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Success in emerging markets: Launching in the Netherlands with Leadstar Media

| By Laura Gumbrell | Reading Time: 5 minutes
For every new country that regulates online gambling, igaming companies are presented with an opportunity to launch or expand. This exciting prospect for operators and suppliers, however, comes with its own set of pitfalls. Jacob Ljunggren, director of operations at Leadstar Media, highlights the dos and don’ts when launching in key markets such as the Netherlands, and pinpoints how you can optimise your strategy for success.

Launching in a newly regulated market in the igaming industry comes with its share of challenges. Companies need to navigate through complex licensing processes, comply with stringent regulations and be prepared to adapt their offerings to meet specific requirements of the market. 

This challenge remains even in a mature region like Europe. For example, the Netherlands officially regulated online gambling in late 2021, though the road to a licensed market wasn’t without its setbacks, delays and last-minute changes.

Initially, the Remote Gambling Act (KOA) was scheduled to enter into law on 1 July 2020, with the market to open six months later at the start of 2021. However in November 2019, the Act’s start date was pushed back six months, before another delay to 1 March 2021 after preparations to launch were disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The act was eventually enacted on 1 April 2021, allowing the market to open six months later in October 2021.

Two years on from launching, Ljunggren has witnessed the highs and lows of entering the Dutch market and seen how important suppliers like Leadstar Media are to operators looking to get a step ahead of their competitors.

The regulation race: Early adoption, early wins

One of the main hurdles operators face when entering a newly regulated market is navigating the regulation and compliance requirements. These regulations aim to ensure fair play, responsible gambling and consumer protection, while requiring igaming businesses to make significant adjustments to comply with the law. 

Though it can be a tough hill to climb, Leadstar Media found its way to the top and Ljunggren believes its Dutch success is all down to pinpoint preparation.

“We had a site ready for pre-launch when the Netherlands market became regulated,” he says. “We did what we could to be compliant with regulated gambling messaging, as an example, even when we didn’t fully know what the new regulations would mean.”

Since the launch, Ljunggren says that staying adaptive has been key to getting ahead, and his team have been ready to change as and when the market does.

“We’ve had to listen to our partners when things change and adapt our products accordingly. As with most newly regulated markets, things change significantly from the first launch. One recent change is that we’ve had to ensure 95% of our traffic comes from users over 24 years old.”

The challenges beyond regulation: More than a welcome bonus

Although getting to grips with regulation is a priority, Ljunggren believes strategising for player acquisition and player retention should be equally as high on the checkbox for operators. Newly licensed market or not, he believes there is a lot that can be improved when new brands launch in the Netherlands. 

“You have to make a great first impression and although the welcome bonus is a part of that, the product has to be exactly what the market is looking for. You can’t just launch and expect things to magically work out because you offer a great first bonus.”

Welcome bonuses are a crucial tool used by operators to attract new players and incentivise them to join their platform. These bonuses often come in the form of free spins, bonus funds or other perks that players can use to enhance their gaming experience. They not only help operators differentiate themselves from competitors, but they build brand loyalty and give players a taste of what the platform has to offer, increasing the likelihood of retaining long-term customers.

Ljunggren believes that finding the perfect balance between keeping players engaged and retaining them is where most companies struggle. “While a good bonus can attract a massive number of new players, keeping them afterwards is trickier. Through the bonus an operator gets the chance to prove themselves. That first impression is very important if a player is going to change brands or just play the bonus and leave. It must be a good product, and that’s not always the case.”

Factors to consider: Localisation in new markets

Although it depends very much on the market, Leadstar Media has seen what they call ‘bonus bait’ play a significant role in early acquisition numbers. However, Ljunggren says the team have also seen many brands in different markets launch with an attractive bonus and get new players, only to leave the market soon after.

“For long-term success it’s not enough to have short-term wins. In a competitive landscape only a good product will prevail.”

That is why Leadstar Media believes localisation is paramount when launching in a new market. Within this, companies should be looking to adapt their product to meet specific regional needs, compliance requirements, preferences and cultural nuances.

For Ljunggren, localisation goes beyond simply translating the content into the local language. It includes tailoring the user experience, payment methods, customer support and even game offerings to cater to the unique characteristics of the market.

“A good product might differ from market to market,” he says. “I don’t think you can expect that what worked in Canada is necessarily going to work when you launch in the Netherlands.

“You can’t just launch and expect things to magically work out. Localisation is important, and then you have player preferences that might differ as well. I think there’s room for more brands if they’re doing a good job on this.”

By localising the product, operators can create a more personalised and relatable experience for players, helping to build trust and, ultimately, engagement.

“Localisation is important. Don’t copy what everyone else is doing, otherwise there’s no point in players sticking with you after the initial bonus.”

A successful launch with LeoVegas

After strategising its move into the Dutch market, Leadstar Media announced its partnership with LeoVegas in the Netherlands in October 2023.

The launch came after LeoVegas secured a new licence in the country in July through its LeoVegas gaming business. Issued by national regulator Kansspelautoriteit (KSA), the five-year licence covers casino, live casino and sports wagering activities. 

Ljunggren says that since this launch, LeoVegas and Leadstar Media have continued going from strength to strength.

“LeoVegas stands out in terms of the clicks it attracts on our site MyBookmakers.nl. This is expected when a new brand launches in a regulated market but is still very impressive. Before the launch, the most clicked brand on the page had 27% during the preceding period, and after launching, LeoVegas got 54% click share in the first week.

“The overall conversion rate on our site has almost doubled since LeoVegas launched, which shows many users are coming to our site looking for new brands.”

Though this early success is welcome news to the Leadstar Media team, Ljunggren cautions that it is likely there will be a slight drop on click-share as the novelty factor decreases.

“When there’s a new brand with a new bonus people tend to prefer that platform. Otherwise, it’s not really the established brands that attract the most clicks, it’s a good spread across newer, established and relaunched brands that’s been active pre-regulation.”

Upwards trajectory for the Netherlands

With early successes in the Netherlands under its belt, Leadstar Media is looking to further grow its presence in the market. With this strategy in mind, Ljunggren is wary of potentially more stringent gaming regulations coming into play, though he doesn’t believe this will deter anyone from entering or staying in the market.

“The market is still fairly small, so there are a lot of opportunities to retain players. Regulations can limit the ability to both acquire and retain customers at a good rate, but I don’t believe the Netherlands will see a drop-off in companies looking to enter, instead I believe it will continue to grow.”

With this in mind, those looking to penetrate this lucrative market should focus on one thing and one thing only – their product. For Ljunggren, the success is in the hands of the product.

“Launching a product without considering localisation and understanding the unique preferences of the target audience is not a reliable approach. Success requires adapting to local nuances, and brands have the opportunity to thrive if they excel in these aspects.”

Jacob Ljunggren is director of operations at Leadstar Media. Having spent the past five years in various roles in the company, Jacob now leads the product department. In his role Jacob is responsible for the development and strategy for all Leadstar Media products, including over 50 brands in 30+ markets.

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