Case Study: Hospitality Group Replaces Direct Marketing with Hyperlocal Campaigns

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WCHMerchant: Wind Creek Hospitality
Location: Alabama
Size: 3 casinos, 2 resort hotels
Platform: Hootsuite, Joingo, Lyris, Twitter
Bottom Line: Some marketers are having more success reaching customers through branded mobile apps and social media than through traditional email marketing.

As mobile marketing picks up steam and consumers get more comfortable downloading branded apps on their smartphones, Wind Creek Hospitality marketing VP Michael Perhaes is becoming less reliant on direct marketing techniques for customer retention and acquisition.

“We already see just in our own region — and this is a rural area — that 50% of the traffic that goes to our website originates from a mobile device,” Perhaes says. “Casino marketing is its own animal. It does have its own specific requirements and its own culture that needs to be understood.”

Fifty percent of customers at Wind Creek Hospitality are already loyalty card holders, and Perhaes’ main challenge is keeping those customers engaged. He recently launched three branded mobile apps — one for each Wind Creek casino — that customers can use to earn and redeem points through an integration with the company’s Bally CMP system. Powered by Joingo, a mobile and social technology company, the apps also give users access to points balances and shopping dollars.

“It allows you to access your account, and it also gives you that pipeline to engage with us directly,” Perhaes says. “It is very handy for us, because it ultimately will allow for us to cut down on the direct mail that we send.”

Wind Creek’s mobile apps are one part of a broader digital strategy that the hospitality company been constructing since last summer. Each of Wind Creek’s properties now has its own website, and the company has started to use Twitter more aggressively as an engagement tool. Perhaes hopes that Twitter will soon become a more central part of Wind Creek’s digital marketing strategy now that the company has hired a social media expert. Already, Perhaes says that using Hootsuite as a social media dashboard is helping keep the company more organized.

“Twitter really does have a lot of potential,” Perhaes says. “We are going to be more aggressive in how we use hashtags and promoting our handle.”

Although Wind Creek’s mobile apps are still new, Perhaes is already seeing response rates that are much higher than those he has achieved through email marketing alone: “Email seems to be a necessary evil. I don’t really understand what the secret sauce is to increase open rates. I used to think it was a compelling subject line. I’m not so sure,” Perhaes says.

Although Perhaes is “very happy” with Lyris‘ email management platform, he struggles to improve email open rates that currently sit at just 8% to 12%. “I’ve got a pretty clean database. We don’t have many undelivered messages. The big challenge is improving open rates and click-through rates,” Perhaes says. “I can send out an email where the email line, half of it is illegible. Well guess what? A clever subject line doesn’t perform any better than an illegible subject line. Email still remains a very difficult animal to wrangle.”

The Takeaway
As email marketing grows more ubiquitous, marketers are having a tougher time cutting through the clutter in consumers’ inboxes. Low email open rates and click-through rates are forcing marketers to look in other directions if they want their messages to get through. In the case of Wind Creek, that means launching a series of branded apps with the option to send push notifications, and relying more heavily on social media tools like Twitter to deliver hyperlocal messages directly to consumers’ phones.

Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight.

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Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.