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  • Dmitry Belianin: Why operators should end their reliance on performance marketing
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As someone who’s been in the trenches as a COO and CMO for a leading iGaming operator, I’ve seen first-hand how our industry is hooked on performance marketing.

We’re all chasing those quick wins and measurable ROI, right? But here’s the thing: we’re missing out on the real gold mine. Brand marketing. I know, I know. It’s not as sexy as seeing those immediate results.

But trust me, investing in your brand is the key to sustainable growth and long-term success. In this post, we’ll explore why it’s time for iGaming operators to abandon their performance marketing habits and embrace the power of brand.

The allure of performance marketing

As a marketer in iGaming, you’re drowning in data, and you love it. Every click, every conversion, and every penny spent is tracked and measured. It’s like a never-ending dopamine rush. And that’s precisely why performance marketing is so attractive.

It’s all about those quick wins and immediate ROI. You can see exactly how your campaigns are performing in real time, and you can adjust on the fly. It’s a marketer’s dream come true. 

But here’s the catch: we’ve become so addicted to these instant results that we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. We’re so focused on the short-term gains that we’re neglecting the long-term health of our brands. And that, my friends, is a recipe for disaster.

Sure, performance marketing has its place. It’s great for driving immediate sales and acquiring new customers. But when it becomes our sole focus, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. We’re creating a culture of disposable relationships and short-term thinking. And in an industry as competitive as ours, that’s a dangerous game to play.

The downside of over-reliance on performance marketing

Imagine this scenario: you’re an iGaming operator, and you’ve been pouring all your marketing budget into performance channels. You’re seeing great results at first – lots of new signups and plenty of deposits. But then something strange happens. Your acquisition costs start creeping up, and your retention rates start dropping.

Suddenly, you’re caught in a vicious cycle of constantly churning through new players just to keep your head above water. And why is this happening? Because you’ve neglected to build a strong brand that players actually care about. When all you’re focused on is short-term gains, it’s easy to fall into the trap of creating a generic, forgettable brand.

You blend in with every other operator out there, and players have no reason to stick around. They’ll just jump ship to the next big bonus offer or flashy ad. But the consequences of this approach go beyond just high churn rates. When you’re not investing in your brand, you’re also setting yourself up for a race to the bottom in terms of pricing and promotions.

You’ll always be competing to see who can offer the biggest bonus or the most free spins. And that’s a losing battle in the long run. Just look at what happened to some of the biggest names in the industry during the pandemic.

Many operators who relied solely on performance marketing struggled to adapt when player behaviour changed. They were left scrambling to find new ways to attract and retain customers, while those with strong brands were able to weather the storm much more easily.

The case for brand marketing

Alright, so we’ve talked about the pitfalls of relying too heavily on performance marketing. But what’s the alternative? Enter brand marketing. Now, I know what you might be thinking: “But Dmitry, brand marketing is so hard to measure! How do I know if it’s actually working?” 

And you’re right, it’s not as straightforward as tracking clicks and conversions. But that doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly valuable. In fact, I’d argue that brand marketing is the most important investment you can make in the long-term success of your iGaming business. Here’s why: when you build a strong brand, you’re creating an emotional connection with your players.

You’re giving them a reason to choose you over the competition beyond just the latest bonus offer. You’re building trust, loyalty, and a sense of community. And those things are priceless. Think about some of the most successful brands in our industry – the ones that have stood the test of time. They didn’t get there by chasing short-term gains. They got there by investing in their brand by creating a unique identity and a compelling story that resonates with players.

And the beauty of brand marketing is that it compounds over time. The more you invest in your brand, the more valuable it becomes. You’re creating an asset that will continue to pay dividends for years to come, long after the latest Facebook ad campaign has faded into obscurity.

But I get it. Brand marketing can be a tough sell in our industry. It’s not as flashy or immediately gratifying as performance marketing, and it can be hard to get buy-in from stakeholders who are used to seeing those instant results. But trust me, it’s worth it. The operators who prioritise brand building are the ones who will thrive in the long run.

Measuring the impact of brand marketing

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Dmitry, this all sounds great, but how do I actually measure the impact of my brand marketing efforts?” And I’ll be honest with you, it’s not always easy. Brand marketing is more of an art than a science, and it can be challenging to attribute specific results to your branding campaigns.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In fact, you can track several key metrics to get a sense of how your brand is performing. First and foremost, you want to be paying attention to your brand awareness and recognition. Are people talking about your brand? Do they recognise your logo and messaging?

Tools like social listening and brand tracking surveys can give you a sense of how your brand is resonating with your target audience. You also want to keep an eye on your customer lifetime value and retention rates. If you’re building a strong brand, you should see players sticking around longer and spending more over time. And don’t forget about the power of word-of-mouth. Are your players recommending you to their friends and family? That’s a huge indicator of brand strength.

Of course, attributing specific revenue numbers to your brand marketing efforts can be tricky. But there are some creative ways to do it. For example, you could run a brand lift study to see how exposure to your branding campaigns impacts player behaviour and spending.

Then there’s the Share of Search (SoS) metric invented by Les Binet. It measures the number of branded organic searches a company receives from Google relative to the number of organic searches for all brands within a specific timeframe. This is one of the metrics my competitive intelligence tool, Blask, is built on, to help you better track brand marketing efforts.

And don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things. The beauty of brand marketing is that it’s an iterative process – you can always refine and optimise your approach based on what’s working and what’s not.

Lifecycle of iGaming markets and marketing strategies

Alright, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture. As an iGaming operator, it’s important to understand the lifecycle of the markets you’re operating in and how that should impact your marketing strategy.

I’m not sitting here telling you to ditch performance marketing and go all in on brand blindly. Your marketing mix is a lot more nuanced and depends on many factors. One of those is the stage of the market you’re operating in.

In the early stages of a market, when competition is low, and player acquisition is relatively easy, it can be tempting to focus all your efforts on performance marketing.

After all, why invest in brand building when you can just buy up all the cheap traffic and watch the money roll in? But as the market matures and becomes more saturated, that approach starts to break down. Acquisition costs rise, and it becomes harder and harder to stand out from the crowd. That’s when having a strong brand really starts to pay off.

Think about it this way: in a mature market, players have a lot of choices. They’re not just going to sign up with the first operator they see. They’re going to do their research, read reviews, and look for a brand they can trust. And if you haven’t invested in building that brand, you’re going to get left behind.

So, what should your marketing strategy look like at each stage of the market lifecycle?

It’s all about balancing short-term acquisition with long-term brand building in the early stages. Yes, you want to take advantage of those low acquisition costs while you can. But you also want to start laying the foundation for your brand so you’re well-positioned for the future.

As the market matures, you’ll want to start shifting more of your budget towards brand marketing. This is when you really need to focus on differentiation and creating a unique value proposition that sets you apart from the competition. In a fully mature market, brand marketing should be your top priority. You need to be laser-focused on retaining your existing players and attracting new ones through the strength of your brand.

Of course, this is all easier said than done. Building a strong brand takes time, effort, and a lot of strategic thinking. But the payoff is worth it. The operators who prioritise brand building are the ones who will be left standing when the dust settles.

Conclusion

Whew! We’ve covered a lot of ground here, folks. But I hope you’re starting to see the importance of brand marketing in the iGaming industry. We can’t keep relying on performance marketing alone to drive our businesses forward.

It’s a short-term strategy that will only take us so far. We need to invest in our brands if we want to build sustainable, profitable businesses that can stand the test of time. We need to create emotional connections with our players, differentiate ourselves from the competition, and build trust and loyalty over the long haul.

And we need to do it now, before the cookie-pocalypse hits and makes performance marketing even more challenging. But I know change can be scary. It’s easy to stick with what we know, even if it’s not working as well as it used to.

But I promise you, the rewards of brand marketing are worth the effort. The operators who prioritise their brands are the ones who will come out on top in the end.

So, my challenge to you is this: take a hard look at your marketing strategy. Are you investing enough in your brand? Are you creating a unique identity and value proposition that sets you apart from the rest? If not, it’s time to make a change.

Start small if you have to, but start somewhere. Your future self will thank you. And if you need a little inspiration, just look at some of the most successful brands in our industry. They didn’t get where they are by accident. They got there by making brand building a priority, day in and day out. So, what do you say? Are you ready to join them?

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