SBC discusses the current state of the online bingo market with Phil Fraser, the owner of player portal Whichbingo.co.uk. Once a burgeoning market for operators, online bingo has now hit maturity and saturation, Fraser addresses current consumer habits and trends, and gives further insight on operator marketing initiatives.
Phil Fraser has been involved in the online bingo industry since its very early days of 2000. a respected authority on online bingo, Fraser has written many articles appearing in both print and digital media. Fraser also chairs the annual ‘Online Bingo Summit’ and WhichBingo Player Awards
SBC: Phil, pleasure to catch up. How have UK legislative and regulatory changes affected the online bingo industry in terms of its marketing, operations and business conditions?
PF: You can look at this two ways; on the surface it is very much ‘business as usual’ and there doesn’t seem to be much change in terms of marketing, operations and business. There haven’t been any major shifts in activity or strategy that you can point at and say ‘that was a direct result of legislative and regulatory changes. I can’t comment on the operational side of things as we don’t get involved in that but if you look closely at marketing you will see that this is where the brunt of the POC 15% has been felt. Some brands are reducing marketing spends, whilst others are hitting affiliates directly by reducing rev share percentages, cutting CPAs and generally spending less with affiliates. POC means the money comes directly off the bottom line, and this is what operators are doing to counter that.
SBC: Bingo marketing has seen similarity in the promotion of bonuses and free money. As a bingo portal operator are these incentives still appealing to the player? Does bingo marketing and retention need a re-think?
PF: I think part of the problem now is that players have come to expect deposit match bonuses, giving us a self-perpetuating cycle of fear. Operators dare not not offer a bonus in case players simply say ‘no bonus? I’m not playing there’. Free money as a marketing tool has become much less popular in recent years. Players have become wise to the caveats attached to ‘free’ money. I think bingo marketing and retention do need a re-think, but it is already happening. We are starting to see much more player-action led CRM on the retention-side, meaning that offers are becoming more and more tailored to the individual. That can only be a good thing. In terms of recruitment, the simple aim of the marketing is to get players to register and try out the game. How do you best do that? Can you beat free money, free games and deposit-match bonuses? I don’t know.
SBC: Online bingo has seen a stagnation in its player base. Are operators within the industry trying to solve/improve this current issue… what advice would you give operators when trying to tackle this negative trend?
PF: I’m not sure that there is a stagnation in the player base, but it is a mature one. Online Bingo has never been as high profile as it is currently, with daytime TV seeing ads for various bingo brands almost constantly. This high exposure means that the industry is continually seeing new players enter the market. In terms of advice, I would say that it is beholden upon every operator to do their bit in raising the profile of the industry, both through their marketing and their PR.
SBC: With a mature player base, do operators need to re-think their marketing and brand propositions. Furthermore to bonus incentives still work as a reward and engagement mechanic for a knowledgeable/informed player base?
PF: I think the battle for players is no longer recruitment led, but a battle over share of wallet (or purse!) The most recent survey that we did on our WhichBingo players showed that 50% of players had more than 10 accounts at bingo sites and 30% had deposited at more than 15 sites. This means that any operator’s first goal is to get on to ‘shortlist’ of places that the player deposits at, and then to get them to play on a regular basis.
Any operator’s marketing and brand propositions must convince a player that they should be playing at their site rather than any of the others on the players’ ‘shortlist’. They should be able to answer ‘why should I play at your site today rather than the other 400 or so in the market’. I’m not sure that simple bonus incentives can do that, although many operators still claim that they work.
SBC: Many industry commentators have pointed out that online bingo, may have lost a significant player base to social games/gambling. What do you think of this opinion, and if true what does it highlight about the current state of bingo products?
PF: I would have to agree that social games have taken some player time from the online bingo sites, however this needs expanding upon. I don’t think that online bingo have ‘lost’ these players; these players are simply spending less of their entertainment time on online bingo sites, they are not abandoning them. I mentioned the players’ ‘shortlist’ above – that shortlist does not only include online bingo sites, it also includes other online entertainment, including social games. However social games may fulfil a slightly different entertainment desire. For example they do not offer the chance to win real pounds, shillings and pence.
SBC: What core factors and trends must online bingo operators prioritise in order to become a more dynamic industry?
PF: With the inexorable rise of bingo networks the key priority for all operators has to be differentiation. Changing the logo and the colour scheme is simply not enough to grab the attention of a player who has probably played at the same product at tens if not hundreds of different sites already.
I think that more inventive promotions, both from a sign-up point of view and more importantly from a restart and return point of view, are also important for any brand that really wants to stand out from the crowd.
I also think it’s important that the software providers deliver more inventive content, as well as operator flexibility.
Phil Fraser – Owner of WhichBingo.co.uk