Marketing Gambling During A Pandemic

Las Vegas product managers had a problem when the pandemic hit
Las Vegas product managers had a problem when the pandemic hit

Image Credit: Mathieu Lebreton

Generally speaking, being a product manager who is in charge of getting people to go out to Las Vegas and spend their money is not all that hard of a job. Then the pandemic hit. The Las Vegas product managers all of sudden had a real problem on their hands – the product that they were selling was no longer something that people wanted. They were going to need to make some changes in order to get their customers to come back. What could they do?

Take A Chance On Las Vegas

Product managers want tourists to go to Las Vegas for its anything-can-happen aura. However, this past year, the unexpected made it seem less alluring to customers. The pandemic hit Las Vegas business hard. Now the city continues to gradually reopen after an initial total shutdown. Visitors to Las Vegas this year fell to 12.7 million from 28.4 million. Hotel-room-occupancy rates declined to 42.8% from 89.4%. Product managers have taken steps to regain some of the business lost to Covid-19. Casinos began welcoming guests back in June using rules that require face masks, social distancing and regular disinfection of all fixtures. Showrooms now can hold events and live shows for up to 250 attendees or 10% of their capacity, whichever is less. Trade shows, conventions and business meetings for up to 1,000 attendees have been approved if they are split into sections that don’t exceed 250 people.

Las Vegas product managers, meanwhile, have spent much of this year trying to strike the right tone at the right time. The challenge is for them to find ways to reach people who might be open to a little vacation, without bothering people who have other priorities at the moment. They understand that they don’t want to put a travel ad in front of somebody that’s just not in the mind-set to travel or is personally affected by Covid. In a case like that, the ad could become offensive to them. The Las Vergas product managers realize that it’s going to take time to get back to the way that things used to be. Right now Las Vegas is prepared to host small gatherings, but the larger events are virtual. The thinking is that they will be seeing a lot more hybrid meetings even as they start to invite groups back in-house. Going forward there’ll be a component of an in-person face-to-face, but also the opportunity for extended reach with digital.

The Las Vegas product managers want to maximize the square footage and in-person elements of these events. In order to make that happen, they understand that components of virtual activities will stay. Even in the Las Vegas pre-Covid days, not everybody was able to travel for every meeting or every trade show, so having a hybrid component enables greater reach. However, what the product managers have heard is that networking happens in person; relationships happen in person. This means that there will always be the in-person element to what they do.

It’s All About Change

As you might imagine, the Las Vegas product managers didn’t see the Covid-19 pandemic coming. Just like everyone else, they had plans for the year. They were just launching a new campaign – “Only Vegas.” They were expecting record numbers of visitors, both leisure and business travelers. And then, all of a sudden the pandemic hit. Las Vegas closed its doors mid-March and pulled all of its advertising. There was a three-month period of being completely closed. During that time the product managers did a lot of videos leveraging their entertainers and talent in Las Vegas – from celebrity mixologists and chefs to magicians and comedians providing both short snippets of entertainment and hope. Their goal was to stay connected, and making sure that when the time once again was right, Vegas would be on top of mind for its customers.

When Las Vegas reopened its doors, the product managers had to build awareness of two things: that Las Vegas was open, and that it had opened safely. They launched a commercial called “The Light” that showed someone flipping a switch to turn the lights back on on the Strip, and they aggregated all of the health-and-safety protocols from their partners on an easy-to-navigate landing page for their campaign platform, “Vegas Smart.” However, they wanted to make sure it wasn’t just about, “We’ve done all these health-and-safety protocols.” It was about trying to let people know that Vegas was still Vegas. That’s a big part of their storytelling on social media: shots of consumers having fun in the pool, visuals of the fun mixed drinks that you can only find in Vegas.

The product managers have had to be nimble in the markets that they target and the channels that they use. They have to make sure that they are actively targeting people who are interested in travel. One of the benefits of going digital is that while you’re not doing broad advertising in a given market you still can have a presence with the consumers there. Whether their conditions look good or not, if they’re actively searching for travel you have the ability to appear in front of them. Historically the Las Vegas product managers have been heavy on national TV buys. This has now shifted to digital video, connected TV and social media in order to be incredibly targeted about which markets and which consumers they reach. The goal is to make sure that they are still relevant. The traditional seasonal and annual planning are now considered to be long gone. Every month the product managers have to do their planning for the month.

What All Of This Means For You

Product managers are responsible for creating products that their customers both want and need. The product managers who are responsible for promoting Las Vegas have had a tough year. People may have wanted to still go to Vegas to gamble, but the Covid-19 pandemic has shut everyone down. The Las Vegas product managers had a real problem on their hands: how could they let everyone know that Las Vegas was still a place that they could go?

There’s no question that the pandemic hit Las Vegas very hard. The good news is that the city is now starting to come back. Live shows can be held and conventions and trade shows are starting to come back. One of the big challenges that the Las Vegas product managers are facing is that they don’t want to reach out to any prospective customers who are not thinking about traveling right now. The world has changed and the product managers realize that any event that they host will have a face-to-face and a virtual component to it. The Las Vegas product managers were as surprised by the pandemic as everyone else was. They spent their time creating videos showing all of the neat things that can be done in Las Vegas. As the city started to reopen, the product managers had to communicate to their customers that it was once again safe to come to Las Vegas. The advertising for Las Vegas has shifted from television to digital channels.

The good news for the Las Vegas product managers is that they still have a product that everyone wants. The challenge that they are facing is that the world in which we all live has changed a great deal. How they used to reach their potential customers has changed. Now the Las Vegas product managers have to be sure that they are reaching the right customers with the right message at the right time. This can be done, but they have to do it carefully. If they can accomplish this, then once again, what happened in Las Vegas can stay in Las Vegas!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that the Las Vegas product managers should offer discounts to get people to visit?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I’m pretty sure that this has happened to all of us. We’ve found something that we are interested in buying, but we can’t quite make up our mind as to if we really want to get it right now. Then all of a sudden we discover that there are only a few of this item left. We understand that if we don’t buy it right now, we may never be able to buy it. More often than I care to admit, this can cause me to make a purchase that I had been on the fence about. Product managers want to know if telling their potential customers that there are limited supplies of a product really works.