Charlie Rowe, Head of Industry (igaming) at digital media specialist NMPi, talks exclusively to SBC Americas about expansion into the US and how it has provided a wealth of new opportunities there. He tempers his enthusiasm with a note of caution, however, that digital marketing companies must be aware of the regulations as they apply to each separate state.

SBCA: Can you give a brief overview of what NMPi does?

CR: NMPi is a global digital media agency, offering paid and organic media services, technology and creative to help support operators’ acquisition and retention strategies. It is part of Incubeta which is the union of three market leading specialists in Media, Technology, and Creative – NMPi, DQ&A, and Joystick respectively. By seamlessly integrating these three specialisms and rethinking the rules of marketing, Incubeta puts the ownership and control of the customer experience back in the hands of the advertiser. 

SBCA: You have successfully built and grown NMPi’s igaming offering in the UK. Have there been any key lessons that you have learnt doing this which you have been able to apply in the US?

CR: Part of the beauty of being a global business means that we can take key learnings from all of our markets and apply them strategically. The key lessons we’ve learnt and applied to the US come from the activity we have been running in Sweden – which, similar to a number of US States, had just re-regulated its market. 

When Sweden re-regulated its gambling market in January 2019 it paved the way for gaming operators to advertise across the Google Marketing Platform, by allowing them to apply to be white listed. 

It is a similar situation in the US with each state now able to legalize gambling on their own terms and regulate themselves. However, Google did not immediately look to capitalize on the rule changes, only launching its first beta in New Jersey in June last year. 

In contrast, Google will not allow gambling companies to advertise in so-called grey markets such as Canada and Finland, so re-regulation is a huge short and long-term opportunity for these new advertisers. 

Operators must, however, navigate the many extra restrictions Google puts on gambling advertisers meaning that any strategy is invariably complex. Paid search is the greatest immediate opportunity for operators, but brands must think ahead for long term success, as well as hitting the tight initial timelines. 

Having the right contacts at Google, a deep understanding of a complex product ecosystem and how best to deliver maximum performance informed by the campaigns we have run elsewhere in the world, allowed us to apply a methodology which quickly bred success within New Jersey, and further states.    

SBCA: Can you detail to SBC Americas readers some of the challenges that you have faced in the US market, and how have you overcome these?

CR: The scale and scope of the opportunity and challenges in the US is incomparable to other markets globally, although there are parallels we can draw. 

Some operators are being particularly aggressive in order to get a jump on the increasing number of brands entering the market, which naturally increases cost per acquisition (CPA) and cost per click (CPC).

It means that smaller advertisers without the financial clout of the big brands need to be smarter, particularly if they can’t afford to wait around for long term gains. 

Our approach was one of getting the fundamentals right. Take Google’s premium paid search platform SA360: one of the main upgrades you gain is the robustness of its Floodlight tags. With the ability to pull in multiple custom variables in the tags, advertisers and agencies can obtain a much more comprehensive view of what levels of performance have been driven from your campaigns. 

We recommend pulling in data such as which keywords drove what types of bet, and at what odds could better inform optimizations – both in search and across other channels. 

Tracking metrics like these beyond just simple First Time Deposit (FTD) data can give a great overview of the impact of campaigns on existing users, which can be tricky to do when you can’t separate new and existing users through audiences.

Other fundamentals include ensuring your account setup and tracking is working in order to build smarter, more efficient strategies, as well as bringing on board technologies to automate your campaigns. 

This greater visibility and control also allows you to test different channels and creative to find out what works best for your brand. 

This is easier said than done though, as platforms vary and it’s not a simple ‘setup and switch on’ process.    

SBCA: How can sports betting brands better market themselves to US punters?

CR: When investing in anything, it’s always best to get a wide spread on your portfolio. The same applies to digital marketing.

Obviously, a lot depends on the size of the brand and how widely recognised they are in any given state, but utilizing all channels that are available and having a consistent message across each of them – with a landing page that is consistent with that message – will allow for greater ease in your customer journey.

That’s just the start. There aren’t many industries with more depth of search interest into a brand’s products than in sports betting, and the nature and sentiment is constantly changing. 

With Google’s SA360 you can leverage your live feed of odds to build keywords out at scale across all your offers, including using the details and the pricing of the offer in your ad copy. To truly capitalize on the ever-changing levels of interest you can also include countdowns to kick-off/tip-off which can be leveraged in bidding strategies, allowing you to be there when interest is highest. 

Again, getting the fundamentals right first will allow you to then think outside the box when testing out more advanced digital marketing strategies, and utilizing feeds is an excellent tool when it comes to improving performance. 

SBCA: What are the key opportunities that you have identified in the US?

CR: Much of the attention has been on the legalization of sports betting within the US and how operators are getting ahead of their competition. But with the freedom to advertise any product set across Google (Search, UAC, Youtube, Display), will allow greater opportunities to be smarter when acquiring players, and also allow you to play to the strengths of your product more. 

Many operators focus on football, and rightly so, with the sport massively over-indexing against the others. But the season came to a close on Sunday (February 2) with the Super Bowl and is not set to kick off again until September – some seven months away. 

There are so many other opportunities for marketers, but I’d say the most immediate one is Google finally opening online casino and poker advertising across its platforms. 

Its updated gambling and games policy allows state-licensed online casinos in Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to run ads across its network as of December 2019. Enlightened operators in those states should be applying as soon as possible to get approved – if they have not done so already. Certification will only be granted when operators have complied with its specified standards and conditions. 

Those operators outside of the so-called “leniency zones” should watch with interest as there will likely be further state-wide changes in the coming months and years. It really is all to play for.