Few cities have transformed as rapidly as Macau over the past 20 years. This once quaint backwater fishing village surpassed Vegas in 2006 to become the world’s most lucrative gaming capital and is today one of the most visited destinations in Asia.
But putting Macau on the map and transforming its fortunes has taken more than just a handful of kitsch casinos. Marketing has and continues to be the driving force behind the making of the new Macau.
“Everyone knows that we have gaming in Macau, but we focus all our marketing efforts on the non-gaming side which is critical to us too,” says Ruth Boston, senior vice president, marketing and brand management at Sands Resorts Macao. “I think we still need to get the message across that Macau has a lot to offer as a destination.”
Getting that message across is no small task. Boston oversees nearly 200 staff across multiple departments, including 12 separate marketing teams, who work on leading properties such as The Venetian, The Parisian and Sands Cotai Central. They focus purely on non-gaming marketing – selling the destination, experiences, packages, hotels, retail and entertainment.
“Counting all seven hotels, if you walk around our building we have around 6,000 assets,” says Boston. “We have very large in-house visual media and brand teams producing internal content which allows us to be nimble and get content out quickly. This content is for our video screens, giant wall banners, buses, Cotai ferries, websites etc. It’s only the large integrated campaigns, running across multiple channels, that go to the agencies.”
Recently, a major brand campaign entitled “Sands Golden Chefs” to promote the range and quality of dining available across its restaurants was produced by leading creative agency Saatchi & Saatchi Shanghai. The four-minute micro movie, which parodies classic kung fu movies such as “18 Bronzemen” and “God of Cookery”, is a light-hearted take drawing comparisons between the highly-honed skills required for both martial and culinary arts.
“For the larger campaigns we spend resources looking for great creative ideas,” says Boston. “Saatchi and Saatchi do an excellent job for us as they understand our brand and who we are.” But while Boston says her team has been very fortunate to have a fairly consistent marketing budget over the last few years, they are no longer spending on TVCs. “We haven’t booked television for a couple of years,” says Boston. “We tend to use online channels as that’s how people are seeing their media now. For example, the Sands Golden Chefs micro-movie that we’ve recently produced is being cut into multiple 15-second videos that we’re pushing out on our e-commerce platforms.”
Jit Hoong Ng, assistant senior vice president for resort marketing at Macau’s Galaxy Entertainment Group, agrees. “Customers no longer get excited over a big TVC. To be an attractive resort destination, great content takes priority and social platforms have become the main channels to communicate them.”
Ng and his fairly substantial creative team at Galaxy produce the majority of their campaigns in-house. Utilising the power of social media platforms, a few years ago Ng’s team launched a series of how-to videos called ‘One Minute Recipe’. The videos demonstrated how to make some of the iconic and signature dishes that are sold at Galaxy’s 120 restaurants. “We wanted to create a campaign that can be totally interesting to our guests while driving them to our various restaurants.” Says Ng. “The videos were a viral hit and they made people stop and watch. Also, it promoted our restaurants in a softer way.”
While digital and social platforms now get the lion’s share of the marketing spend, for Boston and her team at Sands it’s also very much dependent on where they are marketing. “China is very digital centric. Hong Kong is also an important market which is a mixture of digital, print and outdoor advertising. We also do marketing in Korea, Japan, India, Taiwan, and the US. So depending on the market it will have a different balance in terms of what makes sense.”
Driving hotel occupancy and filling the 13,000 hotel rooms under Sands Resorts Macao, night after night, is also a key priority for Boston and her team. “To make sure the hotels are staying full and we’re maximising our occupancy, we’re not just relying on pretty campaigns,” says Boston. “We’re doing a lot of grassroots advertising at the local market level where we have teams working with travel agents to make sure that our travel partners are doing campaigns and talking to customers.” Working with over 2,000 travel agents, Boston says her destination marketing teams produce numerous videos, consumer brochures, and a few thousand posters every season that are shipped all over the region. “These are things that you wouldn’t necessarily see, but they’re critical to our business because we know that so much of it is still about destination awareness.”
Finding great partners to work with has also been crucial for destination awareness and the overall success of hotels like The Venetian which, 12 years after opening in 2007, still gets the most visitors per day of any resort in Macau. Hosting major awards events like the Bollywood Film Awards, the Asian Film Awards, and the China Music Awards has been a hugely successful profile-boosting strategy.
Before hosting the Bollywood awards in 2009, The Venetian had virtually no Indian market at all. “The awards were in June of 2009 and by that September we followed up with one promotional roadshow in India and it just opened the floodgates,” says Boston. “India is now in our top six markets. It still continues to perform well and that’s why we opened our Indian restaurant, The Golden Peacock, at The Venetian because there was a need to cater to demand from a huge uptick in Indian visitors.”
Strategic brand partnerships have also proven to be a win-win for other hotels in Macau. Cheryl Lum, director of marketing for Sheraton Grand Macao and St. Regis Macao partnered with local creative start-up enterprise, Macau Creations, for a campaign designed to position Sheraton Grand Macao as the leisure accommodation of choice for younger travellers and families.
“Macau Creations illustrated a special version of their popular character ‘Soda Panda’ for us,” says Lum. The package combined a stay and other hotel experiences with a Sheraton Soda Panda shopping bag, and limited edition almond cookies and became one of the hotel’s most successful campaigns to date in terms of ROI. The campaign went on to win the brand marketing team of the year award for Greater China at the Marriott Elite Awards in Shanghai recently.
“Macau Creations were good partners for us,” says Lum. “I wouldn’t say that visitors would stay with us because they want to have a particular merchandise, but I think it helps to create a buzz through being something that is creative and signature that’s uniquely from us.”
Similarly, for Four Seasons Macao constructive and strategic partnerships have proved vital. “As a brand we tend to eschew loud advertising, so we’re very keen on doing partnerships that enable us to leverage and explore each other’s clientele and brand exposure together,” says Juliana Kung, director of public relations.
An example Kung gives is an event they held recently for International Women’s Day where Four Seasons Macao partnered with athleisure garment brand Lululemon. “We did an internal pilates class with them and they invited their VIPs and we invited our spa clientele,” says Kung. “The event tested the waters and it turned out great as we were able to tap into each other’s clientele. So we’re always on the lookout for opportunities like that.”
Meanwhile, in such a crowded and competitive Asian market, how does one promote luxury hotels in a way that cuts through? “To stand out in the market, a hotel needs to showcase its unique selling point,” says Ng. "For example, under the roof of Galaxy Macau, we have The Ritz-Carlton Macau which is well-known for its ‘ladies and gentlemen philosophy’, the service there makes you feel like a lady or gentlemen. We also have Banyan Tree which is famous for its Spa and relaxing yet luxury environment.”
But while Ng says there are no fast rules for promoting luxury hotels in Asia, he believes that sometimes less is more. “It’s easy to do too much, become too eager and be seen as a brand that tries too hard.”
For Boston, she believes it’s sometimes the simple things that are most effective. “Last Christmas at The Parisian hotel we had nowhere to put a Christmas tree up the right way and so we decided to hang it upside down from the ceiling. It was a great marketing campaign because it looked stunning and everybody came to see the upside down Christmas tree. We didn’t run a campaign around it, but it worked amazingly well organically on social media.”
Overall, the consensus is that creating and promoting unique experiences is what stands out and what people remember you for. “It’s all about crafting experiences for visitors as that’s what the traveller is looking for now,” says Boston. “They want to have that WeChat moment – there’s got to be something to photograph, something to talk about. They are really looking for experiences now.”