Marketing's big evolution: Part 1

2 July 2019

In the first of a two-part interview, Kindred CMO Elen Barber says bonuses may soon be a thing of the past and explains how the operator has been preparing for the shift. 

Though it’s fair to say the igaming community was generally happy with the structure of Sweden’s regulated market when it was announced, operators were very vocal about their displeasure at only being allowed to offer one introductory bonus to players.

Many argue it runs counter to the government’s aims of a high channelisation rate and stricter responsible gambling controls. As yet there’s little sign of a change in stance from the Swedish regulator. In fact, if anything, there are signs other jurisdictions may be moving in a similar direction.

When you add in the taxes now in place in some areas, the increasing scrutiny of bonus terms and conditions and the high levels of player churn, some marketers are starting to question the value of bonuses.

Among these is Kindred’s chief marketing officer Elen Barber. “From my point of view, marketing with bonuses is relatively simple and I would say boring,” she says. “It is not really proper marketing and I think most of the operators put themselves in this position and found it very difficult to get out of.”

As more and more markets introduce new restrictions, she concedes that some operator marketing teams will find themselves under increasing pressure.

However, Barber says the structure of Kindred’s team means it is well placed to deal with regulatory changes. One way the company prepared for the changing landscape was by restructuring its 550-strong marketing team to move away from the ‘silo effect’ so often observed in igaming companies, particularly in relation to the acquisition and retention divisions.

“We united the acquisition and retention teams which historically were kept separate, so we formed the global marketing services team, and one of the departments of this team is customer bonus and rewards,” Barber explains.

“This department is purely focused on the rewards – what customers want, what they need – and measuring the impact of different rewards at different stages of the customer journey, understanding customer behaviour and trying to come up with the best rewards for the customer.”

This gives management a complete oversight of customer habits, which in turn has taught them some key lessons – namely that bonuses are not always necessary.

“If you look at the customer database, quite a lot of players don’t take bonuses and they remain loyal to the brand,” Barber says. “You don’t just need to give bonuses to the customers – you need to understand what they want and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

Beyond bonuses
The operator has been trialling offering other player rewards mechanics, such as the cashback system it introduced for its Maria Casino brand in Denmark shortly before restrictions on bonusing were introduced.

“Giving cashback to the customers is very simple, very transparent,” according to Barber. “Customers know exactly what they are getting.”

Barber also argues that sponsorship can play a role in replacing bonuses. Though the presence of gambling brands in professional sports is an increasingly contentious issue, Kindred still sees value in working with sports teams, she says, although she adds that the company has re-examined its approach to sponsorship.

“We had some sponsorships a few years ago that we decided not to renew. What we have now is a strong framework of what clubs and what sports we want to work with and how these really benefit the brands. When we are looking at the value, it is not the monetary but more the brand value that we look at now.”

The company was quick to forge partnerships in Sweden – an opportunity that wasn’t available before the market’s regulation – but Barber says the focus was not just on upfront exposure but also opportunities to engage with partners’ social networks and make use of offline opportunities.

It now has partnerships with Sweden’s top two football leagues and Sweden’s second-highest ice hockey league HockeyAllsvenskan, along with its tie-ups with FC Copenhagen in Denmark, football clubs in the English Championship, European handball and the Premier League of Darts.

Whether Kindred’s strategies will give it an edge in finding a substitute for using bonuses to attract and retain players remains to be seen. But Barber is optimistic. “This is a really exciting challenge and I’m happy that marketers are facing it at the moment.

“From the marketing point of view, it really makes you think and allows you to be creative, and creative in a good way, rather than trying to find loopholes in the law.”