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Are You Competing With Yourself?

18 May 2004

In the shadows of Las Vegas mega-resorts are dozens of local casinos. Here the upscale amenities of the Strip are nearly non-existent. There are no gala shows, no major attractions, and no elaborate facades. Each unique in their own way and with minimal marketing, these clubs march on generating admirable results as they have been for decades. Stop by and you'll likely find a house full of excited customers.

So, what do these businesses owe their good fortunes to? They serve a similar gaming product to their larger brethren, although on a lesser scale. And their personal brands of customer service certainly play important roles. But fundamentally, they have capitalized by focusing central to the market, even within a stones throw of lethal powerhouses.

Focusing central to the market means defining the core sales objective, and zealously adhering to that objective without competing agenda. It's a single sales outlook upon which other sales sectors assume a supporting role. It requires recognition of what the firm truly is and its customer perception. It's a uniform effort whereby sector or departmental achievements shine through a team perspective.

Does it make sense to rigidly occupy a niche? You bet it does. Customers are fickle and easily confused. Often marketers lose focus and provide too many reasons why customers should buy - occupying a niche stamps the brand clearly in the minds of customers. At the end of the day it's consistency and clarity that drops coin in the buckets.

Too often the larger organizations practice cannibalistic competition among sales sectors. Traditional corporate structure dictates this destructive compartmentalization. Since departments or individuals within are generally recognized on the basis of independent accolade, a more genius vision (common effort) tends to labor under competing agendas.

Rather than the firm's point, view from thou who pay the bills, the customer. Brand extensions can be wonderful enhancements, but it is important to stay focused and not confuse the customer. Although income from alternative sectors may be admirable, far more is headed for the pockets of competitors if customers do not value your business in its core marketplace.

Is your gaming floor being cannibalized by alternative purchase options? Since customers have a finite amount of spendable income and time, a question arises: Are the customers capable of supporting all sales sectors or are dollars being swapped? If pumping up some sectors causes others to comparably suffer, the answer is clear. Worse yet, is customer attention being overly consumed by non-purchase options? Once the core sales objective is defined, everything else takes on a supporting role. There is enough competition out there already and there is no need to add more internally.

Customers today suffer from information overload. This attention deficit causes customers to have little remembrance for brand differentiation. What's required is a customer-benefit based departure. It is important that the brand message isn't just different, but customer-oriented. If the customer does not realize a benefit, and that benefit does not return to your bottom line, being different accomplishes nothing.

Uniqueness builds brand loyalty. It's those tiny, sometimes invisible niche markets where big buck can be made. Riches are found in niches that are not being served or ones where competition can be outperformed. But be selective. Chasing too many market openings is endearing optimism, but poor strategy. Eager to match competition or respond to trends, it's easy to go enough directions to confuse an astrophysicist. Although you're guaranteed loss if you never answer, the fact remains you loose business by answering every time somebody knocks.

Customer attention need be valued as one of the scarcest of all resources. Smaller properties prosper by maintaining a single sales position to zealously protect this most vital asset. Although a variety of lures are regularly employed to attract business, they all point to reinforce the core sales objective, gambling. Most common is a food value where the focus is not to turn a profit from food, but to wheel it in such a way that it returns fold-over in the drop. Here off the Strip, in the shadows, the same theory is successfully applied to accommodation and entertainment as well.

No matter what the nature of your product, it's vitally important to define and support the core sales objective foremost. From there follow customer behaviors and motivations, and let that knowledge influence the direction of the product and its promise. If you're a casino the intention is not visitor counts, it's to draw play. The strategy doesn't mean you can't have pool parties, a museum exhibit, or specialty entertainment like a rock concert. It means that what ever the band extension may be that it supports the core sales objective in a manner consistent with customer beliefs.

When defining product it's important to remember that customers buy for their reasons not yours. So let your target do the defining. What customers like is expressed more by what they do than what they say. Common sense is fundamentally crucial here. For example: unless your core objective is selling sun block and drinks, don't do poolside bash simply because customers would like one or because competition has one and people flock. Only provide it if will enhance your core sales objective in a positive, consistent manner. We have all seen fantastic concepts, but where the execution lacks common sense. Even though results may be seen as favorable, the lion share is left on the table. Worse yet, an event or promotion causes long-term harm to core business - it happens.

Focusing central to the market is a technique that has delivered prosperity to the casino industry for generations. It's a straightforward model. Keep product focus simple and direct. Implement a coherent strategy, one that everyone (customers and staff) can adhere to and allows easy progress measurements. Deliver more than expected, not just to the best customers, to all customers - you can always give more to your best. Make the experience pleasurable, for customer and staff alike. Importantly, be persistence, consistent and clear.

The most effective market position is one that already exists in the minds of your target customers.

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