I-Gaming Success = Differentiation

3 January 2000
The rate of growth of Internet gaming sites through clones and multiple URLs is greater than the rate of growth of Internet gaming. Potential players are presented with so many ads and incentives that site selection becomes increasingly meaningless. As with the used car industry of only a few years ago, the market (players) are expecting and looking for better. As Saturn differentiated itself, and in the process revolutionized the auto industry, with their one price/no-hassle sales policy; the ultimate winners in the Internet gaming industry will win with a new market orientation: differentiation. Successful differentiation will provide operators of Internet gaming sites a sustainable strategic advantage.

The roadmap to site differentiation begins and ends with the "market." The market dictates its wants and needs, and if I-Gaming operators listen to the market, and develop a targeted marketing plan, they will attract increasing amounts of potential players. By differentiating their site they will convert visitors to players, succeed. By adding "Loyalty Awards" they will retain their players. Implementing these three key "Mapping" elements of Internet marketing, they will change their investment from a Gaming Site to a Gaming Business.

Providing a map to your door -- "Being Market Driven"

A "Targeted" marketing plan is the required map for you to gain market share. The following are the ten key elements of a successful marketing plan:

  1. Define your business and your business goals
  2. Define your target market
  3. Detail the demographics of your target market
  4. Detail the wants and needs of your target market
  5. Document what you need to provide to meet your market's wants and needs
  6. Determine how you will change your software or Internet presence
  7. Describe your competition
  8. Describe your competitive differentiation
  9. Detail your advertising plan
  10. Document your advertising costs and expected results

Database technology is central to your quest to be market driven, but it is not a panacea. There are difficulties in learning players' habits and motivations. Generally, land based players seek escape, recognition and rewards, but in each demographic there are variances. Identifying specific variances is exacerbated by the gap between theory and reality in defining target audiences. Marketers need to understand not only a consumer's browsing and shopping habits, which computer technology can track, but also such simple personal details as age, income and address, which means owning your database, and performing data base management is required in the I-gaming industry.

Effective Internet advertising for the I-gaming community is easy to say, but hard to do. Advertising spending on the Internet will rise from $3.3 billion in 1999 to $33 billion by 2004, which is roughly 8 percent of all advertising expenditures. A third of this will be spent outside North America, compared with 15 percent today. Whereas television audiences are falling, the popularity of the web is rising rapidly - Forrester Research

Yet, although marketers are aware of the importance of the web as an advertising medium, few know how to make the best use of it. Most still "spray and pray"… throwing money at the web in the hope of reaching a mass-audience and building a brand, just as their predecessor's did once before in the broadcast world.

But this is to ignore the Internet's most potent quality: that it is interactive, letting consumers and marketers talk direct to each other in real time. Advertisers can discover what someone browsing on the Internet is looking at and, by analyzing such behavior, what their real interests might be. They can instantly put forward a custom-made offer. Wenda Harris Millard, of Webstakes.com and CBS.sportsline.com, for example, users have a chance to win a signed Reebok shoe belonging to Shaquille O'Neal, a basketball star. Before you know it, advertising has turned into selling.

Restrictions on Internet advertising for the Internet gaming industry are beginning, and will increase in intensity until resolution of the "Regulation" issue occurs. Yahoo for one is now introducing prohibition of Internet gaming ads. This situation emphasizes the need for product differentiation, and forces Marketing Directors in the industry to consider new directions for their products such as loyalty marketing.

Site Differentiation:

First impressions are everything, and basics are important. The two over-arching goals of site differentiation are to attract and retain customers.

Attracting targeted customers is not a simple task, and one can observe the shift from banner ads and click-throughs to free prizes and sites such as IWON.com. The marketing industry conclusion is that we have not yet solved the optimum use of the Internet for marketing and advertising. Words like "Branding" is important for differentiation to your target market, however "Content is still King".

Your website's presentation of your business as an attractive and professional operation to your potential market is critical, but unfortunately most Internet gaming owners buy low cost "turn-key" solutions and they are "collared" with whatever the software developer provides and have not invested to the level required to develop a dominant and winning site. This is not a backhanded slam on software developers, only recognition that they are gaming software developers, not professional marketing people. Considering the plethora of available gaming sites, failure to invest in design of a "market-driven website will only foreshadow declining players and revenues.

Loyalty Awards:

For years Las Vegas has driven customer retention with compensatory awards or "Comps". Comps work because they provide what players seek… recognition and reward. Comps via the Internet are hard to deliver, however new industry offerings such as E-Players Club Loyalty Awards programs are now available to gaming site owners. This particular program www.e-playersclub.com, was designed for the Internet gaming market and features owner controlled awards (Comps), and flexibility. With the ability to personalize this award program to their players, Internet gaming owners can differentiate their sites from others quickly, and build long-term loyalty just as airlines have done with their frequent flyer programs.

New generation software gaming technology also provides exciting opportunities to provide players recognition and reward through interactive play. Owners can visit with their players in their casinos to chat about playing satisfaction, suggested improvements and to award them chip "Comps" on the spot for their loyalty and frequent play. Future gaming software will provide direct chips for every play activity under the current Internet model implemented by market driven I Won.Com.

Conclusion: There is no one answer for anything on the Internet, as the Internet marketing environment changes so rapidly that it is difficult to meet the market in a timely manner. There are however some fundamental trends about Internet marketing that are important to understand to remain competitive with your Internet gaming business:

  • Players are people, with wants and needs they are seeking to satisfy.

  • Personalization of Internet experiences is the most powerful method of satisfying people.

  • The Internet is interactive so consumers and marketers will eventually talk directly to each other in real time. Owners will discover preferences by asking and instantly put forward a custom-made solution.

  • Differentiation of your Internet business today is required for you to establish and maintain a sustainable strategic competitive advantage. Differentiation is critical. ... Differentiation that satisfies the expectations of your target market wins!

Andy Ruppanner is the president and CEO of CasinoBuilders.com. Known as the "Division Starter" during his 28-year executive career with IBM, Mr. Ruppanner held a Senior Management positions in many IBM business units. Selected to lead development of a joint venture between KODAK and IBM, Mr. Ruppanner was a co-founder of TSS, a $1.3 billion technology service and support company. Joining Office Depot as a Vice President, he founded "Uptime Services," a new division providing small business technology installation and services.

An experienced Internet entrepreneur, Mr. Ruppanner has served as: VP of Marketing and Sales at Command Software, a leading Anti-Virus software developer; President/COO of the first Internet VPN - HotOffice Technologies; CEO of SoftLock Services, a software solution company focused on content security on the Internet; and President of Ruppanner Associates International, a consulting company serving clients such as Allied Chemical, Walt Disney, Coca Cola, Motorola and Federal Express.

Mr. Ruppanner is a professional public speaker, recognized in The Who's Who of Public Speaking, and the recipient of many national awards, including the Governor's Outstanding Citizen Award for the State of Georgia.