Jo Dennis: Random Colour Animal – Industry requires a big & brave brand rethink

Following years of executing uniformed marketing strategies, can industry incumbents develop meaningful brand propositions, engaging customers, whilst tackling betting’s wider responsibility agenda?

Jo Dennis is the Managing Director of Random Colour Animal (RCA), a ‘brand-first’ industry marketing agency. She tells SBC audiences that in 2019 and beyond, the sector’s winners will be those that treat brand development as the lead marketing discipline across all verticals. 

Founded in 2018, fast-growth RCA has worked on B2C/B2B brand-centric campaigns for The Football Pools, Carousel Group, onSport.io and SG Digital.

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SBC: Hi Jo, thanks for this interview on an intriguing topic. From your experience, why has betting neglected ‘brand development’ as a corporate discipline?

Jo Dennis: As an industry, there is a focus on game creative, and to an extent just making the technology work, which in some cases is harder than it should be – this means that brand inevitably comes down the list of ‘things to do’. Brand awareness is not traditionally considered a primary driver of revenue ahead of financial incentives and odds advertising – which ironically presents perhaps the most limited opportunity to differentiate.

Not everyone who starts a gaming company (operator or supplier) understands brand; it’s a general incorrect assumption that brand is just a logo, but the visual identity is only one part of a brand experience. A logo can make people aware of the brand, and help with discovery and recognition, but it can’t tell customers who you are or what you care about, what makes you different or better.

Brand and marketing are often pushed together in gaming companies (both B2B and B2C) and this means the conversation steers towards CPAs, affiliates and exhibition stands. But this neglects the real underlying brand experiences and touchpoints which make a company unique, memorable and desirable to the target audience… and that unify digital products and customer communications with consistency, strength and authenticity.

Brand is also an internal thing and many people forget this. Other than aligning teams on a clear vision (which 100% makes for a more successful company) it can also remove ambiguity, create a talking point (for PR), generate an army of brand advocates (and even influencers), and help acquire and retain talent – this maintains real-world fiscal value.

SBC: In 2019, the industry enters maturity across multiple markets; can incumbents really build brand value or equity this late in the game?

JD: Yes. In some cases, brand is the only thing they might have as a point of differentiation… With games, platforms and associated services coming from a finite selection of industry suppliers, getting these to drive unique positioning is tricky. The development of a strong brand, strategy, and associated experience with downstream marketing and communications activity can provide that unique voice, even in saturated markets.

It’s also worth noting that even in mature markets we are also seeing new technology, customer types and channels emerging to create even greater playing experiences.

Voice-activated AI is a good example; knowing how your brand will use voice to support and serve customer experience and/or search is important – non-participation is definitely not an option. Could this represent a new opportunity to reinvigorate brand personality and build more equity? We don’t know yet, but I think it demonstrates that this late in the game there are still many moving pieces.

Further, many operators are looking at moving into regulated only markets. Part of this will represent a certain ‘growing up’ in terms of proposition and positioning as a responsible corporate entity. Brand certainly plays a big part in telling that story as well as living it.

SBC: However, the industry has been served a significant ‘social responsibility agenda’; does this not complicate building and sustaining brand competencies?

JD: Brand plays a significant role in this; building and sustaining competencies in no way detracts from the CSR agenda. In fact, strategically planning a socially responsible stance into a brand story, experience and touchpoints work together to make that an authentic part of an operator or supplier’s future… and make it credible, believable and genuine.

RCA is a big fan of using our position as one of the leading suppliers to the market to support the CSR agenda in many ways. In terms of our work with clients, we realise its importance and take our responsibility seriously in creating brands that are entertaining and successful but ultimately designed to be conscientious and pro-active in this area.

SBC: Working with B2B and B2C incumbents, what misconception do you feel industry stakeholders have with regards to developing impactful brands – what has worked and what is going wrong?

JD:  Probably the most common misconceptions are the assumption that brand is just a logo or that brand manifests in the biggest, boldest stand at ICE… No matter how creative or memorable those things are, they’re standalone. A strong brand strategy goes to the very heart of what a successful business represents and how it consistently communicates those messages to the outside world across every channel.

Operationally, it’s also difficult to drive a brand when nobody is ultimately responsible for that specific task. Across the trilogy of commercial, platform and game creative/technology, only elements of the brand are communicated and not the whole. The default position is, therefore, to fall back on PR (and a mix of social repurposing) to make announcements – but that’s a one-way conversation. Curating meaningful communications relies on knowing your audience: Not starting from a place of ‘what do we want to say’ but who are we talking to, where are they, and what do they want to hear.

Another issue is not understanding how the brand ties into corporate vision. A company really clicks when mission, brand and culture converge. Motivated by the culture and driven by the mission, employees become an intrinsic part of the brand – and as they’re creating the customer experience that’s critical to sales and revenue, it can’t be overlooked.

There is also the misconception that good brand strategy and downstream execution has no real-world fiscal return. It very much does. While it’s tougher to attribute specific ROI, the result of a strong visual and verbal brand backed by consistent marketing tactics and reliable business practices will be steady growth. When people are familiar with and trust the brand, you can expect them to more quickly convert from a visitor to a customer, increase engagement and lifetime value. That can definitely be measured. 

SBC: As a discipline, doesn’t brand development clash against standard industry marketing values which have been predominantly acquisition and cost-based… are we facing somewhat of a culture clash challenge?

JD: This is interesting; as we mentioned earlier, brand and marketing are often bundled together, but are not the same thing. Marketing and communications are downstream from brand (the tactical execution of a strategic blueprint), otherwise it would be the tail wagging the dog…

In a nutshell, branding is who you are, and marketing is how you build awareness. Brand is a core element of corporate strategy and is brought to life through content, digital touchpoints (websites, apps, social, voice etc), internal and external communications, team operations and player/customer interactions among many other things.

SBC: So where should brand development within a betting-related company – is this a marketing or leadership remit?

JD: I simply can’t stress this strongly enough: Brand development is a leadership remit – tied to corporate strategy and how the business generates a fiscal return… In 2019 this dynamic has to understood by industry leaders.

SBC: Moving forward, what brand-led debates and challenges should the industry leadership focus on? (How do we really improve things?)

JD: The hot topics in brand development for betting-related companies to focus on, in our opinion, would be:

    • Thinking of brand development as an internal as well as external exercise
    • Asking yourself whether your brand is actually generating more customers and revenue or whether it’s an after-thought bundled into marketing
    • Getting measurement into the brand conversation as one of the key metrics of business success
    • Using brand elements to develop hyper personalised experiences for players, a one-to-one contextually-relevant conversation is utopia
    • Incorporating social responsibility into the brand strategy to build public and regulatory trust (a pre-requisite to a future-proofed and sustainable business)
    • For larger companies, if brand and strategy culture is not at the heart of the business, focusing on smaller super on-brand initiatives rather than trying to turn the cruise liner will be key

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Jo Dennis – Managing Director –  Random Colour Animal 

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