Crushing marketing roadblocks: Life of a CMO in igaming

| By Laura Gumbrell
A recent study shows the gaming and betting industry is set for a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.7% from 2022 to 2030. But as Softswiss’ chief marketing officer Valentina Bagniya tells iGB, chasing market share against a backdrop of tightened rules on advertising, sustainability and player safety, is no easy task. Here she explains why an innovative approach to marketing in the igaming industry is now more important than ever.

The igaming industry is rightly acknowledged as being at the forefront of innovation and change. Fast-paced and exciting, it attracts some of the world’s leading talents to work across its many varied products.

The industry is still very much in its growth phase too; just last year, the market size of the casino and online gambling industry worldwide reached a total of £195bn, figures some industries can only dream of. So why is it that many marketers regard working in the industry as an unpredictable, frustrating endeavour?

Much of their frustration comes down to planning, or rather the difficulty in implementing a plan. Unlike in many other industries, the gaming sector is subject to continuous legislation changes, which makes devising a coherent marketing strategy a challenging venture.

While gambling is legal in many jurisdictions, in much of the world it remains off-limits. Even those regions where it is perfectly legal to place a bet face tweaks to their legislation – in the UK, for example, the much-awaited review of the Gambling Act is imminent – and with multiple stakeholders bidding to ensure a safe and secure industry, maintaining a long-term strategy has never been harder.

One company taking these challenges in its stride is Softswiss. The fast-growing business is making a name for itself by breaking out against the industry norms, something exemplified by its recent “Bringing the Heat” promotion, which saw it offer up portions of spicy ice cream and challenging people to take a warming dip in baths full of chillis. Playful stunts like this are helping make Softswiss’ red and yellow logo hard to miss.

Part of the collective brains behind Softswiss’ eye-catching campaigns is chief marketing officer Valentina Bagniya, who clearly enjoys the pressure that comes with working in such a competitive, fast-moving market. “From a marketing point of view, you have to be extremely creative to promote products in this industry,” she says. “So I thought, ‘why not try’?”

After all, who doesn’t love a challenge?

Teachings from age-restricted industries

Anyone entering the industry will instantly recognise the tight regulations that exist around marketing, including the age-restrictive rules that have a huge effect on promotional campaigns. For Bagniya, her experience in age-restricted markets played a key part in preparing her for her role at Softswiss.

“My first marketing experience was with a multinational, British American Tobacco. It was one of the best practices to start in because companies that face restrictions, like those in the tobacco or alcohol industries, need to grow their efficiency through effective business processes and innovative approaches to marketing and product development,” she explains.

“It helped me understand the importance of strategic planning and the significance of well-organised business processes within a company early on in my career.”

Bagniya has many years’ experience working with global brands under her belt. As well as her stint at BAT, she spent time in the food and beverage sector with Heineken and Nestlé, something she readily admits helped her become accustomed to the hurdles involved in difficult markets.

“When you’re working with such famous brands, you start to think outside of the box and recognise that marketing is not just in TV/print ads,” she says. “You start to look at the instruments and approaches more widely.”

Marketing: The three-step strategy

As igaming grows into one of the most profitable industries worldwide, thanks in part to that near-12% expected CAGR over the next eight years, it is essential for those in the space to keep the momentum up.

Since entering the market in 2009, Softswiss’ brand marketing has been constantly evolving. The department has never stood still and has learned invaluable lessons about what does and doesn’t work in the industry.

And this seems to come in the form of three vital steps: know your customer, learn from your mistakes and believe in a long-term strategy.

Knowing your customer

“The best way to understand is to ask our customers,” Bagniya explains. “This means focusing on research and analytics. I’m absolutely sure that marketing research and constant communication with current and potential partners is one of the most important parts of creating a marketing strategy.

“So, we do it on a regular basis to understand what works well and what we should change and improve from all angles.”

The team at Softswiss recognise that customer-driven data is paramount to the success it has enjoyed and, while delivering best-in-class marketing strategies has been key to its growth, really understanding what its customers want has also played a major role in driving the business forward.

One of the marketing team’s biggest areas of learning has been how to use data effectively; data being a marketer’s best ally, after all. For this, step forward leading research company Kantar, and specifically its Ukraine office, which has proved fundamental to Softswiss understanding its customers.

“They do a lot of the research for us and enable our team to learn more and more insights about the B2B gambling industry and our position there,” Bagniya explains. “We can work with Kantar for product development, marketing promotion and the overall development of the business strategy. It’s a very simple thing about being a good marketer. Just talk to your consumer!”

Learning from mistakes

When Bagniya joined Softswiss in 2020 there was no marketing department and a distinct lack of marketing strategy or positioning.

Happily, she had a clear vision: “A brand is not something that is created by the marketing team, it is something that appears in the minds of the target audience when they see a product and interact with it.”

The data collected in Bagniya’s initial six months at the company suggested that the Softswiss brand was already perceived as being “expert” and “innovative” with a “very high level of service”. Definitely something to build on, then, and the team quickly came to the conclusion that they already had a great position in the space; they just needed to drive their efforts towards a more consistent marketing push.

So what did they do?

“In the first months, I completed and introduced the long-term Softswiss marketing strategy. Step by step, we started creating a new visual identity and a new slogan. There were tiny baby steps but, most importantly, we already had our vision.

“Two years later we see a completely different situation with the marketing function in Softswiss. The marketing team has grown to more than 30 professionals inspired by our brand. We make changes to our strategy according to the market requirements.”

Playing the long game

In an ever-progressing sector, Bagniya recognises the need for creative, agile marketers. Softswiss may be ahead of the curve here, but marketing across the industry is undoubtedly increasing – and may become more competitive in the future.

“Companies are recognising that once you understand the importance of consistent strategy, branding and positioning, you can create strong brands and achieve market leadership,” she says.

“When you understand this, it doesn’t matter which product you sell, you just look deeply into the insights and basic needs of the target customer. A basic understanding of universality helps you to create strong and successful products and brands in different spheres.

“Today I can say that marketing activity is higher than it was two years ago. I can see many new companies entering the market and investing in marketing promotion to become more visible. Old players are starting to change and improve their strategies and it’s one more step in the development of the industry in general.”

Full steam ahead

Although Softswiss is powering ahead with its initial three-year strategy, it has its sights set on becoming bigger and better. And for Bagniya, this is only just the beginning.

“I feel very excited about the next year because we should make a huge step for Softswiss. I expect 2023 to be very fruitful and interesting because the two years before were merely a preparation for something special and big.”

Finding that sweet spot between operating in a safe, compliant industry while rolling out eye-catching brand awareness campaigns is no easy task. But as Softswiss has proved over the last few years, in an evolving industry anything is possible.

Valentina Bagniya joined Softswiss as CMO in 2020, having 15+ years of experience in marketing backing her up. In two years she has built a full-service B2B marketing department with over 30 employees.

As chief marketing officer, Bagniya develops forward-thinking marketing and business strategies for Softswiss and its products, supervises strategy execution and controls the achievement of the brand’s marketing targets.

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