Several factors take a role in determining how successful a casino is. One of the largest factors, some would say is the most important, is the marketing/ branding. Not only does it strongly affect the customer association with the business, but it ties in so much more…
URComped CEO, Craig Shacklett, interviews President and Chief Brand Strategist of J. Carcamo and Associates as well as the author of “REEL MARKETING: The art of building a casino brand”, Julia Carcamo, to discuss her background with Wynn and how she has advanced to helping many other casino brands be successful. Julia shares her knowledge and ideas which have been differentiating stepping stones for casinos she has worked with. Listen to podcast version.
- Julia’s background and experience with Wynn
- Internal casino branding and branding as a whole
- Casino Marketing Bootcamp
- Casino branding versus other industries
- Showing core values on a deeper level
- Identifying a differentiating strength
- Justifying branding costs
- Covid-19 affecting branding
- Determining a casino brand
- REEL MARKETING: The art of building a casino brand
(0:00-0:34) Craig Shacklett: Hi everybody, Craig Shacklett from URComped here. I have got a very special guest. We have Julia Carcamo. She is the President
and Chief Brand Strategist at J Carcamo and Associates. So as a little background. She’s the author of Reel Marketing. And she’s also a Senior Marketing Leader. Focused on equipping brands and future marketers with the tools they need to succeed especially Casino Marketers. Thank you so much for being here Julia.
(0:34-0:35) Julia Carcamo: Thank you for having me.
(0:35-0:53) CS: So before we get to your background. Because it is super fascinating before we got on camera I was already like blowing the interview by asking so many questions. I want to get to your history in a minute. But first, why don’t you tell us about what you do through J Carcamo helping different casinos and other brands?
(0:53-1:43) JC: So my passion has always been around advertising and marketing. And I got into this casino industry. And so that’s where we really focus.
Although we do have a few clients here and there that are not casinos. But for the most part, we work with casino clients to do some internal branding.
Branding as a whole. Creative services. And then we, more recently, started Casino Marketing Boot Camp. So that’s our channel to do a lot of training.
So we’ve got a… It was in person until next year is going to be virtual. But we’re doing some on-line trainings. We’re still gonna do Casino Marketing Boot Camp. We’ll switch to virtual as long as we have to and still try to create a great experience. But training is something that has been a very big core of ours.
(1:43-1:50) CS: So what is a Boot Camp? What is a Casino Marketing Boot Camp? How long is it? What does it entail?
(1:50-3:34) JC: So Casino Marketing Boot Camp it came out of a conversation I had with somebody else who was a speaker at a conference that I attended.
And she asked me… She said that she always ponders. She does so much work to put together these presentations. And she wonders what happens to all the information that she shared with Casino Marketers. And I told her… Because I’ve been a Casino Marketer at an operation. I said, “I know exactly what happens. Everybody sits here and takes great notes because they just love everything that they’re hearing. But then they go back and the real world crashes in on them.
And all the ideas that they wanted to put into place tend to end up on the notebook at the bottom of a pile.” And so what we did was we develop Casino Marketing Boot Camp. It’s 2 days. The first year we did a lot on leadership and thinking skills. Last year, we were really, really focused on the elements that Casino Marketers work with. And what we did was, we divide up all the responsibilities Casino Marketers have. We bring in subject matter experts. And I like to say that it’s not a typical conference. Because while there are presentations, we really keep the group small so that everybody can participate. So that everybody can put their 2 cents in. So that everybody feels comfortable saying, “I don’t get this or I’m having problems executing this. How can I do this better?” And what we have found is that small group becomes so dynamic and so special. We did it the first year. And I was just over the moon that we, number 1, had a group of people that were willing to pay and take a gamble on us. And then we were able to expand from there into the second year. And now, we’re in the middle of planning the third year.
(3:34-4:13) CS: I would say it wasn’t much of a gamble because of the expertise that you developed over your career. I know you’ve worked at a few different casinos. But one, in particular, I want to drill in on because it is… As an outsider, that’s never worked there. One of the ultimate casino’s brands in the casino industry, that’s Wynn Casinos… I know off-camera we spoke. You said you were actually working alongside the founder of Wynn, Steve Wynn, for a few years.
Why don’t you talk about your background? If there are any experiences before Wynn that you want to touch on. But I’d love to drill into your experience at the Wynn Casino.
(4:13-5:12) JC: I have to say that although Wynn is the big marquee of my casino experience. I’ve had the pleasure and the honor to work with a lot of different companies. Wait. That sounds like I was really bad at keeping a job. But I’ve worked at Harrah’s. Caesars before when it was known as Harrah’s Entertainment.
I left Wynn and worked at Isle of Capri where I did some of the best work I think of my career. But working at Wynn when I got the opportunity I really had to jump at it. Because it was the opportunity of a lifetime when I was just starting in the casino business. People said to me… And I was starting in New Orleans in the riverboat side. And people from Las Vegas said, “If you’re going to be in the casino industry you have to work at the Mecca of the casino industry,
which was Las Vegas. And not only did I get a chance to do that but then I got the chance to work with the person who everybody really associates or associated with Las Vegas for so many years.
(5:12-6:10) CS: So I too work at Harrah’s. I still feel… Because I work at the Harrah’s before it turned to Caesars. So I still say, “I used to work at Harrah’s and not Caesars.” They were great, at least when I was there at customer service. They had an amazing job of instilling great customer service and they really built a lot of processes and structure around that. And I felt like that was their brand when I was there. It was just the friendly, great customer service place. And then Wynn… I’d love to hear… It would be better if you describe the brand that maybe Steve and you help him craft. Because from the outside it was like
Wynn just epitomizes luxury and just high-end experience. It’s just so cool. I don’t know. Like I just felt like if I could afford to go there, I would be treated like a king and just feel awesome. So maybe you could describe what was your impression of Steve’s vision and how did you help implement it?
(6:10-8:06) JC: I think it’s interesting that you mention the service culture at Harrah’s. I think in retrospect. Gary and all of the great marketers at Harrah’s Entertainment knew that if we could move our approval ratings just that little, tenth of a point, it meant a lot of revenue for us. And so they did develop a lot of processes around service. Fast and friendly, remember? That was what we were raging on. With Wynn, it was less process and more of a culture. Steve was…
I don’t talk to him now so I don’t know if this is still his interest. But he was always really interested in what people were thinking. And what they were doing. And what they liked. He would go up to people and say, “What is that drink you’re having?” Because it would just be something different for him. And I think that curiosity was a lot of about the Wynn brand. So it really wasn’t… It was luxury and after Bellagio there was little way that he could develop something that wouldn’t be as luxurious. But the curiosity was just the biggest element of Wynn. Architecturally, it was designed for the curious. There were always just like little moments that Roger Thomas and DeRuyter Butler would put into the design that were just so unique and special. And as employees, we were able to enjoy the environment. So it was really hugging you in this curious kind of plain.
(8:06-9:10) CS: I like the way you described it. And with Steve again as somebody that never worked for them. But I’ve definitely geeked out. And like watched a ton of speeches of him talking. Because I just admire him as an entrepreneur a lot. It wasn’t like he was creating this luxurious brand because he just wanted it, he wanted to charge more. It felt like he was very curious about like what do people want, what makes them feel special. And the things that… Because he talks about like, “Yeah. Sure building is amazing and I have all this fine art. But it’s not… That’s not what makes our brand so great. It’s the experience people have.” Yes. And maybe it was the result of not saying, “What’s the most expensive piece of art I can put up here.” It’s more just, “What are people like? What’s gonna… What’s the drink that’s gonna make them feel good? What’s the vibe?” I’m not being very concise with what I’m thinking. But it’s not like, “We’re gonna use this type of metal because it will let us charge $20 extra per room.” It’s more like, “What’s going to make people feel better.”
(9:10-10:23) JC: So the question was more about, “What’s going to make people want to spend their money with us?” Because they easily have gone to Venetian. They could easily have gone to Bellagio if they were looking for $250 a night room rate. It was what was going to make it a little bit different and make you choose that. But everything had a story. I remember we had these giant vases that were sitting out front in front of Paul Bartolotto’s Restaurant
when we opened up. And when Roger Thomas had found those… And Roger Thomas has been the Designer at Wynn Design for eons. He’s now doing a lot of great design on his own. But when he found these two vases, one of them had… They were old. And one of them had a love letter in them from the woman who
apparently was sending these vases to her husband. And she stuck a love letter in one of them. And for years nobody had discovered it. So with just little moments like that just made our story. Like we told stories and that reporters were like, “Y’all are making that up.”
(10:23-10:40)CS: Now wasn’t that part of the Wynn Company culture or process where storytelling was something that was done like at the start of every shift.
Or I remember maybe hearing something about that where they were looking for great customer service stories to elevate.
(10:40-11:39) JC: When we opened up… We were all like drinking our own Kool-Aid. Until you open up. And people start really experiencing all of a sudden. This isn’t working, that’s not working, that… And there’s a lot of pressure when you first open up. And so already Nathan who led the human resources effort. He and Andrew Pascal developed a Customer Service Program. So that was part of… We had to take people’s, our own team members’, minds off of like the stuff and bring them back to the to the customer, to the center of what we were doing. And so there were… Most casinos do that pre-shift meetings. It’s just a matter of how you handle them. Steve was very focused on the customer. Because he knew that if you delivered a great experience the revenue would follow. So it was about putting the cart and then the horse rather than the horse and then the cart.
(11:39-12:26) CS: And I know, I promised I’m going to move on beyond Steve Wynn. But I told you I named one of my kids Wynn. That’s how like big of a fan I am of the brand and him as an entrepreneur. So last question. Steve Wynn had a reputation like Steve Jobs, as a creative genius that wasn’t necessarily easy to work for. And you could say that probably about a lot of top coaches in NFL or college football. That none of them that are winning Super Bowls are necessarily nice guys when you’re… They know how to crack the whip and know how to get the most out of their employees. So was that the experience you had with Steve Wynn? And how do you think that helped you grow as a professional and ultimately with J Carcamo Associates?
(12:26-13:42) JC: I have to tell you that the experience working with Steve and working directly with him can be heaven and hell and sometimes at the same time. So it was different for everybody. He has had folks that work with him from the very beginning. They just had a really great relationship. For me, I was just an outsider and so I had to build a relationship. And he had to get to know me. And he had to gain confidence in me which I feel like he did. But he was… He always… We used to have this thing because he always had this vision. As a friend of mine used to say, “Vision with the big V.” And he would see things and I wouldn’t see them. And then all of a sudden I turn around and go, “Oh. He was right.” And so one of the things I had to learn was to get out of my own way.
Everybody grew from the experience. How you grew and how much you grew was very different but it was a unique environment. You can’t say that you could replicate that anywhere else.
(13:42-14:00) CS: So branding a lot your career has been the common thread is branding. And you did mention that you have some clients that are outside the casino industry. What would you say is the difference between branding in the casino industry versus branding of say consumer products or any other industry?
(14:00-15:14) JC: It’s just that it’s products, it’s stuff versus an experience. We have to… As an industry, that’s what we’re marketing. We can’t find ourselves marketing slots. Because everybody’s got slots. All the competitors have slots. And more than likely they have the same ones as you. Or they have better, newer ones because you just don’t have the capital to bring in new titles. So it’s really about that experience. And it’s also going for that disposable, discretionary dollar. And today a dollar… that bucket is getting smaller and smaller as we sit out of work and working from home. So that’s the biggest difference. The other thing to the… The thing that’s very unique about the casino industry I find is that switching cost is very low. It costs nothing for a customer to say, “You know what? I’m going to spend my $25 or my $100 at this casino instead of this one. And it’s because they got a better offer. Because…” So you have to make connections. I think that are really emotionally-based and so they have to be very, very strong.
(15:14-15:33) CS: How do you make those connections? And maybe I’ll phrase it in a different way. Like if you see… You come into a market, you see two different casinos. And there’s one that’s doing… How can you tell one that’s doing a great job with their branding and building those emotional connections versus one that is not? What are some of the differences you see?
(15:33-16:48) JC: There’s a… It’s really easy to look at the, what I call, the top of the iceberg: the service manifestation, the advertising, and the logo and the creative and everything. You see a lot when you look at that. Sometimes you see that they’re exactly the same, which is a problem. Because that means that nobody really has a distinct brand or somebody does and the other one is just really copying it. The other thing that we generally look at… We always encourage doing research. Talking to your customers is the best thing you could do for your brand. And you should do it consistently and regularly. But we also look at the internal peace and the employees and what they are getting. What they understand of the brand. Because sometimes you’ve got marketing with great ideas and great thoughts and great concepts. But somehow you’re line employees are singing a different tune. And it could be for a variety of reasons.
And a lot of times it’s because we tend to not communicate that very well with our team members. And we don’t communicate that with our team members, our guests will never find that connection. Because that’s where their brand connection is coming. With those line employees.
(16:48-17:07) CS: And some casinos are… A lot of companies, in general, may think like a whole… Hanging a picture that has their core values in the cafeteria is enough to translate that. But it sounds like the companies that are really good at it or doing a deeper level. What does that look like?
(17:07-18:20) JC: So interesting that you say that… We are actually… We’ve got a webinar. I didn’t mean to use the podcast as a plug. But we do have a webinar coming up on the 12th. That we’re… I’m doing with Mira Rosser who used to be with Jacobs Entertainment. And we’re talking about Internal Branding. And the things that you can do because that is what happens. We take our missions and value statements and make a poster and put it back a house and call it a day.
But there’s more than that. There’s how the leadership acts. Are they walking the walk, talking the talk? Or they just like sending out memos. You have to really know also… There’s always my… I used to have a boss that used to call it the “Donut Strategy.” That hole in the middle was those Supervisors. So you got your executives that really get the brand and their all into it. But then it filters down to the Supervisors who don’t get it so that it never makes it down to the line employees. So there’s a lot that… There are a lot of missing links that we don’t always notice. And one of the strongest things you can do is really form a relationship between HR and Marketing. They really should be working together on this.
(18:20-18:34) CS: And that relationship between HR-Marketing just has more people explaining what the brand is. And having conversations about what the brand is. And that eliminates that gap in the donut.
(18:34-18:51) JC: It really depends on the company. Because you got large companies. You got small companies. And sometimes you’ve got these two departments and think about how critical they are to the brand. And they don’t even see each other unless it’s an Executive Meeting.
(18:51-19:09) CS: You talked a minute ago about coming to a market. Sometimes you see casinos where their branding and their messaging are basically identical. And that’s not smart from a branding perspective. Especially if you’re one of those two that is a further drive from the metropolitan area.
(19:09-19:12) JC: Or smaller.
(19:12-19:29) CS: So how do you identify… When you’re coming into a new client, you’re trying to figure out what’s the message we need to focus on that will get people to drive further or play an older casino. How do you identify what that differentiating strength is?
(19:29-20:59) JC: So I tell you what. We started doing this with a client in the Northwest. And the first thing we did was, we sat with the executive team. We really sat with them and said, “Where’s your head with this? What do you think you are? What do… Where… What are you hanging your hat on? And then the next step was to talk to the customers and to talk to team members. And then see… Are they 3 different circles? Are they overlapping a bit? And then looking at the competitive market. And really looking at it from an outside perspective. Because we tend to drink our own Kool-Aid. And nobody wants to be told that their baby is ugly so to speak. My friend, Darryl, said that one. And so I find things like SWOT analysis. Sometimes I’ll read SWOT analysis and I’m like, “Really? You think that? Okay.” And a lot of times, we’ll do the research. And we’ll have folks who really aren’t part of marketing sit-in on the research. Because sometimes they really do need to hear a customer behind a 2-way mirror say these words. And I’ve been in many of those moments where the table games guy goes, “I had no idea.” Or the HR person… So we always try to invite more than just marketing to these research times so that… Because they get a lot out of it.
(20:59-21:16) CS: So these conversations with the executive team, different people up and down the organization help you identify what they feel like is their strength that they’re proud of. And then you use that to… You craft new messages that emphasize that.
(21:16-21:52) JC: If we need to. Branding isn’t always about throwing out what you’re doing. Sometimes you just need to like polish it up a little bit and try to
give it a little bit more connection. And so we do identify the opportunities. This whole process creates a new SWOT analysis. So then we realized where our strong points are, where our weaknesses are, where our opportunities are. And then from there, we can see how that matches up to what we’re delivering and what we’re saying. And then find a way to bring them together.
(21:52-22:22) CS: So the branding is one of those things that everybody knows you need. And you need to invest in it. Proving the Return on Investment and branding is always difficult, if not impossible. So how do you… How do… What are some ways marketers have come up with to justify investment in branding? Because it’s valuable. It’s just one of those things that are tough to quantify like a response rate on a free play offer or something.
(22:22-24:10) JC: From an advertising perspective, we talked about when you’re doing branding and your creative. How you can measure that top box for
when you ask people to call a casino. Is your casino coming up in the in the first two unaided? And so it’s always good to understand what your awareness is in the market and then see if you have made a difference. But at the end of the day, the thing you have to measure is the revenue. And branding is a bit of a longer play. So you have to have a team that’s willing to go into this and understand that going through these brand exercises isn’t necessarily going to make a change for you in this month or this quarter. But you should have some measurement that you’re going to see, “Has all of this made a difference to us?”
And a lot of times when you go through your branding it starts to shift your operation. Because then you have to ask yourself, “Is your operation matching up to the brand?” Things like… I don’t know… Like if you’re a value… If you’re a value-based brand against a brand-new shiny, more luxurious brand. Are you charging
pre-COVID $2499 for your budget or $1299. And if you’re charging $24.99, is your buffet worth $35? So it’s a value. If values not necessarily about a number,
it’s a relationship to the dollar that people are putting out there. And so you do have to understand the brand and how it impacts the operation as well.
(24:10-24:37) CS: Now we talked about the internal brand like to employees. I would say external, the customers. How much do people consider, your clients
who’s in the industry, in general, the brand towards their stakeholders? Whether it’s public company, their shareholders. Or very common tribal casinos where it’s the tribal members that ultimately decide who the management is. Like how much… Does that even come up?
(24:37-25:06) JC: When you talk about brand you’re talking about all your stakeholders. So your team members, your vendors, your investors, your executive team, and your guest. So it has to come up. It has to be something that investors say, “We understand this brand. And we see how we can grow. And this is a good investment for us.” And they’re doing all the right things. Because they’re saying this is what they are and that’s how they’re operating.
(25:06-25:54) CS: Now when COVID-19 started to take hold, casinos were shut down. I remember talking with somebody real smart person in marketing that… They’re having a debate about putting the brand on a face mask and if that would create a bad association with the brand is on a face mask. And then you see other casinos that had billboards with masks on it. There’s a funny play. I think Choctaw Durant up here did a funny billboard that had a mask on it. So a lot of different casinos were doing a lot of different things with COVID-19. What has… What have you seen as a brand marketer? How is COVID-19 affected branding? And what are some… I want to hear your perspective on that.
(25:54-27:42) JC: So Casino Marketers will put a logo on anything that doesn’t move fast enough to get out of the way. And it’s gonna be a big logo too, by the way. But branding has naturally taken a backseat right now. Because we have to really concern ourselves with keeping our team members and our guests as safe as possible. And that is what everybody needs to do right now. So unfortunately for us, it has taken a bit of a backseat. But ultimately, that as things are starting to become more normal. I look at myself and how at the very beginning I was wearing a mask. I hated wearing a mask. I knew I had to wear a mask.
And I was fine wearing the mask. Except I… It was so frustrating… It was just making me crazy. And I took… I’ve taken two trips now and I’ve had to wear a mask for 6 hours. So that’s become my newer normal. And things may shift. And that we’re going to be in this safety-mode for a while. So when that starts to feel more normal to people… Think about in Asia. They started wearing masks without a problem. Because it’s become part of their culture after SARS. Was it SARS that became… Or the bird flu? Yup. That it became… You saw people all the time. Asian people always wearing masks. It was like not a big deal.
And when things start to get normal in consumers minds. When they start to feel like this is the way things are going to be. Brand has to be there
for them to find their pick, their place. Because now all things are going to be equal.
(27:42-28:08) CS: I’ve heard some people… Brand is like… Like a personal brand is like your reputation. And like what brand is how somebody would describe you. Is that… Would you say that is accurate? Like how… Is that an effective way to measure a brand? It’s like you just ask customers… Like how would you describe this casino? Or what… Ways to do brand research to…
(28:08-29:59) JC: So I leave the questions to Mike Metzger who I’ve done a ton of work with. But when I work with the executive teams or with team members,
I’ll go through some of things like that. And say, “If this… If you’re brand… If casino X was your friend and you were hanging out at a bar and you ran into another friend, how would you introduce them?” I like that. Right? And so sometimes putting that perspective makes people think about the brand a little bit differently. So we do that in some of our exercises. We’ve got a couple of other exercises that we do. But that one seems to be fun for folks. So Reel Marketing, a book you wrote recently. Tell us about Reel Marketing. So I have to say that I had this dream to write a book for a number of years and I never got around to it. And then the quarantine made me say, “Well, I don’t have anything else going on. So I might as well tackle this.” But it really grew into something that I wasn’t expecting. As I started pulling things together, I started to realize that I had this methodology that I’ve always used which are 5 pillars of brand marketing. And I had these stories that fell into those pillars. Part of the book also has at the end of the chapters, we have little assignments. And they’re not really like homework. But they’re really a great way for you to think about your brand and under those 5 pillars. So I was happy to finally get it published. And there was nothing out there for Casino Brand Marketing folks. And that if there’s an empty space it’s something that I love. And I love sharing the information. Like I said teaching was one of our core values.
(29:59-30:02) CS: And where can people get a copy of Reel Marketing?
(30:02-30:06) JC: It’s on the Kindle Platform. So it’s Kindle and then a paperback on Amazon.
(30:06-30:11) CS: Julia, is there anything I forgot to ask you that be interesting to talk about?
(30:11-30:21) JC: No. I’m so happy to speak about casino brands. Because like… As I said, it’s taking a back seat right now. But it’s going to be something we need to really refocus on.
(30:21-30:31) CS: Well, Julia. I know a lot of casinos are gonna have some big improvements in their brand. Thanks to you and J. Carcamo and Associates. And so thank you so much for carving out some time to talk to me today.
(30:31-30:33) JC: Thank you. I appreciate the time.
(30:33-30:39) CS: Before we go. How can people get a hold of you if they want to talk branding?
(30:39-30:58) JC: Oh. Well, you can find my email address at our website jcarcamonassociates.com. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on Twitter. We have a Facebook Group for Casino Marketers called Casino Marketing Masters. We got a lot of channels. We love to talk.
(30:58-31:03) CS: Wonderful. Thank you again so much, Julia and have a wonderful day.
(31:03-31:08) JC: Thank you.