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March 25, 2019

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Q&A: Scott Voeller

voeller

Jeff O'Brien

Scott Voeller, vice president of brand strategy and advertising for MGM Resorts International, is developing the company’s M Life.

The 31 million marketable names in MGM Resorts International’s customer database have, until now, been an underused resource.

Although MGM Resorts has long had a simple players’ loyalty club, executives have acknowledged it didn’t match competitor Caesars Entertainment Corp.’s much-awarded Total Rewards program.

That’s all changing. MGM Resorts last week rolled out in Las Vegas its upgraded M Life customer loyalty program

Plans to rework the old players’ club were announced in February when MGM Resorts said it engaged ESS Analysis, a Boston-based advanced analytics-focused consulting firm; and A.T. Kearney, a global management consulting firm, “to take customer database ‘mining’ capabilities to a new level and further enhance guest loyalty programs.”

Caesars Entertainment — formerly Harrah’s Entertainment — has 40 million members in Total Rewards, known for its personalized offers

based on gathering data about customer preferences. In some ways, Total Rewards is geared toward steering customers from Caesars’ vast network of regional casinos to its Las Vegas properties.

MGM Resorts, with just three casinos in Michigan and Mississippi, had to approach its new loyalty program differently. M Life needs to serve the needs of the frequent gamblers at its regional properties while providing benefits to the company’s less-frequent visitors to 12 of its Las Vegas properties.

M Life is launching in Las Vegas with extensive marketing support including a website, mobile applications, the company’s renamed guest magazine, M life, billboards, gift cards, credit cards, sweepstakes and a TV channel available in MGM Resorts rooms and on YouTube.

Besides the usual comps offered by players’ clubs, M Life hopes to differentiate itself by offering “Express Comps:” A player can see the dollar value of her comps on a slot machine and take her card directly to the buffet or box office to redeem those dollars for a meal or show — bypassing the players’ club booth.

M Life also offers “M Life Moments” for experiences that can’t be purchased, but are available for M Life members; “POINTPlay,” in which points can be redeemed for play on machines; and out-of-market deals with partners so M Life members can capitalize on their memberships in their hometowns — and the partners can send their customers to MGM Resorts properties in Las Vegas.

For instance, MGM is finalizing a deal with Los Angeles-based hotel, restaurant and nightclub company SBE that will allow M Life members to redeem rewards at MGM properties based on spending at select SBE venues, and vice versa.

The arrangement also would recognize MGM rewards club members at SBE venues, entitling them to nightclub perks, etc.

MGM Resorts’ insiders call M Life part of a cultural change at the company, an initiative to wring tens of millions of dollars in additional profit out of existing resorts since no new ones will be built in the foreseeable future.

A key member of the team that launched M Life last year in regional markets, and last week in Las Vegas, is Scott Voeller, MGM Resorts vice president of brand strategy and advertising.

Before assuming that newly created position in February, Voeller was Mandalay Bay vice president of marketing, and earlier was with Luxor, Silver Legacy in Reno and advertising agency DRGM.

Voeller recently spoke with In Business Las Vegas about M Life and its launch.

IBLV: How does M Life differ from the previous players’ club

Voeller: It’s much more transparent and much simpler and more engaging.

We’ve gone from a single card to a four-card tier system. The more you play, the higher you go and the more benefits you’re going to receive.

The second big feature is Express Comps, the ability to comp yourself. We’ve made it much simpler for members. You’ve got a bank of express comps, you can take that down to food and beverage, or the box office, or the front desk, and take advantage of those comps.

The beauty of this is it’s expressed in dollars, not points. You don’t have to sit there and say how “many points do I have to do X, Y and Z?”

One thing that stays the same is called “POINTPlay,” which is the ability to put your points back into the machine for more play.

In the past table-game players were treated separately. Table-game players now earn Express Comps as well. It’s based on their average bet and length of play.

A big benefit is the Mlife.com website. We have completely redesigned the website. With your login and password, we can serve up offers on a dashboard — based on properties you’ve visited and what you qualify for. You can book those online.

In parallel with this launch has been a whole lot of back-end analytics and new programs put in place to help us understand you better so we’re delivering a much more customized and personalized experience.

If you’re not into opera, why would we send you an Andrea Bocelli offer? Today there’s a lot of mass marketing and mass e-mails assuming everyone has the same preferences, and they don’t. We’ve been able to do some very sophisticated analytics, including predictive analytics, to determine what offers you’re likely to respond to.

We have something that really sets us apart. MGM Resorts has, we think, the best assets in town and some of the unique experiences, so we’ve coined a phrase called “M Life Moments.” We have these special experiences that in many cases you can’t buy. But as an M Life member if I want to take my Express Comps I can obtain some of those moments. There are about 36 moments that have been developed across all of our brands. Program the music at the Bellagio Fountains, for example.

Is the idea for MGM Resorts to gain a larger share of each visitor’s gaming and nongaming budget — to keep them from walking across the street to Caesars Palace for instance?

Most people come in to the marketplace with a pretty set number that they’re going to spend. The main objective is to get them to spend as much of that wallet that they’re bringing as possible within the MGM Resorts family.

The market has not grown the past few years because of economic conditions. You need to maximize your share within the market. We can’t rely on that same customer we’ve always had.

M Life makes it possible for our customers to move about seamlessly among our 12 properties here.

That doesn’t sound overly unique, but the reality is one year ago as a company that’s not really what our marketing philosophy was. We were very much individual-brand oriented.

The individual brands, the Bellagios, the Mirages, the Mandalays, the Circus Circuses, the Excaliburs, are still the most important to us. M Life is really a linkage brand, it’s not meant to overshadow them.

What it means is if I’m staying at MGM Grand and want to see “Love,” I’ll take my card over to the Mirage and swipe it and get my tickets.

We had to find a program where the regional (Detroit and Mississippi) and the Vegas properties could have a program that was the same so it was easily understood and yet be sensitive to the regional needs. And the regional needs are a high frequency of gamer. Las Vegas is a bit more of a challenge. We don’t have a high frequency of gambler here, but we have a high volume of gamblers.

The regional markets launched M Life first?

We launched Beau Rivage (Mississippi) July 20 and Detroit and Gold Strike (Mississippi) on Aug. 24. We have seen increases in revenue on the gaming floor side and market share increases in our regional markets at levels we are pleased with.

In the regional markets has M Life increased the value of comps paid, or is it just distributing them in a smarter manner?

It has distributed them in a smarter way. Tier progression means people are playing more with you, and we’ve seen a more rapid progression in tier progression than we ever imagined. The comp is going up, it’s based on the value of that customer to you.

Do you expect the same thing in Las Vegas?

We believe the revenue will rise faster than the comp (expenditure) will rise.

Where it’s changing is the customers are getting a whole host of other benefits at a platinum tier or a gold tier that have nothing to do with comps. It has everything to do with access. I’m getting service benefits, which research tells us is almost as important as the comps — a line pass to the club, the opportunity to get tickets in advance.

Part of M Life will be M Life partners. Because of that lack of frequency (in visiting Las Vegas), we want to give people benefits when they get home.

How big of a challenge was it to launch this program and how did the company do it?

In Mississippi we found the players were so engaged because the employees were engaged.

For Las Vegas alone more than 1,800 signs and banners were created back of house to help educate the employees. Every single one of our just-under 60,000 employees had to go through a 35-minute online course. Depending on your area in the organization as you touch customers in the players’ club, you either had a two-hour course or an all-day training course. There was lab training and systems training.

It’s the most important thing that this company has ever done, other than building buildings.

It’s got to be the most effort that has ever been put forth on anything this company has ever done.

Was this driven by operating executives telling the chairman and CEO (Jim Murren) “here’s what we need to make this work,” or was it the CEO saying “this is important, make it work.”

It was probably more the latter. But it wasn’t just a matter of the CEO saying it, it’s something we’ve all known. The CEO didn’t have to do much convincing. It was a brilliant move on his part to name (longtime executive) Bill Hornbuckle chief marketing officer. This company a year and a half ago didn’t have a chief marketing officer. The reason he did that was to take the offensive in the marketing world. There are so many people that respect Bill, it didn’t take much to get people to jump on the train immediately and knowing what needed to be done.

From the chairman down, everybody knew what had to be done. Everyone knows how important this is to the future of our company, long-term.

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