The ‘fun’ factor must be preserved by iGaming operators who are determined to retain customers in a highly competitive space, according to Sergey Kobitskiy, CEO and founder of Smartico.ai, a multi-channel, real-time gamification and marketing loyalty platform.
Against a backdrop of regulatory challenges in the industry, Kobitskiy is well aware of the task facing betting operators that have to tread carefully with marketing campaigns designed to connect with specific target audiences.
However, Smartico.ai, which is seeking to power the next phase of its expansion by attracting fresh investment over the next 12 to 18 months, is underpinned by the notion that developing tools to encourage a personalised approach will pay dividends in the long term.
This belief in a tailored strategy has gained momentum in recent years as operators grapple with rocketing acquisition costs, reflecting significant challenges in terms of not just attracting individuals into the sales funnel, but also keeping them engaged.
“It is important to focus aggressively on retaining customers, but to do so in a pleasant way for the end user, and gamification is the best approach for keeping customers interested,” Kobitskiy says.
“It is vital to make it fun for customers. This can be achieved by giving them the opportunity to participate in real-time tournaments or offering them the chance to spin a wheel and win rewards. By using these mechanics, it is possible to make it worthwhile for the individual to come back to the same place, again and again.”
Kobitskiy makes the point that marginal gains in terms of loyalty can lead to significant financial rewards for operators – and these bottom-line benefits can be amplified if the high-value customers are kept on board.
“A 5% improvement in customer retention can easily lead to an increase in revenue of more than 25%,” he says.
Of course, operators have to contend with an evolving regulatory landscape that brings its own compliance pressures, from bans on advertising to restrictions on bonuses.
The outlook can be particularly complex if, like Smartico.ai – which is headquartered in Bulgaria and has a presence in Ukraine and Israel – business operations span different jurisdictions.
“While offering bonuses to users might become more and more problematic due to regulations, the best approach is to give the user the opportunity to grab a bonus from the marketplace,” Kobitskiy says.
“So, as the customer accumulates points or brand currency through gamification, he or she can ‘buy’ bonuses, without necessarily asking for them or having been offered them.”
A focus on finding new ways to retain customers will inevitably increase their lifetime value, helping to mitigate rising acquisition costs. This will ultimately dictate the success of a marketing strategy, as long as the operator’s business model allows the initial financial outlay to be absorbed.
“Working on retention is the best way to overcome increasing marketing expenditure, for small and big brands,” Kobitskiy adds. “Of course, big brands will need as much automation and optimisation as possible across all of their processes in order to reach their specific target audiences and ensure the potential of each and every one is maximised.
“This is where we can assist. We are able to offer extremely powerful personalisation and optimisation tools that can ‘touch’ every customer and press the right buttons for each individual.”
This drive for a more tailored approach tallies with broader strategic efforts across the industry. Personalisation is now expected by platform users – and high-value customers are likely to walk away if a more customised offering, reflecting their interests and motivations, is available elsewhere.
With that in mind, Smartico.ai is exploring opportunities to boost loyalty by diversifying its tools so that operators can engage with customers on a deeper level.
“We have several targets over the next year-and-a-half, with the aim of taking Smartico.ai to the next level, for the benefit of our clients and their customers,” Kobitskiy says.
“We are on the look-out for strategic investors that share our vision for gamification and personalised engagement, but we are also keen to invest in ramping up our back-end capabilities that will translate into improved user experiences.
“We want to extend our capabilities in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in relation to loyalty tools. This will enable us to orchestrate and build AI-driven campaigns and models that will be able to predict the offers that will attract, engage and excite users.”
In an era of hyper-targeted automated marketing campaigns, Smartico.ai is determined to expand its creative approach in an industry in which brand personality matters.
Crucially, the personal touch through a customised approach can build stronger bonds between individuals and their chosen platforms – and keeping the fun in that relationship can have fruitful long-term consequences.
“It is important to improve and refine the offering continuously so users can be presented with the right games, rewards and experiences in the right way,” Kobitskiy says.
“We will create more loyalty tools that can drive these strategies for our clients. For example, we have a number of scratchcard-like mini-games in the pipeline that can broaden their offering and provide different rewards. We recently released our first mini-game – a ‘spin the wheel’ or ‘loyalty wheel’ – that is designed to reward loyal customers.
“Furthermore, we will continue to develop our Daily Rewards calendar to ensure the user experience remains fresh for established customers, as well as new arrivals. These tools will be key to making an impact as competition continues to increase in the marketplace.”