Marketing Lessons from the Las Vegas Strip – A Q&A With Ryan Thompson
Noble’s Chief Creative Officer and Managing Director B.C. LeDoux sat down with Ryan Thompson, the former SVP of Global Hospitality Marketing at Caesars Entertainment Corporation, to discuss building a strong digital brand strategy and what lessons he’s taking with him in his new role as chief marketing officer at Blue Heron.
You spent part of your career focused on online marketing, and you’ve been in charge of bringing big brands to life. How has building a brand changed in this increasingly digital noisy marketing world?
Brands must listen. They have inputs from their customers on a regular recurring basis. This two-way conversation and ability for the customer to interact across a multitude of touchpoints changed the landscape. Brands that have a well-defined focus on their purpose and the reason for existence tend to have a leg up in the digital space. Spending the time to ensure your voice is defined is valuable, but also understanding that your advocates and detractors have a voice in how your brand is represented in the marketplace is paramount.
It is also important to keep consistency in messaging from a brand standpoint across channels (media, social, email, etc.), but modify to fit the channel you are communicating through. The digital space is very saturated and noisy from an ad perspective. However, the platforms that exist today for brands to develop a voice and content provide opportunities to build narratives that can entertain customer segments with on-demand consumption and engagement.
How do you see the future of brand building in the digital world?
The future is about understanding how to thoughtfully communicate the difference the organization and brand provide to customers, building audiences effectively, and translating the creation of a reason to believe in the brand through all digital interaction points. This means continuing to engage with customers throughout their digital journey and beyond the purchase cycle. Digital allows brands to always be connected, so a database, the brand’s social currency, customer feedback loops, the shareability of content and tone across channels will continue to be a high priority. Along with the fact that mobility, geo-targeting, personalization and segmentation will only continue to improve.
Is there still room for creativity in the digital world in your view? If so, how can CMOs look beyond the immediacy of their next board meeting and have the patience to apply creativity to their marketing pursuits?
Absolutely there is space for creativity in digital. It doesn’t start there though. It starts with humans and emotion. Making another person feel something, in any medium, is what is powerful. There will always be pressure to get the business to perform quarter to quarter. So, it is the CMO’s job to create a vision backed by a thoughtful plan and shared agenda with constituents beyond the next board meeting. This is about creating belief and trust in that vision for the employees, suppliers, shareholders, and ultimately the customers. The real differentiation in a landscape that lacks patience due to the always-on and always-connected environment is simplification in strategy.
Focus the strategy on 3-5 key areas, then allow it room to breathe. Marketers need to test and learn. This is innate to human nature and how we all find success – usually through failure first. You cannot be everything to everyone nor do we have the time. Creativity needs breathing room. It needs time to ferment. To go for a walk. Some of my best creative ideas come when I’m not focused on trying to solve the problem. Rather by allowing for the space to let my mind wander while my subconscious does the heavy lifting. Disconnecting allows for the idea to build and ultimately create that connection you want with your customer. Leaders need to have the confidence and courage to build the whitespace and trust to develop something that will truly create a connection.
You were in charge of a world-wide brand fighting for mindshare in Las Vegas, one of the most competitive markets in the world. How did you guys continue to stand out?
For me, it was about creating programs and experiences that would be unique and memorable. Unique in the sense that it had not been done before or represented the brand in a way that was truly different. In a commoditized landscape, you stand out by leaning into those differentiators that will make a customer choose you. We all offer very similar things in Vegas. Big boxes with machines, food, and experiences. I focused on tapping into the fun that the Caesars Palace brand represented with the #LikeACaesar campaign by bringing to life things that only Caesars could own like the re-enactment of the Evel Knievel jump with Travis Pastrana. And, by looking for unique trends that could help to continue to differentiate us such as Vanderpump Cocktail Garden.
These are just a few examples of areas where you look to carve out something special that has both a built-in audience and opportunity for interest from key markets. Some is originality, and the other part is being smart about how you can incentivize behavior. Meaning that we utilize data in a sophisticated way to create an action such as a booking, reservation or purchase. We were very good at this because we spent the time to analyze and know our customers.
We believe in personalized experiences IF they’re valuable to consumers. Without value, they become intrusive and/or creepy. Having worked for one of the pioneers of personalized experiences in Caesars Entertainment, how do you view them? What’s the future of personalized experiences going to bring?
Agree with you here. They need to add value to the journey. Email is a great medium for personalization along with a branded site experience. The value comes from a well-defined plan around both segmentation and the user experience we aim to provide the guest. If it enhances decision making, improves conversion and provides a customized experience, it can be powerful.
On the media side, our focus was on building messages that were relatable and relevant to the audience segments we built. Again, this is a test and learn environment. There is still a lot to come in this space and obviously retargeting is a huge medium for this especially in retail and e-commerce. The future will allow for brands to better service customer needs in a way that is tailored to interests. Hopefully, this reduces waste in spend and time while providing a benefit back to the customer.
You were part of the team who broke the seal on the NFL partnering with gaming brands. What is the power and potential of high-powered partnerships in the digital world?
I’ll keep this simple. It is about access to a loyal and strong fanbase in this case. Overall partnerships have massive benefits in providing shared interests and data sets that can intertwine. This provides unique value to the customer because it provides a platform for new offerings and experiences that can be leveraged in digital through content, new products, and services.
How do you see the Las Vegas market continuing to change from a marketing perspective with the sports entertainment industry growing and the overall diversification of the city?
First, the city is growing with the local market which helps to bring in new businesses and industry. This will continue to support with recruiting and staffing in our industry. Second, the entire makeup of the city changes on game days and show days which has major economic benefits downstream.
The Knights created a unique game experience and had a winning team immediately that developed a loyal local fanbase and added power to get additional trips out of major feeder markets from the competitor fan bases. The Raiders and the NFL will change the landscape again. On game day weekends, the demand in this city will be insane, not to mention all the ancillary benefits that many businesses will reap. It helps to continue to legitimize Vegas beyond just a destination known as Sin City and rather an opportunistic market beyond the Strip.
You are moving from the world of hospitality in hotels/casino to high-end custom home building. What lessons will you take with you?
So many. Caesars taught me how to be a highly effective marketer, how to develop shared agendas with operations, how to work through others and build successful teams as a leader of a large organization. I like to say that I earned my MBA at Caesars without losing my creative sensibility I honed while working in the agency world. I worked with some amazingly talented and smart colleagues that I learned from every day. I was challenged to perform at a very high level. Marketing is the voice of the customer and transcends all functional areas of the business and I had the opportunity to work across all disciplines.
We dealt with a massive number of customers and partners in a highly complex business which has set me up with a great platform to focus on the next phase. The gaming industry has always been at the forefront of service in the VIP and high-end customer space which will translate nicely with our customer sets at Blue Heron.
You’ve been on the agency and client-side. What advice do you have for agencies working with brands in 2019 and beyond?
Listen to your customers. It’s about them not you. Push boundaries and help your clients be better at everything they are focused on achieving. Be patient and empathetic to the brand’s needs. Be honest and help to represent the truth in the marketplace. Educate and find the courage to help your clients see things through a different lens. Provide real value and it will return itself tenfold. Spend the time to develop deep relationships – it makes the hard conversations easier.
On the flip side, what advice do you have for brands working with agencies?
Let them in! Knowledge is power and that transfer needs to take place. It’s time-consuming but worthwhile. Relationships take work – so work at it and do something amazing together. Show appreciation and recognition. Listen and assume positive intent.
What is the most important thing for marketers to remember as they are trying to keep up, innovate and stay ahead of the competition and change curve at the same time?
Stay curious. Focus on continual self-improvement in all areas of your life. Enjoy the journey, you can learn from everything and everyone. Don’t be scared to stand out and fail. Just make sure you learn and apply.
Anything else on your mind as far as digital marketing or marketing overall goes?
Network. Laugh. Learn. Influence. Inspire.
Ryan is a passionate entrepreneurial executive leader and creative strategist that builds successful teams focused on vision, purpose and results. He is currently the Chief Marketing Officer for Blue Heron, an award-winning modern design and build firm specializing in custom homes and boutique communities headquartered in Las Vegas, Nevada.
His experience spans 15 plus years including award-winning and globally recognized advertising agencies and global brands across the hospitality, technology, retail, luxury, financial services, and insurance categories. Most recently, Thompson served as the Senior Vice President of Global Hospitality Marketing with Caesars Entertainment and spent six years as part of the senior leadership team at both the property and corporate level. During his tenure, he was an integral part of the team’s success in the Las Vegas region, which included nine properties, with a focus on effective brand campaigns, award-winning restaurant concepts, experiential events and activation’s, as well as the global development and launch of the Caesars Palace brand internationally. He is now focused on the next phase of growth for Blue Heron.
He is an outdoor enthusiast who lives and plays in Las Vegas, Nevada with his wife and daughter while also finding time to escape to his hometown of San Diego to surf, visit family, and support the Padres.