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13 Marketing Lessons from a Casino

January 13, 2014


Got back from Las Vegas a few days ago, where I attended New Media Expo. I’ve been to Las Vegas probably a dozen times and am always amazed by the amount of “noise” there — bright lights, loud sounds, multiple entertainment options, and just about every vice imaginable, from gambling, to strip clubs, to call girls.

How do you stand out in such a noisy environment?

You’ve probably asked the same thing regarding your business. The world is full of noise and choices. Why would somebody do business with you rather than the next guy?

From the outside, the casino business seems perfect. The reality though is that it’s highly regulated and even more competitive. I don’t know your business, but it’s safe to say you’ve got it better than casinos in these areas.

With so much noise and regulation, how do casinos do so well?

13 Marketing Lessons from a Casino

1. Embrace Fun – It’s not gambling, it’s “gaming.” Gambling sounds risky. Games are fun.

Here’s a non-casino example for you… A few years ago, I put out a “workbook” to help people achieve their business goals. But “workbook” implies work, so I called it a goal achievement system.

People already have enough work — give them something fun.

And do you take money? In a casino, you don’t play games with money — you play with chips or “points” that can be exchanged for money. Big difference.

People don’t think about chips, points, or credits in the same way they think about money. They don’t think about credit card transactions in the same way they think about handing over cash.

Here’s a similar solution for you to apply to your business… Paypal is great if you’re selling something online, because people often pay from a balance, not directly from their accounts. Because of this, they don’t think of the transactions they do this way as spending real money.

Many companies do something similar with good results. Audible uses a credit system — one or two credits per month, depending on the plan you’re on. iStock uses credits to sell photos.

Make doing business with you a game.

2. Sex SellsPeople make poor decisions when aroused, like making stupid bets in a poker game or believing a strippers will have sex with them in the VIP Room if they buy $500 bottles of champagne (they won’t).

Casinos take advantage of this by providing sexually-charged environments. You can take advantage of this by doing something similar, not for every business, but for more businesses than you’d think.

Like real estate…


3. Control the Experience – Casinos don’t have windows and they don’t have clocks. When you go inside, it’s easy to lose track of time, especially if you’re drinking.

How can you do something similar?

Let’s say you’ve got a seminar (or other live event) and you want people to have a good time. You could book the rooms people are staying in, provide transportation from the airport, provide meals, and provide entertainment.

If you’ve got a gym and you want your clients to have a better shot at fitness success, you could provide training, a fully stocked locker and shower area, and proper food (or supplements).

“Controlling the experience” doesn’t have to be evil and if you do it right, it will actually be beneficial for your clients.

4. Provide for Everything – Casinos are like little cities — they have food, entertainment, sleeping rooms, and just about everything you’d need to have a great time. Because of this, there is no need to go elsewhere.

What services do your clients need which would help them to have a better experience with you?

Here’s an example…

My friend Derek Sivers started a company called CD Baby, which distributes music. More and more musicians were selling music online, via their own websites, but at the time, setting up a website was confusing for most people. Derek solved this problem by establishing a hosting company just for musicians, which made the process easy for them and gave them specialized tools which allowed them to sell more music through his company.

5. No Clear Exit – Casino layouts are designed to confuse the hell out of you. Once you’re inside, you’re very likely to make a few wrong turns, each taking you by more and more gambling opportunities, before you get where you’re doing.

In you’re business, there are a few ways to translate this… Once somebody buys from you, do you ask for an upsell? When they cancel a recurring payment, do you ask for them to stay at a reduced price? If you don’t, you’re leaving money on the table.

6. Something for Nothing – Casinos are like Wal-Mart in that they market “something for nothing.”

“Hey!! Free drinks!!”

Not really. Nothing is ever free. Somebody pays and if you’re not sure who that is, it’s probably you.

There are a couple of ways to look at this. One, most businesses can increase revenue by offering free samples. Beyond that though, the concepts of “easy money” and “I’ll provide a solution without you having to do anything” are extremely powerful in bringing in customers and revenue. Network marketing is built on these concepts.

7. Take People on Your Path – If you’ve ever walked down the sidewalk of the Las Vegas Strip and suddenly ended up inside a casino, even though you never turned off the sidewalk, you’ve experienced this in action.

Grocery stores on the right side of the street people use to go home from work do more business than stores on the left side. Same for most every business with a physical location. This is one of the reasons you’ll see Starbucks on both sides of the street in major metropolitan areas, like New York City, where people live everywhere.

Take people on your path, but meet them on theirs.

8. Make It Easy to Buy – People are lazy. And lots of people have money issues. It’s for this reason that casinos make it very easy for you to get the money you need to gamble. ATMs are everywhere in casinos and they have multiple options for use.

Want to gamble at a Las Vegas casino, but only have Euros? No problem. You can exchange foreign currency for US Dollars at the cashier cage.

Leave personal opinions out of this. For example, if you personally hate using Paypal, don’t let that stop you from using it for your business. Many people love Paypal. And if you’re not taking all major credit cards online, start doing that too.

In competitive markets, if you’re not accepting your customers’ payments of choice, they’ll go to somebody else who is. Don’t lose out.

9. Top Customers Get Better Treatment – If you want to see “VIP” done right, casinos are a great place to do it. Separate entrances, separate lines to wait in, dedicated staff, upgraded (and complimentary) rooms to sleep in, and more.

Like a lot of things the Pareto principle (80/20 Rule) applies to the money you make — 80% of revenue will come from 20% of your customers. For many businesses though, the numbers are even more skewed — 90/10 or 95/5.

Regardless, it pays to treat your top customers well. And by making this public, it can also encourage lower-level customers to spend additional money with you.

10. Low Entry Fee – $.99 shrimp cocktail, cheap rooms, and penny slot machines get a lot of people in the door or spending money they otherwise wouldn’t. Take me for example…

I was walking through a casino on my most recent trip to Las Vegas and saw the Dolly Parton slot machine pictured above. I’m not a slot player, but having worked in the music business, I was curious to see how it worked. And it was only one cent!

I put in a couple of bucks and hit a few buttons without paying attention. In one pull, $2 was gone. Not a big loss, but 200 times more than the amount being advertised.

Do you have a blog or podcast? Every information product business can use this technique to bring in more revenue. Give people a free ebook, sell then an introductory-level product for under $10, then start working them up, step-by-step, to more expensive options.

11. Service Matters – Casinos don’t want you to leave and spend your money elsewhere. Because of this, the services they provide are beyond great.

For example, I’m vegetarian and was in a casino with nothing vegetarian on the menu. Stopped in a Vietnamese place and asked if they had any options.

“I can make you tofu, rice, and steamed vegetables,” the woman at the counter said.

Tofu wasn’t even on the menu, yet they had it available for people like me.

The business world is noisy. There’s a lot of competition. Sometimes you don’t have as much money as the next guy to spend on acquiring customers and maintaining relationships with them. Yet we all have service and speed available to us for little or no cost.

What can you do to provide better service for your customers?

12. Set Yourself Up to Win – The odds at a casino are always in favor of the house. You can set your business up the same way.

How do you do this? One way is to know your numbers. Here are three to get you started…

  • cost to acquire a new customer
  • conversion rate for direct response advertising
  • average lifetime value of customer

Beyond knowing your numbers though, setting yourself up to win means many things. For one, setting up a business that you enjoy and that will play to your strengths. You can’t go far with anything if you don’t enjoy it and you’re not good at it.

13. Knock Yourself Off – Not everybody likes what you do. Do make even more money and reach more people, knock yourself off.

If you’ve ever been to a grocery store like Kroger or a drug store like Walgreens, you’ve seen “house brand” products, private label goods that look just like (or very close to) leading brands. For example, you’ll see this bottle of Listerine brand mouth wash…


And it will be right next to a bottle like this…


It looks very similar, with what appears to be the same contents, but it’s labeled Kroger Antiseptic Mouth Rise. And it’s less money.

The dirty secret is that, many times, it’s the exact same product. Same ingredients, same manufacturing plant. The only difference is the label.

Casinos do the same thing. No product or service will be everything to everyone. Some people want a brand they recognize, while others buy on price. Some people want sexy, while others want classy.

At the heart of casinos is gaming and the games are almost all the same — the odds, the way the game is played, etc. It’s all the same, just like mouthwash is all the same. It tastes the same way, it works the same way.

If you want your business to appeal to more people, change it up so it speaks to those people in the languages they speak — price, class, prestige, hipness, speed, etc. Like a gaming company who owns more than one casino property, it’s essentially the same thing you have now, but modified to be better experienced by a different audience.

Final Thoughts

The best way to experience casino marketing is to go to Las Vegas. To see it done with an different audience, hit Tunica. And if you’re a reader, Jackpot! Harrah’s Winning Secrets for Customer Loyalty is a great book on the subject.

ABOUT THIS SERIES: Every Monday, I analyze the good, bad, and ugly about the marketing behind a common business or famous personality. See other posts in this series here and, if you have a request for something (or someone) you’d like me to analyze for this series, contact me via Twitter.

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