Industry leaders, Leadstar Media, put the future of the industry at the forefront of their strategy. Ian Rutherford, their team leader, talks to iGB about the importance of trust in gambling and the pitfalls of Europe's neighbours across the pond.
Trust in the gambling industry has always been a hot topic – with operators and regulators experiencing a classic love/hate relationship over licensing rights, compliance, and sustainability on a global scale.
In recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that those who are hitting the dizzying heights of customer retention are putting trust first, with gambling veterans like Paddy Power and Bet 365 leading the way. With the risk of driving the industry underground, integrity and security are no longer simply attractive USP’s, but necessities in order to keep the industry compliant.
Rutherford says that at Leadstar Media “the importance of communicating a sense of trust and safety to our customers is recognised as a key pillar to our success across all of our different products, in all 30+ geographical markets we are currently operating in”.
Understanding why trust in operators is important
The industry leaders understood that there were pain points around trust and wanted to learn more about what this meant for consumers’ decisions around online betting. After conducting a survey asking whether online sports betting should be legalised in the US, maybe somewhat surprisingly, 57% voted yes.
But that wasn’t the pinnacle finding of the survey – trust came out on top as the most important factor in choosing an operator with 39% prioritising that over any other aspect.
How does the operator ensure they are actually gaining the trust of their customers?
Leadstar Media believes it is a priority to be upfront and direct with customers in a way that builds trust in their brand as well as those they work with. “We believe we excel at generating credibility with our consumers by clearly stating to them that we only feature licensed and legal operators on our website in as many instances as possible.”
The survey also found that only 37% of people would be able to identify a licensed sportsbook. This poses the question, do affiliates and operators need to do more to highlight their credentials to the customer in order to build trust, and if so, where does this sit in brand marketing?
Instilling trust through marketing and product offering
With competition in the gambling industry rife, it’s more essential than ever to stand out from the crowd when it comes to player transparency. Achieving this can prove difficult, especially with such a spotlight on compliance and new regulations coming into effect, and that’s why companies have to find new initiatives to help show the customer what they want to see. The outcome? Outsmarting your competition by retaining customers that would have fled to “the other side”.
Rutherford adds, “We have established that being able to convey a sense of trustworthiness in our brand, as well as the various gambling brands that we work in tandem with, is essential in terms of customer acquisition and retention when operating here in the United States.”
However, as with most things that are directly tied to people’s personal finances, such as banking and insurance, the US market tends to tread very carefully, and the online gambling sector is no exception.
Rutherford recognises this: “It’s imperative that we, in the industry, take note of the changes to customers’ focus and implement this ideology into our strategy moving forward.”
It’s no shock that historically, player safety and integrity were once believed to go against businesses’ commercial advantages. Clearly, companies like Leadstar Media are starting to recognise that these buzzwords are now the key to success. While a fair share of companies use marketing to build trust around player safety, Leadstar Media has a focus on showing this more through their product offering.
“We don’t consider marketing to be our primary method of developing a trustworthy image. Rather, we achieve success by providing the best products for our users, working with only licensed and legal operators, and clearly conveying and showing these ideals inside our products.
I think that operators and us as their affiliates do hold a great responsibility to clearly communicate to the general public which operators are legal and safe. We also believe that it is important for us to hold a light up to the unregulated offshore operators that put people in jeopardising and risk-ridden situations”.
The correlation between trust and market maturity
Rutherford makes a valid point, much the same as when consumers head into a supermarket, they tend to pick a brand that they fundamentally trust. How do they decide on these? By looking out for trustworthy sources which could be a “stamp of approval” from a governing food body, for example. In this case, affiliate sites such as Unitedgamblers.com instantly instil a feeling of trust in the customer because it is marketed, and therefore recognised, as a trustworthy brand.
As Rutherford regards, “At the end of the day, we are essentially vouching for the legitimacy of the operator by having them on our website.”
With all the data points backing up the importance of building a customer’s trust and how that directly leads to higher customer retention, why is it that some markets are still falling behind the curve?
Take the US as a prime example, there are still a vast amount of non-licensed brands displayed on various affiliate sites. This poses the question, is the importance of trust a sign of an immature market?
“The importance of trust, among other various factors, is most definitely a major indicator that we are still working with an immature and evolving market. This early market period is critical for both the betting operators and us as their affiliates to determine what is most valued by potential customers, and most crucially, what we as significant participants in this industry need to convey to our customers to satisfy their values.”
However, when an affiliate site that works with unlicensed operators highlights offshore books as viable options, that creates a confusing situation for customers and undermines some of the work that companies like Leadstar Media do.
Rutherford continues: “The best approach for us to overcome this is to stick to our mission of providing high-quality products to our users that offer them the best answer to their queries while informing them of the legal landscape at the same time.
We believe that if we listen to our customers and design our products to satisfy their needs better than our competition, we will be able to succeed in our company mission as well as to help the industry mature as a whole.”
Offline vs online presence
It’s safe to say that users want full transparency when gambling, not only when it comes to odds but from start to finish in the playing journey.
Rutherford believes that this stems from an offline presence being a key component for establishing trust in an online brand, especially for the operators themselves. “Having a strictly online presence enables some brands to hide behind the veil, so to speak. However, to have a strong presence in the offline world generally requires some kind of partnership with another entity or brand, and with that comes a great deal of trust with whomever a brand is collaborating.”
For example, big brands like DraftKings Sportsbook have their logo wrapping multiple major league baseball teams’ stadiums, and Rutherford emphasises how big brands doing this automatically instils a sense of trust – a trust which fuels affiliates.
“By piggy-backing off another entity’s established trustworthiness in the offline world, operators and affiliate sites can both enhance their own trustworthiness simply by affiliating themselves with recognised and respected brands.”
What does the future look like for affiliates?
At Leadstar Media, Rutherford says that going forward their mission is the same, and it’s up to other companies to follow suit.
“We will always provide our users with the best products on the market while maintaining full transparency and doing everything we can to educate our users about the importance of using licensed operators, as well as how to spot and stay away from unlicensed operators.
“We are greatly encouraged by the early success we have already seen in the US market and are excited to build off that momentum.”
Ian Rutherford is a US website manager at Leadstar Media – a Stockholm-based affiliate. He has become a significant member of the company’s US team, utilising his sports betting experience. He is also extensively involved in the company’s entry into the Canadian market.