Esports

From the ground up

| By Josephine Watson
What does it take to build a brand from the ground up in Russia? Alina Yakirevich tells all…

Alina Yakirevich at CMO of Fonbet with extensive experience in all marketing areas – TV, Digital advertising, BTL-communications, printed and radio advertising, PR, SMM, SEO and context, content and native advertising, as well as B2B marketing. Yakirevich has reorganised and set up the work of Fonbet’s marketing team in all divisions and established KPIs that reflect the most important business goals of the company.

In the current climate, people’s focus seems to be firmly on the future – but in this people can forget their roots. 

Knowing where you’re going is one thing, but the strongest strategies are built on learning’s from the past. With this in mind, iGB spoke with Alina Yakirevich, CMO at Fonbet to learn about their origins, and what lessons they picked up on the way.

Founded in 1994 by a chess grandmaster who saw an opportunity in gambling, Fonbet’s roots are firmly in sports fanaticism. Yakirevich says: “Due to the interest of just a single founder, we grew into the largest and most recognisable betting company in the CIS. If you do what you love and you’re good at that, then you’re bound to succeed.”

Setting up for success

The early days established a strong sense of independence in the team at Fonbet, with Yakirevich saying they always created their own odds.

Today, this strategy has paid off, allowing Fonbet to pivot quickly in times of crisis, such as its esports focus in light of COVID-19. Yakirevich continues, explaining that generally, Fonbet handles a lot of its business in-house: “One of our main competitive advantages is that we have our own development and marketing teams. Our business is quite complicated and niche, so we feel it is important to help our staff grow from within.”

However, the journey has not been without its challenges – despite this, Yakirevich says the company always strives to turn difficulties into opportunities: “For example, more than a decade ago, when our main business was offline, a new law on user verification was passed in Russia. 

“Players used to be able to just come to betting shops, place bets, pay for them and get a receipt. There wasn’t any requirement to show ID. However, the new law required customers to verify their identity by showing their passport.”

With fears that this might damage the market due to players valuing privacy, Fonbet innovated around this regulation and developed a procedure where customers only needed to confirm their identity once.

“We also developed our own betting terminals and were the first in Russia to launch them. When customers log on, they instantly verify themselves with their Fonbet card and can bet as much as they like.” 

The introduction of betting terminals and Fonbet player cards helped the brand increase average bets, says Yakirevich: “If this law had never been adopted in Russia, then we probably would have never implemented these changes, or only done so much later.”

Maintaining focus

The mission for Fonbet has always been leading with a balanced and customer-friendly product. 

To achieve this, Fonbet committed to building a fast, reliable and convenient product: “Betting companies usually focus on and prioritise a single area, while neglecting other promising opportunities.”

“Fonbet employs more than 400 traders and offers a very fast, customer-friendly product with good marketing. We’re proud of our fast payouts and high betting and withdrawal limits. Our company is focused on the mass market customers, but we also offer a special programme for VIP players.”

Now, Yakirevich says, the road to success is in expansion, with plans to add to its list of licenses in legal markets: “Fonbet is currently developing in Kazakhstan and Belarus, with plans to expand to Ukraine and other countries as well, since our brand is already well known in these markets.”

“A lot of the marketing tools we already use in Russia also work well in the CIS. This market feels like home for us, and we expect a quick ROI. The people who live there share a similar mentality to us. However, CIS countries have certain drawbacks, including weak currencies and unstable legislation.”

New markets, new opportunities

To keep momentum and build long-term prosperity, Fonbet is also looking beyond the CIS region: ”We’re already operating in Cyprus, and also currently launching in Greece and other new markets. These European countries have a more stable currency and economy.”

Of course, with new markets come new challenges. In addition to legislation, there are also differences in marketing and development strategies: “The local mindset needs to be considered, and a new team of local specialists need to be hired to help understand all the nuances. 

Part of this is in the art of letting go: “It’s crucial to understand which processes can be carried out from the main office, and which need to be delegated to the regional level. You need to rely on local partners and employees because they’re the ones out there in the real world. 

“There’s nothing wrong with admitting a mistake and going back to the drawing board to see how to fix it. Keep your eye on the numbers and know that reports are king.”

Additionally, strategic sponsorships are key to Fonbet’s strategy: “When we enter a new market, we focus on helping to develop local sports. Our partner in Kazakhstan is the Barys ice hockey team, and we’re also currently in negotiations with top Belarusian clubs.”

“We partner with world football leaders, including Real Madrid, Milan and PSG, to help our brand reach a broad global audience. “

“In Russia, our overall strategy is to sponsor leagues and national teams (KHL, VTB United League, the Russian national football team). This ensures our media presence and helps build trust. In addition, we wanted to strengthen our presence in football and hockey, so we also partner with PFC CSKA and collaborate on KHL projects with Spartak and Avangard.”

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