With the most prestigious event of the football calendar almost upon us, we look at what strategies operators and affiliates will be adopting to make the most of the rare chance to attract the attention of billions of viewers.
The marketing and regulatory landscape has shifted considerably since 2014. How is this reflected in the operator and affiliate strategies for this World Cup?
Richard Moffat: The 2014 World Cup took place just before the point of consumption tax came in and I recall some pretty aggressive marketing from leading operators, which were fighting over market share at that time. The landscape since has seen a degree of M&A and cost savings right at the top of the ecosystem so it will be interesting to see the tactics employed by the big players this time round. While I thoroughly expect to see the larger UK operators investing heavily in activating their existing customers, this will be their biggest opportunity ever to grow market share. We all know that affiliates offer the most cost-effective opportunity to gain new players so we expect to be under huge demand.
What I find interesting is that we haven’t seen any let up in new entrants recently. There are a huge number of UK-licensed operators for remote sports betting now, and this number seems to be growing weekly. Every few days we are being approached by a new operator to see how we can help it grow its brand ahead of the World Cup.
Gavin Moore: Some of the biggest changes in the affiliate landscape since 2014 are the trends toward consolidation and the extra focus on compliance. I think these two factors will be working in tandem to have an impact on the strategies for operators and affiliates during the World Cup this year. The consolidation we have seen allows for a smaller number of bigger affiliates to offer more global coverage to their partners. Consequently, the consolidation we have seen has also given rise to affiliates that are prioritising compliance. Therefore, for this World Cup, operators will be working with fewer affiliates – those that still maintain their global demand for traffic, but have much more control of how their brands are being promoted and presented to the end users.
Oshri Kostiner: The regulatory environment, especially in the UK, has recently become much more challenging, with operators now directly responsible for all affiliate activities. However, like every change affecting the industry, this presented an opportunity to improve our acquisition efforts by focusing on quality affiliate partners, narrowing down our portfolio to ensure the highest standards of professionalism ahead of the World Cup. With players increasingly aware of social responsibility safeguards, we were one of the first operators to achieve full on-site compliance, even before the new regulations came into force, providing full material terms on banners, for example. We’ve also conducted extensive training for all our customer-facing units to increase trust as well as lifetime value.
Operators are often criticised for using huge bonuses to acquire new punters, most of whom fail to reload. Is the problem with bonuses, or is it the way they are used — could they work better if structured differently?
Richard Moffat: Using an attractive welcome offer ahead of a World Cup makes absolute sense. In fact I would argue that the run-up to the World Cup 2018 will be the best time ever, in the history of online gambling, for operators to be generous with their welcome offers. But the structure of offers is key. With 64 matches to bet on, tailoring an offer to reward loyalty throughout the tournament would be attractive to customers and operators. Our experience shows that each operator has specific points where it sees customers drop off. The smart operators know their points very well and will use their welcome offers to help get players through those barriers.
Gavin Moore: I think that the problem definitely lies in how bonuses are used. The issue with bonuses is that they are predominantly built for user activation – not retention. The World Cup already aids activation as a concept, so massive activation bonuses may not be the ideal strategy in the long run. The general attitude from operators toward bonuses at the moment can be gauged based on the smaller amount of bonuses offered for this year’s Cheltenham Festival. Plus, you could see that bonuses were not as creative as they had been in the past, most likely because of the recent compliance issues. This shows that operators are shying away from their reliance on big activation bonuses in their overall marketing, at least in relation to how they have been used in the past. The way to get bonuses back on track would be to focus them more on facilitating customer retention rather than activation. Operators have access to users and their betting preferences with their CRM, and I think that bonuses that are relevant to these individuals would be more effective to drive retention than the indifferent get-them-in-the-door bonus approach we have seen in recent times.
Oshri Kostiner: In such a competitive landscape, the temptation is often to offer huge welcome bonuses, but it’s certainly true that a short-term advantage is difficult to maintain when initial expectations are too high. A player journey is about far more than bonuses, and smart punters with long-term retention potential can also be put off by wagering requirements. We’ve therefore created a more holistic experience, tying many of our bonus promotions to the range of new features we’ve added, from Pulse Betting, our latest in-play innovation, to Add2Bet, our next-generation cash-out functionality. Meanwhile, our upcoming rebrand will include a cross-vertical loyalty program offering real-world prizes such as match tickets, as well as full transparency in terms of the specific rewards players will be able to earn.
How can operators and affiliates work together better to encourage greater retention, stickiness and loyalty of punters beyond the World Cup?
Richard Moffat: Quite simply by working more closely with those affiliates that are actually willing and able to help, and by recognising that these partners can offer huge value long term. So many of the larger players in the affiliate space now literally just ping players on without offering any value at all. While the numbers are much wanted by operators, there is rarely any relationship or value to the customer. Yet from that one visit they are often paid the same or more as the affiliate that helps customers with their betting on a daily basis over many years. You only need to look at the major players in other industries to see this will change at some point. Large affiliate partners in these industries offer real customer value in addition to generating leads. If you look at UK sports betting affiliates there aren’t many of us in a good position to fill that space, so I see this as a real opportunity for OLBG.
Gavin Moore: Affiliate products built around punter communities and continuous content (such as our bettingexpert.com) tend to be pivotal in assisting operators to retain players. These community sites are becoming truly integrated into the betting experience and facilitate the process of a user going from a tournament player to a recreational punter. Therefore, in years with major tournaments, such as the World Cup, the strong partnerships between operators and affiliates become even more important.
Oshri Kostiner: Depending on the nature of each affiliate’s business, we’ve found hybrid revenue share to be the most productive model for sustaining mutual profitability. We also collaborate closely with our partners, encouraging them to gain a deep understanding of our offering to get the best out of our product and affiliate platform and achieve the highest possible conversion rates. We co-create content for their sites, gather feedback from their players about bonuses, features, odds, KYC and payments, and work to build value wherever we can. And since most players already hold accounts with the top three bookmakers, it’s often in an affiliate’s best interest to use their real estate promoting an up-and-coming brand like 10Bet.
Affiliates are arguably better at building communities in the form of, for example, betting forums and tipster sites. Do you think retention would improve if new punters were encouraged to stick around within the affiliate ecosystem as widgets now allow, rather than just being bounced off to an operator?
Richard Moffat: Absolutely. We have thousands of sports bettors visiting our products every day and we can help them with their decision over where to place each and every bet. Every bet placed is a sale for a bookmaker, something that is rarely recognised in the current operator-affiliate relationship. Some of our users tell us that they place 100% of their bets through our app, never going direct to a bookmaker site. That shows the sort of value that sites like ourselves, other community sites and odds comparison sites can provide over and above pure lead generation.
Gavin Moore: Absolutely, yes. A key point to stickiness is giving the users the best experience possible. Third party affiliate community sites, ones that are unbiased in presenting information in a way that operators inherently never can, help shift the power back to the user. The freedom to discuss operators and sports in a pressure-free environment is what keeps them coming back. It’s this sort of environment that creates a level of transparency.
Staying in that environment creates freedom of choice, but as soon as you move through to a bookmaker page then the user loses their power. By integrating a bet slip straight onto the affiliate platform (like we have on SmartBets) the user remains in the driver’s seat and can easily shop around with different bookmakers. We’ve found that this strategy ensures all stakeholders win in the long run.
Oshri Kostiner: The short answer is yes. While some affiliates remain overly focused on CPA it’s clearly wise to embrace the multi-account reality whereby players choose the brand they bet with according to specific events, features and promotions. We have learnt that by sponsoring and contributing directly to relevant forums and communities, we increase our exposure, while our affiliate managers learn more about player demands and expectations.