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Simon Washbrook

‘This Is Personal’: eGR Digital Marketing

Developing a personalised marketing strategy is seen as a crucial battleground in egaming, but one with few victors so far. EGR Digital Marketing finds out how the war can be won. 

photo for EGR digital marketing article displaying image of article by Andy Roocroft
photo for EGR digital marketing article displaying image of article by Andy Roocroft

The egaming industry has always been a big fan of buzz phrases, and ‘personalisation’ is one word which has caught the imagination of many in recent years, slowly creeping its way into the sector’s vocabulary. In a world now largely dominated by me-too products, operators, and affiliates to a certain extent as well, have been busy attempting to tailor the experience they offer to each customer’s individual needs in an effort to stand out from the crowd and boost engagement.

As consumers we all relish the personal touch and nowhere is this demonstrated more clearly and exemplified than by the kind of marketing we are subjected to. Indeed, according to a report conducted by global information services group Experian, 66% of UK consumers said that they found personalised communication was a positive as long as it was relevant to them, 7% of respondents to the survey thought it was ‘cool’ and 14% said they expected it as a matter of principle.
However, the same report also found 25% believed it to be intrusive, 7% not intrusive at all and 24% said it was less intrusive than intrusive. These stats indicate the critical need to get personalisation 100% right and not test the customer’s patience. Predictive analytics means that marketing campaigns can in theory be personalised for each customer, but it’s a fine balance.
“Being told by Amazon that the ink cartridges that you tend to buy every three months or so, have been discounted may be just the prompt you need to stock up,” Dice London CEO, Gwenole Andrieux, says. “Bombarding a customer with recommendations to watch a Kardashian box-set because you once bought a Kanye CD is frankly just annoying.”
Many would argue that the egaming industry has been somewhat behind the curve in this regard and has still not fully got to grips with the tools necessary to offer a tailored marketing experience for customers. A failure to follow in the footsteps as quickly as some other ecommerce businesses and harness the breathtaking power of big data is cited as one such reason.
photo for EGR digital marketing article displaying image of article by Andy Roocroft
Companies like Amazon and eBay are often held in the highest regard, frequently used as examples of what personalised marketing should look like when it’s done right. However, while these global businesses have largely been the exception rather than the rule, there are signs this could be about to change both inside egaming and beyond.

EGR Digital Marketing: The personal touch

But does ‘personalisation’ really matter? And is there a danger it may be just another buzzword without any real meaning? According to Simon Washbrook, an email marketing expert and founder of the popcorn email marketing platform, personalisation is now more important than ever. “Understanding who, what and why your customers want to hear from you, will dramatically increase engagement and ultimately sales,” he says. “Over recent years personalisation has moved email marketers’ focus away from list quantity and onto quality – having multiple small lists with targeted messages is the way forward.”
Oddschecker’s chief marketing officer (CMO), Andy Lulham, agrees with Washbrook’s assertion. Lulham believes there has been a continual improvement in the level of personalisation across the digital marketing mix and that things will only get better in the months and years to come. “What started with users simply telling brands about themselves via ‘My Account’ settings which allowed them to be grouped into broad customer bands or categories is now, in many cases, an automated, hyper-sophisticated, data-driven revolution.”
Recent research from market research firm Media Dynamics found that the average adult is exposed to approximately 360 adverts every day across various marketing channels and that only about 150 of these are even noticed. Faced with such a seemingly constant barrage of information, customers have learned to zone-out by ignoring ads, instead focusing only on areas of a webpage likely to contain relevant content. That is if they don’t opt out altogether by unsubscribing or employing ad blockers, Gideon Lask, CEO of referral marketing platform Buyapowa, claims.
“In an age where the penalty for irrelevant and annoying advertising noise is a simple click to unsubscribe, block, unfollow or unfriend, merely shouting louder to increase the interruption volume is unlikely to be beneficial,” Lask says. “The key to personalisation is to make messages more relevant and useful so that they are likely to be noticed by potential customers and viewed as adding to the user experience rather than detracting from it.”
“From my experience at HMV and Universal Music, we learned that by working out what a customer wanted and making the content and their experience reflect that greatly increased engagement and conversion rates,” he adds. “This can be as simple as using the language that a customer uses in advertising copy or asking your customer to vote for what they want from you.”
Washbrook also believes that with the explosion in recent years of so many different marketing channels, the customer attention span and time is now diluted more than it has ever been. “This means that the message you send needs to be targeted to match your readers behaviours, whether that is based upon their buying patterns, browsing history or demographics, your message needs to stand out from all the noise that is out there,” he says.

EGR Digital Marketing: Crunching the numbers

Marketing personalisation as an idea and strategy is designed to make a customer believe that a business truly cares about the experience they are delivered. Context and relevance is everything, and brands that communicate in an impersonal manner will almost certainly soon see that negatively impact on the performance of their digital marketing.
photo for EGR digital marketing article displaying image of article by Andy Roocroft

Technology is at the epicentre of what makes accommodating the differences between individuals a reality. In recent years ecommerce businesses have begun to recognise the value of using the vast swathes of customer data collected – in-house or via a third-party data exchange – every day on a second-by-second basis. Big data and data-driven solutions can result in highly accurate insights into customer behaviour across a multitude of channels, while it also allows marketers to spot patterns and identify niches that can be targeted with relevant messages.

The combination of big data and programmatic advertising is one way in which personalisation is becoming a reality, using retargeting to deliver tailored ads through ad networks based on past behaviour with a brand. Such methods have been proven to increase clicks and conversions by more than 150%. “Big data is crucial,” Lulham says. “Personalisation is no longer about tailoring a website or communications based on what a customer proactively tells you about themselves, it’s about personalising every touchpoint of their experience based on what you know that they haven’t actually told you.”
Outside of egaming, using big data to gain a competitive edge over rivals is nothing new. However, within the online gambling industry the ability to properly analyse and utilise this data to engage with customers in real-time is easier said than done. And many firms have been left frustrated by the inability of their platforms to cope and getting the whole company singing from the same data-driven hymn sheet.
According to Lask, while egaming operators scramble to incorporate data teams into the backbone of their businesses, big data may never actually provide a perfect customer view because obtaining all the data inputs about an individual is nigh on impossible. Companies will only ever know certain data points like their name, date of birth, address, past purchases and may even have captured some survey or psychometric data, he claims. “It can never really be sure that a customer is really ‘its customer’ and will not know that the same person bought using a guest account, a different email and payment method, or bought in-store for cash or from a competitor.”
“All it can do is put them in a bucket with other customers who appear to share the same characteristics and send them messages based on event triggers,” Lask adds. “Even though machine learning should make the predictions better over time, it is essentially working with the law of averages to send messages that ought to be more relevant, but might not be.”

Ahead of the pack

However, as Amazon will attest to, big data, when done right, is still the main ingredient in the recipe for personalisation success. The online retail giant Amazon is often seen as the ‘personalisation king’ and at the root of its success is a recommendation system based on a number of simple elements: what a user has bought in the past, which items they have in their virtual shopping cart, items they’ve rated and liked, and what other customers have viewed and purchased.
Amazon calls this ‘item-to-item collaborative filtering’, and it’s used this algorithm to heavily customise the browsing experience for returning customers. “I imagine a lot of people say the same here, but it’s difficult to look past Amazon as an example we the egaming sector should aim to replicate,” Lulham says. “Their CRM and, in particular, their on-site marketing has led the way and is often held up as best-in-class. My view is that personalisation is most mature on channels with longer dwell times, such as email and on-site.”
Elsewhere, O2 has used programmatic video to work out where a person is in the customer acquisition journey and trigger the videos to be shown so that that person is moved down the acquisition funnel with messages more relevant to their needs at a particular time. The telecommunications giant claims this has greatly improved conversion rates. Rival company EE has also looked to tap into an audience of millennial gamers for its 4G SIM cards by getting the leading gaming blogger Ali-A to make a personalised offer to his followers on YouTube.
photo for EGR digital marketing article displaying image of article by Andy Roocroft
Personalisation in digital marketing has clearly come a long way since Amazon’s ‘people who viewed this also bought that’ recommendation engine was first introduced. “Amazon itself has got much better since then and now customises the experience for returning customers using its ‘item-to-item collaborative filtering’ combining elements from past purchases, items in a user’s shopping cart, items the person has reviewed and liked, as well as the purchase history of other customers who may ‘look like’ this person,” Lask explains.
This means that Amazon is able to integrate recommendations into nearly every part of the customer journey, from discovery to purchase, because technology has enabled businesses to tie together identifiable information from online, mobile, in-store and even social media touch points by assigning a common unique customer reference to each. This allows them to be matched and retrieved from a data warehouse in seconds. The aim being to use this data to provide a consistent and personalised interaction with more relevant recommendations and information leading to more engagement, repeat purchases and higher customer lifetime value.

The market today

Despite the success of some businesses, there is still a long way to go. According to Experian, while 86% of UK brands are personalising their marketing and customer communications, the specifics of what they are personalising varies a great deal. Experian Marketing Services’ white paper claims that 61% of UK marketers are personalising basic data such as first name, 42% behavioural data such as previous purchases, and only 11% based on preference centre data.
In the egaming sector specifically, personalised messaging is fast becoming an industry standard. And Lulham thinks that while there is clearly still a long way to go, the egaming industry is actually now doing a reasonable job, without pulling up any trees. “Given the huge amount of transactional data available in our industry, the potential is sky high,” he says. “It’s obviously difficult to ascertain its impact without a full set of performance indicators across a number of brands, but I think it’s safe to assume that those leading the way will be reaping the benefits in the longer term.”
Online gambling companies have all jumped into programmatic advertising in an effort to decrease cost per acquisition. While they have also been strong at mining their database to reactivate lapsed players or cross-sell products, there is still some improvement to be made in order to provide customers with more intuitive messaging. And more work needs to be done though, Andrieux claims, to separate useful and less useful information and then determine how it can be best used to increase engagement and ROI.
“This should be seen as an ongoing process, continually re-evaluated. We are now seeing recommendation engines being introduced on operator’s casino pages,” he says. “Customers will be served games that they have previously played or that they are likely to play based on their past behaviour. In an ideal world no user would have the same homepage when logging in as it would only feature the markets they are most likely to take together with promotions that are just customised for them.”
photo for EGR digital marketing article displaying image of picture frames

Clearing the hurdles

But if true personalisation is to be achieved there are a number of barriers for marketers to overcome first. In the Experian report, a lack of internal resources, technology and inaccurate data are cited as the main reasons UK marketers are being thwarted in their attempts to implement personalisation into their marketing. Lack of budget was also given as a critical factor, highlighting the need for companies to increase their investment in their data teams and technology stacks.
The opportunities are limitless but, if people resource, or the re levant skills and knowledge are lacking, then that potential for true personalisation will not be fu lly realised. Yet personalisation looks set to change beyond recognition and the egaming industry will have to stay ahead of the cur ve if it is to reap the benefit s. Lask believes that personalisation will e volve in the future to cover all elements of the marketing mix from prospection, engagement, conversion and repeat purchases.
In particular, he thinks that customer referrals will be seen as a key area for personalisation with rewards and messages offered to good customers to encourage them to refer other potentially good customers from among their friends, family and colleagues.
“In this way, companies will see each existing customer and fan as not just a potential customer or repeat customer but as a potential advocate to provide reviews and refer new customers,” Lask says. “That means that instead of treating all customers as the same, companies will look to identify, empower and enable potential super-referrers from among their customer base.”
More broadly, Washbrook believes personalisation will become even more personal in the coming years. “Instead of simply producing an email with a reader’s name in it, personalisation will cover all aspects of the user experience, everything from the initial communication, which had been identified through analysis of big data, through to the delivery of bespoke products and interactive follow-up processes,” he says.
Non- or poorly-personalised communications are likely to be increasingly perceived as ‘spam’, and one-size-fits-all digital marketing is set to become only wallpaper. And as marketing directors begin to create more and more roles for data and analytical expertise, marketing personalisation can only increase even further to the benefit of both businesses and customers alike. “It is getting better, and anyone that isn’t staying apace will get left behind,” Lulham concludes. It seems now is the time to get your personalised marketing strategy in working order.

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