White-label lessons part 3: bonus abuse and brand buidling
We launched Oshi in November 2015. Having worked in Betfair and Unibet and having had many casino clients through my marketing agency 90 Digital, I thought it would make sense to find a really good operator partner in a particular niche.
That niche was bitcoin casino and the partner is SoftSwiss. So with a really strong operations partner in place, the key drivers behind launching Oshi were:
- all casinos are fundamentally the same and we could do something different;
- people go to casinos to play casino games, make it easier for them to play the games they love;
- and do everything else as good as the other top casinos.
In December 2015, we had to rebuild all the code and relaunched in mid-January. We then rebuilt the code again in March 2016 and made a huge number of iterations to get to where we are now.
In my last article, I went into the financials behind white label. Since May 2016, I’ve learnt a lot of new things about what not to do on bonuses, so I want to talk about that along with what I’ve learnt on brand for white-label casinos.
As I stated earlier, casinos in my opinion are fundamentally the same, which means apart from theme, brand look and feel et cetera, one of the most efficient ways to attract new customers is by giving money away in bonuses.
We decided to do what a lot of .com businesses do. Go ‘fremium’. The logic is pretty simple; the more you give away, the less friction there is to customer uptake.
In our case, there were still several glitches with the site but we wanted to increase numbers and attractiveness to affiliates. So we went on a bonus-giving binge. We created a no-deposit bonus for one of our affiliates. That bonus got picked up on a Russian forum. I could tell something was wrong when there was a blizzard of emails from the SoftSwiss team doing ‘know your customer’, rejecting cashouts andcontaining a difficult situation. And 1,500 accounts later, we had been hammered by Russian drive-through customers just trying to scam the system.
This craziness lasted for about two weeks, but generated more bet turnover than the preceding three months. At the Amsterdam Affiliate Conference, we had a team meeting and decided to pull the plug on this dangerous misadventure.
By good management from SoftSwiss and a little bit of luck, we didn’t lose too much money on this and learned a valuable lesson: if there is a loophole in your bonusing, people will scam you.
More recently, we have undertaken a huge push on reload bonuses. These are bonuses we give to customers who repeatedly pay money into their Oshi accounts. From our point of view, it makes sense to reward regular customers.
One of the bonus mechanics we use a lot is something called matched bonus. This is where you deposit a sum of money and we then match that sum by a certain amount.
A common matched bonus might be 100%. You put in 100 euros or 1BTC, and we match that with the same amount in your account. You then have to churn the money 40 times before you can withdraw the cash. By law of probability you will probably lose that money by the time you’ve churned the cash 40 times. But, if the reload bonus percentage is high, i.e. 200%, the probability of getting cash out the other end is higher. We noticed that sophisticated gamblers would do large numbers of minimum bets and at some point hit a huge win and then immediately cash out and we lose.
As a result we had decided to reduce our reload bonuses. Surprisingly it hasn’t hugely affected our repeat deposit rates too much, except it’s dissuaded those ‘difficult’ customers from playing the system with us.
Affiliates and bonuses
There is a balancing act between giving money away to customers and revenue generated for affiliates in revenue share. Give away huge bonuses, you attract more customers, but you drive profitability right down and affiliates don’t get revenue from you. Whilst affiliates love the idea of big bonus giveaways, the reality for them is lower revenue.
To counter those issues, as I mentioned before, we’re steadily driving down the amount of money we give away in bonuses and improving the site and the conversion pathways for customers.
It turns out making the site genuinely profitable is really about putting lots of little things together in the right way, which leads me nicely into brand.
Building the brand
To me, brand is deeper than the colour of the site. It is a set of associations consumers make between you and their feelings about you. Brands generally fall somewhere within the grid shown in Figure 1.
Can you think of a brand which delivers utility, but has no warmth? In iGaming I’m sure you can think of a few brands. Outside of iGaming, think of Ryanair versus EasyJet. They’re both very competent but it’s arguable that Ryanair is disliked more than EasyJet, with the latter viewed with more warmth amongst fliers. EasyJet wins. With Oshi, we have really worked on being capable and loved. The catch with any iGaming brand relationship is that customers are in a heightened state of anxiety where they are intent on winning from you. It’s very easy for an iGaming brand to end up being very ‘cold’ with customers and this is something I’m really sensitive about.
One of the most important things we’ve done around brand is to create a reputation backdrop to Oshi. To me, this is a complete ‘no-brainer’. Customers are not stupid. They know how to use search engines to check brands out.
Edelman, the huge PR agency, produce an annual Trust Barometer report. Last year it revealed that search engines are now more trusted than mainstream media as a source of news and general information. We all use search engines to check brands out. That’s why for individuals, the European Commission has issued a regulation protecting their “right to be forgotten” where they can effectively erase their public history on Google.
Via my agency 90 Digital, we’ve done lots of reputation management. For Oshi, it began with me being the public face of the business and being accessible. We then did some delicately managed PR to position the brand and then built up a body of (genuinely) positive reviews via forums and trustworthy affiliates. We then did some SEO activity to help certain pages sustainably rank. With affiliates, they rank anyway so building a reputation footprint with them was relatively easy.
Now when you check out Oshi online using phrases like ‘oshi casino reviews’, we check out well. In turn, it means people have more confidence in us and we convert better. It also has a collateral benefit
affiliates because they see we’re an upstanding brand.
Until recently, I never really appreciated the power of conditioning and expectation.As mentioned before, it’s my belief that all casinos are fundamentally the same. You have a homepage with an offer, some game provider graphics and a grid of games below with some basic search functionality.
Our homepage looked very different. It was too busy, had too many features and took customers to long to work out what was going on.
In usability they talk about the eightsecond rule. If a customer hasn’t basically worked out what’s going on within eight seconds you’ve lost them. Our mistake was to assume people would ‘wade’ through site in order to get to our game search pages.It meant the homepage looked confusing and we therefore looked different to all the other casinos out there. It meant poorer conversion rates. Essentially, we lost track of the eight-second rule.
The brand ‘fix’
Today we just want to be like everybody else, but better. We want to fulfil everyone’s positive expectations of what a casino should be, but be better on every single touch point we can.
Look and feel
We now use game provider graphics, because it’s what people expect. We’ve made it far easier to access our game search pages where people can find new games easily using our personalisation and search technology.
Tone and language
We also really worked on making all of the language on our website straightforward, friendly and competent. It’s pretty easy to do. We look at potential situations, i.e. mis-typing an email into a form, and ask ourselves how we would like to be addressed in that situation, and adapt accordingly.
Customer relationship management
Generally this means emails out to customers. Broadly, there are triggered emails and promotional emails. Triggered emails happen when you create an account, cash out some money, lose your password and so on. I’ve noticed how so many brands ignore this opportunity to communicate positively with their customers. Simply, you’re having a conversation with somebody and they want your help, so be nice. It seems to work for us.
With promotional emails, we do our best to keep these down to about one a week. Our standpoint is that customers are people and not a spam target. So far the results have been positive and our promotional emails convert pretty well.
Our provider SoftSwiss has a 24-hour customer services support team who deal with cashouts, know your customer and other issues that crop up. They have been great in helping insulate us from a huge flow of hassle.
Since customer services are so important, we’ve also got our own community manager who monitors the Internet and all the customer service emails back-and-forth to ensure everything is okay. If there is something one of the Oshi team has to deal with, it gets flagged up and the relevant person addresses it. We work on the basis of ‘prevention is better than cure’, reputation breaking interactions will kill us. So we all do our best to serve our customers as well as we can.
My wisdom on brand
Every single interaction is important for building a customer’s positive associations with you. In essence, brand is built from experiences with you. Make those experiences good and your brand will convert and retain well because people want to be with you.
Bonuses are more powerful than I had ever expected and have to be managed very carefully. It’s worth having a bonus specialist on your team and it’s important to also undertake a lot of competitor research. It’s a delicate balancing act between how much money you’re prepared to give away, how many new customers you want to bring in and how much profit you want.
With branding, so far we’ve think we’ve got lots of things right, i.e. brand reputation, tone and language. But we didn’t appreciate how important graphics and production values were in forming customers’ first impressions.
My best advice is look carefully at the winners in your niche and emulate them, so customers feel immediately comfortable with you, but always ensure you have your own unique identity.
Over the last few articles you’ve got a good overview of my journey with white label. Over the forthcoming issues of iGB Affiliate, I will look to do one article per subject where I really go deep into specific aspects of managing a white label i.e. affiliate management, CRM, bonus management, graphics and visual assets, SEO, paid media, backend reporting, general management.