of the company's national properties together and allows individual guests to earn points for various activities and allows people who earn those points in, say Tunica, Miss., to apply them in Las Vegas or other locales. The company prides itself as being a pioneer in collecting and properly using consumer data to customize resort experiences and offers.

“Caesars' rewards program has an overall stronger brand presence across all properties and has a stronger program positioning [with] more clear benefits,” Cornett says. “Mlife [MGM's loyalty program] has a solid offering with the recent rebrand and positioning but lacks the polish and completeness of Total Rewards.”

Mlife, which launched in January, is a “bow around all of Las Vegas,” Gilligan says. “The biggest differentiator is you can come here to Vegas and go to a great concert, go to the fights, go to the best pools, go to the nightclubs … We dwarf everybody else.” In November, the company launched its non-gaming aspects of the card, enabling consumers to earn points for most MGMrelated activities.

Similar to Mlife, the newly expanded Total Rewards program allows customers to earn points for a wide array of activities. Joshua Kanter, VP of marketing at Caesars Entertainment, says the expansion was not a reaction to Mlife. “Mlife is a reaction to us,” Kanter says. “Competitors are watching us be number one and we're watching them catch up.”

Brand Champion

The winner, by a nose, is Caesars Entertainment. Total Rewards, in its latest incarnation, is what pushed Caesars ahead. Though MGM does a stellar job of branding properties, the “bow” around the city is too new to measure its impact. Both companies however, have long strides to make in email marketing and in social media engagement. Both do a decent job direct marketing to repeat consumers, but both rely on the inherent sexiness of the casino business to build their bases. It's time for both companies to step up their game.

For more, go to dmnews.com/battleofbrands.

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