Ladbrokes CMO Fahy Places His Bets On Customers

“We have to serve customers in the way they want,” says Kristof Fahy, who oversees marketing for one of the biggest U.K. betting and gaming companies.

Ladbrokes CMO Fahy Places His Bets On Customers

Ladbrokes is a business rich in customer data. As it puts in place its customer-centric marketing strategy, the challenge lies in creating an effective way of working across structures.

Ladbrokes is one of the biggest players in U.K. betting and gaming, a market predicted to be worth £9 billion this year. The U.K. betting market is also seen as one of the most advanced in the world, due to its size and the way it has embraced online channels, which, according to U.K. Gambling Commission figures, accounted for 17% of the market in 2015.

Kristof Fahy joined Ladbrokes as chief marketing officer at the beginning of the year from the U.K. publisher Telegraph Media Group. Before that he spent five years as CMO at William Hill, another of the U.K.’s betting giants.

It’s a time of change for Ladbrokes. Its ambitious plan to merge with rival Gala and create the U.K.’s biggest betting and gaming firm is awaiting regulatory approval. At the same time, the business is moving away from a channel-led marketing strategy to one that puts the customer first. Fahy spoke to recently, and we started by discussing that move.

Fahy: I’m very keen on putting the customer at the centre of the business and then working out the best way to get our promotions and offers to that customer, rather than going: is it a retail experience, is it mobile, is it desktop? No customer wakes up and decides they want a mobile experience, and then thinks, I must have a retail experience, and then I must go home and have a desktop experience. Customers don’t think like that, so why do we? How far are you down that route?

Fahy: I’d give us an eight out of 10. We’ve got over 2,000 shops, so we have a very strong retail marketing team, and strong digital business with a very strong digital marketing team. As a business, we’re committed to making retail and digital work together brilliantly because that’s our opportunity. What we’re really pushing at the moment is getting our planning right; what are we trying to do, when are we trying to do it, and then working out the best route to the customer.

Then we can work out the best way to bring it all together. We already make it super-easy for our customers to walk into a shop and top up their online account or to bet on their mobile and collect their winnings in cash from the nearest shop. But we want to keep making it better. How is the marketing department set up?

Fahy: We have a U.K. marketing team and also one based in Israel. The reason for that is we have a services agreement with Playtech, one of the world’s biggest gaming companies. As part of that agreement, we have a dedicated Ladbrokes Israel online marketing team in Tel Aviv. They do everything, from our affiliate marketing to PPC, SEO, and some elements of CRM, particularly around gaming. Talking about how you’re bringing channels together, how do you encourage people in the individual channels to see themselves as part of a larger whole, rather than worry that some other channel is going to cannibalise their business?

Fahy: The team at Ladbrokes has done a very good job of pushing those concerns away and getting all our staff focused on the fact that we want the customer to bet with us, however they decide to do it.

Our retail teams have absolutely embraced that. They see the power of having something interesting to talk to customers about—how you can top up, how you can collect your winnings in cash. Retail is constantly getting knocked as a dying channel, yet we’re very happy with our 2,000 shops. How much of this is technology and how much is culture?

Fahy: It’s both. The cultural thing is ensuring that everyone understands customers are at the centre, and, therefore, we have to serve them in the way they want. To do that, we need really smart technology.

As a sector, betting and gaming is investing huge amounts in technology because we want to pull these things together. For us, we’ve had to overinvest to a certain extent, because we’ve got this huge retail arm, and that means staff, and tills, and shops, which, in turn, means education, training, and technology to deliver a seamless experience across all channels. How important is the idea that the customer experience is the brand?

Fahy: It’s so important. The amount of customer data we have at Ladbrokes has been quite an eye-opener for me, both from a transactional level—as in what people are betting on now—but also from the number of surveys we’ve done and customer panels we have. I sit on our executive committee, and I keep raising how we use that data in the centre of our conversation.

We talk about numbers, we talk about revenue, we talk about P&L. We should then be talking about customer experience. At the moment, I would say that we’re not. We have a very strong customer panel, and they are constantly telling us the things that make them happy and grumpy. We’ve got to focus on moving the grumpy things to the happy things and then fixing the next set of grumpy things. The other thing that’s interesting around data is the development of personalisation.

Fahy: As a business, we know our customers so well and we know exactly what they’re betting on. Often we’ll know what their favourite football team is, their favourite trainer, their favourite horse, their favourite course, and all those things. So our level of personalisation is something we have to focus on. It’s part of our road map, as it would be part of anyone’s. With the amount of real-time customer transactions we have, we should be able to turn it into something incredibly powerful. You know so much about the customers, but are they receptive to this level of personalisation or is there a risk they will feel you are spying on them?

Fahy: If you get it right, it should feel seamless and brilliant. Spying is a strong word, but if you get it wrong, it could certainly feel clunky and like: “Are you closing down my options because you think you know me so well?” For example, what football team do you support? Luton Town.

Fahy: So let’s say when you come on our site we only give you prices on Luton. You might be interested in something else as well. If we haven’t got that right, then it’s going to look like we’ve got a one-dimensional view of you. One of the things that’s becoming more important is how businesses approach innovation. We’ve talked about your Tel Aviv operation; what else do you do?

Fahy: What I love about our business is the number of different people working in it. We’ve got people who have worked at Ladbrokes for 30 years and there is nothing they don’t know about the world of betting. Then we’ve got people coming in from new sectors, who have new ideas, and we have everything in between. As with all good businesses, we don’t lack ideas. We’ve got loads of them, but it’s a question of which ones we back, that’s the first piece.

The second thing is we have a partnership with Chelsea Apps Factory; they are our innovation lab. They’re a separate company, but they’re in our building about one day a week. They challenge us on everything, from our customer experience to the products we should have. They’ve developed some products and helped us to develop some, or they work with our partners to develop them.

Some people bring innovation in-house, some people set up a separate unit. We’ve almost created a hybrid between the two. It’s great, because those guys are part of our business, but they have that independence to challenge us and push us, and have different views because they are not dealing with the day-to-day. They’re looking at the competition, they’re going “that’s interesting, that’s not interesting,” they are constantly testing and learning. It’s interesting you saying you’ve got this mixture of skills. What are your recruitment and training issues as you adopt this customer-centric way of looking at the world?

Fahy: I want bright and curious people around me. In my team, at the moment, I’ve got everyone from data scientists to designers.

I’m starting to look at training, because I want everyone to have an understanding of the power of data. I don’t expect them all to be data scientists, but I have the Business Intelligence team within marketing, and we are moving them to sit with the rest of the marketing team. I want people to see the power of what they do, because some of the stuff they produce is amazing. That instant analysis that tells you whether this product or that promotion is working. We can tell very quickly, and I want people to understand how we could harness that real-time BI effectively, to make decisions about marketing, or communications, or offers.

Some of the training I’m looking at doing would just be to get teams to understand what other teams around them actually do and think about how they can use that in their daily lives.

I want us to work across structures. We have a number of different CRM teams at Ladbrokes, partly historically, and partly because there are different products and different approaches to how you manage customers within those products. However, on a bad day, sometimes we weren’t making some basic connections between customers, so you could potentially get “over-CRMed,” for want of a better term.

So, I’ve said, let’s look at it the other way. You’re a customer and you get over-CRMed by us, it’s just going to annoy you. We’ve set up a really smart group with the best people in all the teams to work together, and they are smashing through issue by issue. They put the customer in the centre and think about him or her, they work out the customer contact rules that are going to ensure that customer stays with us and likes us, rather than we annoy him and he leaves.

When you put it that simply, it really focuses the mind. You start to see some very quick, small, but good changes in the right directions—people starting to work together that maybe hadn’t before because they hadn’t made the connection. That’s what marketing can do at its very best. Just get teams pointing in the right direction, and enable them to get on with it. Sermon over.