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At Caesars, Digital Marketing Is No Crap Shoot

The $9 billion Caesars Entertainment empire sprawls across the casino and gaming industry. The privately held company owns not only the Caesars Palace hotel and casino, but the Paris Las Vegas, Showboat Atlantic City, Bally’s, Harrah’s, Tunica Roadhouse, and Horseshoe—more than 50 properties all told. This sprawl extends over the digital landscape with about 60 websites for various properties and services and 40 Facebook pages. This year Caesars looks to complete the Herculean task of redesigning all of its sites. While regular visitors will notice a change in the graphic presentation and the offerings, the most significant adaptations being made by Caesars’ marketers and technologists will be invisible to them.

Much of what makes this initiative so tremendous isn’t simply a cosmetic re-skinning of outdated sites; it’s a philosophical shift within Caesars’ entire marketing approach—one that extends across numerous branded properties. Now, its digital marketing decisions will all be underpinned by a probing suite of data analytics tools that perform A/B testing, monitor social media activity, and attempt to follow a customer from his first entry on a website or search engine, through every swirl in the sales funnel, until he shows up at a Caesars craps table or roulette wheel. What’s learned along the way is used to inform future digital marketing activities. Gaming may be Caesars’ business, but gambling is not its business model.

“We’re a data-driven organization. We acquire a lot of information. We want to know that if we invest in something, it has a return,” says Caesars’ Web Analytics Manager Chris Kahle, whose primary responsibility is to report the individual ROI contribution of all properties to senior management. “We have to measure it, and measure it effectively, so we made a significant investment in analytics tools. We need to understand the value of what we’re doing and make sure that we continually optimize what we’re doing.”

Eliminating chance

Caesars needs this understanding because the conglomerate had experienced flat growth in visitor levels across all its properties. It also needs more conversions, and the most direct path to that goal is engaging with “frequent independent travelers”—or FITs. To support these efforts, Caesars invested in Adobe‘s Digital Marketing Suite, which includes real-time tracking and segmentation of digital site visitors, analysis of social media’s role in purchasing, and content testing by segment or individual visitor.

“The main challenge we have,” says Kahle, “is that we have so many properties out there and, at the same time, we’re addressing two different customer segments.” FITs represent the first of two main groups into which the entertainment giant divides its customer segments. The second, Total Rewards members, are those enrolled in Caesars’ loyalty program. FITs may spend as much time in casino properties as do Total Rewards members, but they only stay at a Caesars property once a year versus three times for loyalty program members. Caesars’ goal for Total Rewards members is to up- or cross-sell them on, for example, different properties or new services. Its goal for FITs is to encourage them to become members of Total Rewards, who historically account for 75% of rooms booked online.

The problem with driving online conversions among  FITs, however, is that—based on their online behaviors—they’re not loyal to a particular casino. “They’re on Kayak; they’re on other casinos’ sites. They’re looking for a deal,” says Kahle, who adds that Caesars regularly targets these travelers with offers, such as free meals and free gaming play.

Kahle’s staff conducted A/B analysis aimed at presenting the company’s individual properties with the best option for increasing Total Rewards memberships. Half the people who searched Total Rewards online were sent to the main Caesars Entertainment homepage, while the other half was sent to the homepage of a specific property. While the conversion rate for room reservations was the same for both groups, the latter group signed up for the loyalty program at a significantly higher rate. The practice was adopted across the Caesars Web network and resulted in a 10% increase in sign-ups.

A similar test was used to maximize business from Total Rewards members, testing its old website interfaces against a new design. The difference was an eye-opener. The conversion rate for the newer interface option was 70% higher.

“In the past, when planning changes to Web page design or elements, the winning design was often decided by the highest-ranking person in the office,” Kahle says. “With Adobe testing, people’s personal opinions aren’t the deciding factor. We can look at the numbers, see the results, and clearly identify the best-performing design.” Kahle adds that Caesars deployed these new capabilities without having to increase its IT staff.

“Caesars went from a culture of opinion to a culture of data. We essentially gave them the…flexibility to test so that the [end-user’s] experience is optimized,” says Matt Langie, senior director of product marketing at Adobe.

Counting ad-spend chips

Shifting toward a more data-heavy marketing approach paid dividends on Cyber Monday—the day of the company’s biggest promotion last year. The centerpiece of the promotion was an offer embedded in all digital promotions for 30% off hotel bookings. Clicking on an ad took prospective customers to a landing page that allowed them to select any one of Caesars’ properties for rooms at the discounted rate. If prospects left without buying, follow-up ads would continue to promote Caesars; prospects were extended the Cyber Monday deals for 14 days.

“It’s our biggest revenue driver of the year,” Kahle says. “We run all types of promotions across all channels, from display to paid search to Facebook pages, and virtually all of the properties participate.”

But of all the channels, social media represented the biggest issue due to the casino’s inability to track the value of social connections—an issue that had plagued Caesars’ marketing team in past years. Obtaining those metrics was one of the main things it was looking for in a new digital platform.

“We wanted to make better use of the social space, but one of the overwhelming problems had been, ‘How do you measure the effectiveness?’ Not a lot of organizations are able to measure it effectively,” Kahle notes. Caesars marketers didn’t want to create a social island that communicated with customers separately and distinctly from all other channels. Each channel is tracked and rated for its ability to turn engagements into booked rooms, and Caesars had been flying blind in the region of social media. “Top management wants to know, ‘How did this perform? What’s the return on ad spend?’ and now we can tell the path to purchase from first touchpoint to last touchpoint, even if the starting point was in social media,” Kahle says. “Before, we couldn’t understand social’s role in the transaction. You could track it to a degree, but you built a social island and there was some guessing involved. You could end up double-counting social’s contribution.”

For many brands, social media is an outlier when it comes to the ability to measure marketing data. While social media networks like Facebook provide metrics that measure activity within its platform, integrating that data to enable visibility across a brand’s entire marketing organization is difficult. Caesars, however, unites information from customers coming through social channels across business units, program teams, time zones, and languages. A content-building component allows Caesars’ marketers to listen in and respond in real time.

Whether customer interactions originate in social media networks, from search queries, or by clicks on display ads, engagement is a key factor in moving those interactions from the top of the sales funnel to an eventual purchase.

Consequently, Caesars needs insights into all of those early interactions to determine how best to engage and convert. “It doesn’t matter where customers come in or leave or reenter,” Kahle says. “If they come to your social page and click your button, or if they go into your content or email and click on that, it’s all the same app and you’ve got them. [The app we use] IDs a cookie and if [prospects] come back around on paid search three days later, we can track them. We can track them on every website, even if they came in on a Las Vegas site and then jump markets to Atlantic City.”

Caesars can also track activity in real time to respond to customer cues. Not surprisingly, different types of customers are more responsive to different interactions from Caesars. Aside from dividing customers into FITs and Total Rewards members, Kahle and his team use tracking data to further segment customers by property or market and determine how these various segments respond to content. Caesars uses that data to evaluate campaigns in regard to KPIs, like number of nights booked, and adjust them on the fly to ramp up conversion rates. When Caesars sponsored free concerts by top artists at several of its properties last year, for instance, it streamed the events live on the Web and used its new analytics suite to fine-tune loyalty program offers on its websites. It resulted in a dramatic spike in Total Rewards program sign-ups during the concerts.

“What’s really dramatic about this is that you can determine what is engaging individuals and target them with it,” Adobe’s Langie says. “The high-roller segment, for example. They might respond to a very different Web design than the casual visitor and Caesars tailors the page view to who is visiting. Think of the website as a canvas. You can paint a still life of a fruit for one person and something different for another. The canvas is dynamic.”

Life in the fast lane

The speed and the manner with which the chosen website designs and digital marketing tactics are implemented across the Caesars network may well be the most transforming development of the company’s new data culture. Kahle and his team knew that, for metrics to be actionable, they had to meet the specific needs of the marketing groups and field executives who would use them. Prior to implementing a data-centric approach to the decision-making process, it could take as long as two weeks to furnish the field with actionable data. They now get it done in a matter of hours.

Providing specific marketing data to dozens of casino properties not only gets done quicker, according to Kahle, it gets done, period. “The people at the individual properties who are managing the content of the websites are not all technically sophisticated, but [the] Adobe system provides them with built-in capabilities,” Kahle says. “Say one of our properties wants to track social. Before, they’d have to spend a lot of time manually adding tracking codes. With Adobe, tracking codes are integrated.”

Additionally, Caesars’ content management system (CMS) lets marketers at its headquarters give property managers ownership of their websites and Facebook pages within a framework that protects the brand and ensures consistency of campaigns and messaging across the far-ranging network. Aside from easy-to-use design elements, the CMS gives local website managers multilingual tools that allows them to quickly disseminate programs to its international clientele.

“For larger-scale campaigns like Cyber Monday, we bring all the properties together and work with the programmers and designer so that we’re all coordinated when the program goes live,” Kahle says.

Betting on the future

With the economy still recovering, global casino and entertainment enterprises like Caesars have energized their own digital marketing strategies to keep in tune with a fast-changing marketplace. The most growth is in the Asia Pacific region, which next year is projected to nearly double its revenues from 2010, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Growth in the United States, meanwhile has been flat or in the single digits for a decade. The competition is intense, particularly when it comes to luring high-roller customers.

Consequently, there’s a competitive advantage to using customer data to track and customize marketing appeals for targets of one as opposed to solely focusing on the general masses. High rollers frequently drop tens of thousands of dollars at gaming tables, and they are the segment being lured to brand new, luxury casinos in Macau, Singapore, and South Korea. Baccarat, one of the favored games of big spenders, accounts for more than 40% of table game revenues on the Las Vegas Strip, according to the PwC report.

And much of this outreach will occur on digital channels. Competing resort companies like MGM Resorts and the Las Vegas Sands have increased their digital activities and won plaudits from marketing associations, though Caesars Entertainment is widely recognized as the hot hand in digital marketing. A November 20, 2012 article in Global Gaming Business Magazine listed digital marketing and social media initiatives as important challenges facing the casino industry and named Caesars as a leader in those areas.

Kahle would like to keep Caesars at the forefront of digital marketing and data analytics in the casino and gaming industry to retain the company’s leadership position, and promises a steady flow of improvements in marketing and measurement techniques in the months to come. In January Caesars began introducing a redesigned reservation system with optimized features for collecting customer data that can be fed back into its marketing machine.

Caesars’ data analysts will continue to refine the way they measure activity in the social media sphere and design promotions than can deliver consistent results. “Right now we can assign a percentage value to social media if a booking doesn’t result right away,” Kahle says. “But with social we’re going to be experimenting with a longer funnel, maybe a two-week time frame.” Values are ascribed to social media for being the site of initial contact with a new customer, for instance, or for numbers of positive reviews by current customers.

Caesars is unable at the moment to measure the total value of a reservation booked online. For instance, the company can’t determine how much an online booker spent at the tables during his stay. That’s something Caesars’ marketers would like to know. They’d also like to know if, for example, customers left the Caesars’ casino in Las Vegas and went to dinner at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant at the Paris Las Vegas, so they could offer them a free dinner at the restaurant to close the deal on a future booking.

“Eventually we’re going to set a time frame that will never expire [on the sales funnel],” Kahle says. “But for now we’ve built a sales allocation model that goes beyond the last click, and that’s OK. Most organizations using multiple marketing channels are still stuck on that last click.”

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