In my near 30 years working in the gambling industry, and even longer as a punter, it has always struck me as being strange that bookmakers spend so much time and energy trying to sell customers stuff they don’t want and don’t do very well at giving customers what they do want.
When I first headed up the marketing function for Ladbrokes in the early 1990s the chairman, Cyril Stein taught me that bookmaking is about detail and sharing in the passion for sport and sports-betting with the customer. On one occasion, Mr Stein called me having just seen the latest Derby promotional posters in the window of the Ladbrokes shop in Earls Court. “Which way do the horses run at Epsom, John?” he asked me.
The printer had transposed a negative in the production of the posters and the horses in the Derby were wrongly running right to left. I got the well-deserved rollicking. Everyone with a passion for betting on horses knows which way the horses run at Epsom. Working for Mr Stein was a good education and every lesson was well learnt, the most important of which is that good bookmakers are always in tune with their customers.
I have worked in the online gambling space since the late 1990s, first with Ladbrokes and then with Coral. The online business has changed rapidly over the years, largely driven by advances in technology, but the key importance of being in tune with the customer has always remained the biggest differential between the fast growing online sportsbooks and the also rans. The way that punters bet has changed dramatically over this time, the emergence of in-play betting being the most obvious example. The volume of betting opportunities operators are capable of offering is vast, getting bigger and in danger of bewildering the customer unless they are brilliantly presented. Too often operators fail in this respect and forget to focus on delivering what their customers want – and for most customers that is unlikely to be the in-play prices on a second division Azerbaijani football match on the operators’ home page.
A couple of examples of bookmakers not being in tune with their customer spring to mind. During the Cricket World Cup I was looking to have a bet in-play during the semi-final. On the site I was using I was forced to navigate via the A-Z of sports for cricket in order to find the in-play prices on the Australia v India game. Similarly, during the recent Rugby World Cup, at half time with Scotland leading Australia 16 points to 15, I had to navigate via the Rugby Union tab on the long list of sports to find the odds on a Scotland win. (Being an experienced punter doesn’t necessarily make you are any good at it.)
My point is not just that the navigation experience was off-putting. Rather the sites in question can and should know the kind of punter I am and be presenting me with what I want. These were big global events, mainstream news, but regardless of that, bookmakers should know from previous experience that I had been betting on games in both events and should be making it easy for me to do so again.
Though the industry is keen to talk about personalisation, I don’t see many operators getting anywhere close to truly utilising the capability that is out there to improve upon the customer experience with an offering they truly want.
The absence of personalisation is striking not just on the web or mobile sites but even when it comes to direct marketing. Just last week, for instance, an emailed offer dropped into my inbox from a leading operator ahead of the weekend’s Premier League programme that promised enhanced first-goalscorer odds. Pointing to the first goalscorer odds landed in the last round of Champions League matches the mail stated that ‘Europe’s finest have been in great form and you’ve been reaping the rewards this week’. Which is great if I had indeed bet on Robert Lewandowski: except that I hadn’t, I don’t do first player to score bets, nor am I going to and a quick look at my betting history would tell them that.
I remember hearing Rupert Murdoch speak at a conference many years ago, saying that what he loved about the newspaper business was that every day is a new day. The Sun might have kicked the Daily Mirror’s arse yesterday but today is a new day and customers have another chance to pick up the Mirror rather than the Sun if the front page appeals more.
In bookmaking, that chance for renewed contact with the consumer arises in real-time, throughout the day. Everything about a sports-betting offer has to be in tune with the customer in real-time; the site, the offer, the customer communications, the advertising, the lot. If all this isn’t up to scratch there is a chance that the customer will be lost to a competitor.
To date, the industry has made something of a hash of personalisation. The opportunity is certainly there for huge improvement and Grand Parade has been working in this space for some time now. They have created personalisation tools for many of their partners including Sky Bet, Betfair and Betway that use technology to its best advantage. With Betfair, they developed a mini-games launcher that defaulted to the most popular games played in the last hour, geo-located to territory. They also developed widgets for the exchange displaying information based on customer betting and gaming history combined with real-time triggers. At Sky Bet, contextual page-reading and promotion-matching tech is utilised with the company’s SkySports.com adverts. Betway uses data from Bettorlogic to read a customer bet-slip and suggest other bets with similar characteristics.
This type of imaginative use of tech to enhance the player experience is a world away from the one-size-fits-all beach blanket approach that is all too common with sportsbooks. The capability is there and it is time that tech led innovations be increasingly used to provide the customer with a relevant personalised product and service that recognises their value. The age of the sophisticated online sports-betting gambler is upon us and if an operator isn’t providing the levels of customer experience the modern consumer expects from any online retailer, then that consumer will be heading elsewhere.
Bio – John O’Reilly is the new non-executive chairman at Grand Parade. Grand Parade is a digital creative agency specialising in high-tech products, content, design and marketing for the betting and gaming industry.