This is another in our series of video profiles with leaders from the casino affiliate industry.
Today’s interview is with Shahar Attias from Hybrid Interaction, who has led the iGaming industry as a consultant and senior executive for the world’s biggest iGaming brands.
This interview is about a topic that many affiliates should pay close attention to, the importance of player values, player lifetimes and retention.
Shahar discusses how all of these things can impact your earnings, and ultimately your success, as an iGaming affiliate.
Shahar Attias from Hybrid Interaction has led the iGaming industry as a consultant and senior executive for the world’s biggest iGaming brands. Shahar has impressive track record of revitalizing lapsed player databases, preventing player churn, and, most importantly, maximizing player lifetime values.
Warren: Hey everyone, it’s Warren Jolly with Casino Affiliate Programs, and welcome to another one of our video interviews, where we profile some of the most influential people in the iGaming industry. Today we have a different type of interview. We’re going to be speaking with Shahar Attias from Hybrid Interaction. Shahar has led the iGaming industry as a consultant and senior executive for the world’s biggest iGaming brands and has quite an impressive track record of revitalizing lapsed player databases, preventing player churn, and, most importantly, maximizing player lifetime values. The focus of today’s interview is going to be on a topic that many affiliates really don’t ever even think about, and that’s the importance of player values, player lifetimes, and retention, with regards to your earnings, and ultimately your success as an iGaming affiliate. Shahar, thanks again for your time today. If you could just start off by telling our audience a little bit about yourself, that would be excellent.
Shahar: Thank you for the invitation. A bit about myself, I started working in this industry back in 2000. It was in the Caribbean, working in Antigua for 888. Back then, it was called Casino Net or Cassava, the operational arm. Later on, came back to Israel and joined a team that was, literally, just starting. A small, tiny casino called Casino Tropez. Eventually it became Euro Partners, with many, many other brands, including Titan Poker and Europa Casino. As such, I was there for a few years. Then came the offer from PokerStars, and you don’t say no to PokerStars. Took the family and swam to the Isle of Man. Been there a few years, working as the Director of Player Relationship Marketing. When I came back to Israel, eventually, it was 2007, and I decided to start my own company, Hybrid Interaction, Ltd., which is the leading iGaming CRM consulting agency. Ever since then, we’ve had many projects with well-known brands. To name a few, bwin.party, Win2Day, Play65, eToro, Integra Gaming, EZtrader, some excellent, good brands that I haven’t mentioned, as well. Some software providers, such as Viaden. Essentially, what we aim to do is, as you said, maximize player lifetime value. That’s it.
Warren: Great. When you first started out with Cassava, and I know those guys well because that was my start in the industry as well, back in ’98, ’99, what did you start doing there? What was your first job at that company?
Shahar: First job was probably the funniest ever position in the industry. We had a team of people, who their title was operators. They were in charge – you won’t believe me saying that – of manually approving every single deposit. Every single transaction that was deposited into the system, they had to manually compare the details that were just typed in by the player right now and the records. They had a split screen, and they had to compare them. This is, obviously, a legacy from the olden days where they had only a few deposits a night. As such, they installed this very annoying sound, like a Lamborghini crossing from right to left, whenever there was a deposit, in order to wake up these operators, because they were sleeping next to the computer. When I joined Casino Net, it was a room filled with 15 operators at every single shift, and all you could hear was [makes noise]. This noise going all the time, crazy as it sounds, night and day. This was the beginning, until it was, obviously, developed into something which is more automatic. Then I started the promotions team. I took a few people that I knew from the company. I came up with the offer to the management. For some reason, I think that there’s a chance here to make more money out of existing players. We are sending this newsletter. Let’s make something which is more active, more aggressive, apply some marketing techniques that we all just heard about, and started, it might be, the first promotions department in the history of iGaming.
Warren: I see. So this was probably the same time when 888 was paying a dollar per download to affiliates, right?
Shahar: Yes. The deal with MSN and Yahoo! and all of those names.
Warren: The good old days.
Warren: Okay, great. Just jumping right in, tell our audience, what’s the topic that you want to cover today? Why is this topic so important, and why do affiliates ignore it?
Shahar: In the grand scheme of how do you dissect the industry, affiliates are in charge of acquisition. They bring traffic. The operator then needs to convert it and, obviously, make more money out of the leads. If it was a CPA deal, then the affiliate most likely couldn’t care less if they make a lot of money out of this player or not. If it’s a revenue share deal, then, obviously, you would like to work with the operators who conduct the best possible retention and most focus of customer care. But, as far as I can see it, affiliates should also care about CPA deals in terms of retention, because they can maximize their profit. If they work with operators who have better retention teams, then those teams can make more money out of the player. As such, the company could then sign a CPA deal for a higher amount. If usually it’s, say, 200, 250, then this company can make, let’s say 1,000 out of any lead that can convert to becoming a real money deposit player. As such, they will be willing to pay more, say 300, 350. This is obviously very important, I think, to everybody in the industry, and not only those weird guys doing retention and loyalty.
Warren: You’re saying, for affiliates, whether you’re on CPA or revenue share, either way, you have to think about the player values and how good your operator is at retention, because it’s going to affect you one way or another. It doesn’t matter if you’re just on CPA.
Shahar: Exactly. In CRM, what I do, everything is about capitalizing on existing resources. It all began because, let’s face it, retention, CRM, loyalty, those buzzwords don’t get most of the attention from management. As such, we need to come up with whatever we have. We need to make more of what is already in our possession. The main resource, obviously, is the database of the players. Our daily routine is to make more money out of existing customers. Now, for affiliates, these existing resources are, essentially, the traffic they send on. This is what they trade. They trade potential leads in exchange for money, if it’s CPA or revenue share. But, in order to make more money out of this resource, they would like to work with operators who can make more out of their leads. This is very simple to understand on a mathematical level. Even if it’s CPA, as I just said, or if it’s revenue share, which is very simple to comprehend and understand, or obviously, if it’s a hybrid, it would be easier for an operator to sign a follow-up hybrid deal on top of an existing CPA agreement knowing that they can make more money out of this traffic. In order to do so, they need to have better retention activity.
Warren: If I’m an affiliate, how can I influence the lifetime value of a player? I have no control over the customer service of the operator. I just send the traffic. How can I influence and maximize the player value on my end?
Shahar: First of all, on the more egocentric level, as an affiliate you would like to work with those companies, as I said, that offer the best possible customer care, both on the support level and in terms of the marketing offering. Now this is from the affiliate side. From the synergy that’s created when working with an operator, affiliates can aim to develop more advanced promotional activity with the operators, in which the acquisition offer will provide also the converted player with some additional value past the first depositing day, week, or month. For example, it’s very easy to explain this using poker as an example. There are many affiliates who use unique free [inaudible 11:19], which is excellent. You go to the operator and you ask for a unique free [inaudible 11:25] just for your players, on any kind of periodical basis. But then you can continue this, not only to the first weekend, or the first week, or whatever. You can also make sure that your players will get some extra benefits along the way, such as decreased cost for tournament tickets. For the first month, those players coming from a certain affiliate would pay 50%, 70%, whatever, when entering any kind of tournament. Obviously, it has some kind of a cost on the operator’s side. However, if the affiliate is flexible enough and would like to push the retention efforts more, for these existing players and in order to improve conversion, you may split some of the cost with the operator, and together they can offer something which is quite unique. This is just one idea. There are many others. Anything that goes well into the first phase of the player lifetime value, past the sign-up and deposit, would obviously influence the retention. Affiliates, working smartly, can definitely be a part of it.
Warren: I think poker’s a good example, and it’s probably the most common one where affiliates are leveraging retention more so. But how about for casino or sports betting? I know you’ve worked for Casino Club, as an example. Again, from the affiliate standpoint, what have you seen outside of poker, that works really well? Anything they can do? Even maybe just a technique you can share that an affiliate can use to go to an operator and structure some deal, maybe outside of poker, that can help them maximize player values.
Shahar: A good example of a promotion that the players always enjoy is races. On a certain period, for a certain game or a certain portfolio of games, whoever does X will win Y. If it’s a Microgame, then obviously it’s very automated, and they have a tournament feature which is very, very well developed. But other operators can do it on their own, using some manual work. Back at 888, in the olden days, I once stayed up for 24 hours, at the office, updating the web page with the results of the race every 30 minutes. You don’t need to go that extreme. Obviously, there are many tools that could do it for you. But an operator, together with an affiliate, can work on a certain race that would be relevant only for the players driven from this specific affiliate. Together they can create such a promotion, or a series of promotions for the first month, or the first four weekends, in which those players can participate in the race. Again, it can even be make a deposit of A on every weekend in the following month, and you’ll be able to participate in such a race. This would be your entry ticket to the race. It stimulates the activity. It brings a more dynamic atmosphere to the lobby or to the gaming hall, in general perspective. Also, it speeds up the engagement level of those players. You are a new player. You’ve just made your first deposit, but you know that you can participate in this race. It’s only you and a handful of other players that can have a go at a very lucrative prize, and you know you can do it every weekend for the next four weekends. It’s something that would most likely create more glue between the player and this specific brand.
Warren: I understand. So the conversation, if I’m an affiliate going to an operator, is simply, “Listen, I’m on a revenue share or CPA deal with you. I’d like to figure out a collaborative method where we can both maximize the values of my players. What options do I have at my disposal?” Is that a fair conversation?
Shahar: That’s perfect. I don’t think many affiliates speak up in such a clear way with their affiliates. Usually it’s more on the monetary level, which can also be understood, because they’re there in order to make money. But, in order to make more money, to work in synergy with the operators, and offer them assistance in any kind of way, if it’s on the level of splitting the cost for those specific activities, or if it’s on, “You’re the operator. You know the players from market A convert better with your specific platform. Let’s work together in order for me to drive more players from this specific region, because then both of us can make more money.” Anything that is in cooperation would probably work best.
Warren: In your opinion, retention compared to front-end player conversion, which do you see as more important, from an affiliate’s perspective?
Shahar: First of all, I must begin with saying that you cannot have one without the other, right? There are not many players you can retain if none were acquired. But conversion, specifically, actually stands exactly in the middle point between retention and acquisition. Acquisition, regardless of the channel – affiliate, SEO, PPC, whatever – is in charge of bringing the traffic from the general atmosphere of the entire globe into the website. Make the player download and then sign up. Then it will be the retention team’s responsibility in order to grow the player and ensure that he will come back again, and again, and again, and in time be offered more sophisticated methods of marketing such VIP, etc. Conversion is exactly the middle point. If it’s just rubbish keywords, then, most likely, conversion would be less good. If it’s a perfectly good lead, yet the entire cycle of the first 48 hours in the player lifetime – registration, sign-up mail, first deposit offer, push chat, immediate calls, making sure the player will feel at home and that he has a person from the other side of the screen – if that sucks, then, obviously, it would influence as well. Which one is more important? Again, since they work together, probably both are equally important.
Warren: That’s fair. In terms of players, what types of promotions do they react best to?
Shahar: The common ones are the ones that everybody knows, especially the reload in poker, or the depositing bonuses in casinos, but even those can be wrapped in something that hasn’t been seen to date or marketed differently. This is, I think, what players really look for, the interesting factor. It’s kind of like SEO. There’s a saying that goes if your content would be interesting enough for the reader to read it, Google or the search engine would probably mark it higher in the latter, because it is interesting. It is unique; it is relevant; it is interesting. If you send a mail out to a player with something which is graphically nice, and an offer which is a twist, or something which is definitely creative, those players that bother reading the emails would probably pay attention. Nobody becomes a casino player because they hate casino games. If it’s something that interests them and it’s being served or marketed correctly, they will listen or just read it. And, as such, like with any funnel, more people reading it, more people will eventually play it. That’s probably the key secret. Be creative and be interesting.
Warren: How about the worst types of promotions, that players don’t react to?
Shahar: First of all, those promotions that do not generate any kind of immediate understanding within the player mind. Here I can make more money. This is the regular game, but playing this promotion would make me more money. If there’s no instant understanding of the specific clause, you’re lost. You need to be attractive on the financial level. Then, again, going back to creativity. If it’s Christmas and you’re doing, again, the Christmas calendar and the days of Christmas and everything, nothing is new here. We’ve seen it in the last two years at your store, not to mention all the other casinos did it too, that I’m playing with. Give me something new. Amaze me.
Warren: So, be creative.
Shahar: All the time.
Warren: Is there a rule of thumb to assist in evaluating a newly acquired player by comparison to an existing, retained one?
Shahar: To be honest, in the iGaming industry, there isn’t any comprehensive survey or research to ensure that the figures are correct, mainly because of the high level of paranoia in this industry. Nobody’s sharing details with nobody else. Outside of this industry, I can say there’s one estimate saying that attracting a new customer can cost five times as much as pleasing an existing one, which is dramatic in terms of cost. I can invest up to four times the CPA in my existing customers and still be in a better position than breaking even. That’s shocking on its own. It goes on further, saying that it might costs 16 times as much to bring the new customer to the same level of profitability as the one lost customer that’s just left the operation because he found it not interesting, customer support inadequate, not enough promotions, I’m not a VIP here, blah, blah. 16 times more. Just think about it. You can invest so much more money in those existing customers and still make, at the bottom line, more money.
Warren: Great. Is there a way, after an affiliate sends a player – maybe he sent a whale that’s been playing for six months – is there anything the affiliate can do after the fact to maximize that value of that player, even six months down the line, if there’s been no pre-planning done? Is that possible?
Shahar: It’s more possible in poker, in which the poker schools and such, they know the players by heart, or at least on the handle level. They know that they play with a certain operation, and they know how much money they make out of this specifically. In casino, not really. All the casino affiliate can do is, probably, if they see that they make more and more and more money out of a certain traffic code from 12 or 18 months ago, and they are certain there are some whales over there, they can approach the operator and say, “Listen. We’ve done something correctly. Let’s do it again, together.”
Warren: I understand. Let’s say I’m a casino affiliate. I’m working with 20 different operators, sending my casino traffic. How can I rank each operator’s retention efforts, so I know, ultimately, at the end of the day, which operators are going to make me the most amount of money? Again, as you said, whether it’s on a CPA deal or a revenue share, if I’m starting to think about 12, 18, 24 months down the line, how can I rank their efforts?
Shahar: The simple three buzzwords are VIP, loyalty, and promotions. You can review the VIP program and its offering, and you can follow the promotional activity. Obviously, most affiliates are, anyway, registered as players, because of their tracking and stuff. So, in most cases, they also receive the promotional mailing. They can follow it and see if it’s a repeating story all over again, or is there something new every time, and how creative is it? And, in terms of loyalty, pure loyalty, loyalty scheme, customer care approach, easiness of resolving issues with players, all of this can be dubbed as loyalty. If you can look at those three aspects and compare them between the operators you are working with, all of the time, probably 80% won’t have any VIP problems. You can already clearly distinguish between those better operators and those that are less serious. In terms of promotions, its something that’s always dynamic. You always need to pay attention to it, and see, even if it was someone that used to have a great offering in this regard, the CRM manager was sacked or left or whatever, and ever since then it’s just the same monthly offer all over again. In terms of loyalty, fake calls to support. Try to read some blogs and forums. There are many that try to assist players with resolving issues in front of the operators. Some of them are even objective. You can read those articles. Feel free to approach your account manager, and affiliate to him, and say, “Hey. I send traffic to you and you don’t treat my customers correctly. Give me an answer.”
Warren: So the key is think like a player would. Register with a player account at the operators you’re serious about, or you’re promoting, and watch them carefully. See how they treat your customers by seeing how they treat you, via the player account. Is that correct?
Shahar: You make my answer sound so much better.
Warren: Just want to make sure everybody’s clear. That makes a lot of sense. Thank you for that. Next question. In your professional opinion, I know you’ve worked at many operators, but maybe, with an unbiased answer, who are the best operators? Both US-facing, whoever’s left today, and non-US, at retaining players and maximizing player values, in today’s current marketplace?
Shahar: I cannot be too objective, but I’ll begin with saying that I don’t work currently with anybody who accepts US traffic. As such, all I can say from history is that PokerStars, who worked with US traffic when I was there, they paid a lot of focus and attention to anything that was CRM related and customer care. That’s one example. I think that any professional poker player can say that their support is probably one of the best. Right now, I can judge from my own clients. I know that the bwin section of the bwin.party monster invests a lot of resources in player tracking, monitoring, and ensuring that data is well- segmented and being worked on by top executives, wonderful people. I can say that their head of support is nothing shy of purely superb and amazing. I can say that they are one very good example of good retention activity, which also makes sense, being one of the biggest fields on the face of the Earth in this industry. With their resources and their huge database, they wouldn’t be in this situation if they hadn’t paid such attention to their existing customers as well.
Warren: How about some new up-and-comers that you’re watching? Some newer operators that you’re just seeing, you’re hearing about, or you’ve maybe even done some work with, that you’re just seeing really great things in customer support and retention?
Shahar: I can say, again, from my clients, because that’s what I can speak about from the inside. All the rest is general information. Integra Gaming, which operates Grand Duke Casino, they market themselves as the true house for casino VIPs. After a point, if you’re a casino VIP, you simply won’t hear “no” as an answer. It’s as clear as that. They have a very innovative VIP scheme starting from first deposit, essentially, because they, again, market to future VIPs. For them, VIPs will be new players at some point. As such, they want to treat them with proper and adequate care to begin with. They have something which I haven’t seen anywhere else.
Warren: How about in terms of countries? Are there any specific countries where you’re seeing consistently higher player values than others? We’re obviously hearing a lot about South America and markets like that. What are you seeing, from your standpoint?
Shahar: From what I see, I think that still the old economy rules, which is main European markets still provide the best value. Those are very saturated markets, so for affiliates it would probably be harder to start working with these markets. But for those who still send constant traffic from countries like Germany, Germans, if you approach them correctly, would provide quite a high LTV, and they will last for years and years. That’s a very good example of one specific market. Italy, on the dot com level, still provides very good ROI. Italians are simply crazy in terms of gaming. That’s, probably, the two most predominant markets.
Warren: What are the hottest trends in terms of affiliate marketing, in terms of newly adopted verticals by operators?
Shahar: I don’t know if you can call it new, but binary options and financial trading. We’ve all heard about Forex. We’ve all probably worked with Forex and such. Binary options is probably the new bad-ass kid on the block. It provides good LTV, high value in terms of return on your investment. You can market it, right now, quite freely, even in the US, France, Italy, it all goes. The customer behavior resembles, a lot, the systematics that we saw from casino players. As such, it’s very easy to take the existing knowledge within the operators and work also in this vertical. More affiliates sending more binary option traffic would probably be accepted with open arms as time goes by.
Warren: We’re hearing a lot about binary options from operators as well. I’m just curious. Can you tell our audience what binary options are in a nutshell, maybe a sentence or two? And why, currently, it’s a better opportunity than Forex, for example?
Shahar: It’s so simple to understand, it’s ridiculous. Any kind of historical commodity, such as oil or gold, which is being traded in the markets around the world, can be gambled on. Meaning, right now, the current index in the NASDAQ is (a) My bet is whether it’s going to go up by the next round hour. Right now it’s 42 minutes past the hour. By the next hour, in 18 minutes, is it going to be more than it is right now or less? If, as a customer, I’m correct in my bet, I’m going to get my money back, everything that I’ve invested or staked, everything back, plus, depending on the operator or the specific commodity or stock, anything from 65% to 95% more, in addition to the amount that I’ve wagered. I’ve placed $100; I’m going to get up to $195 back. If I was wrong, I’m going to lose 90% of the money I’ve invested. I’m going to lose $90. I’m going to be paid back with $10. As you can see, it’s literally a bet, like any bet. If it’s going to be 26 in roulette, or if it’s going to be red or black in roulette. In fact, the colors in a put or call in binary options is green for up, for more, and red for down.
Warren: I see.
Shahar: It’s a bet like any other bet. The difference between casino and this is that in casino, the gaming cycle is very short. If it’s roulette, it’s 10 seconds, 12 seconds, something like that. If it’s blackjack, it’s until everybody’s placed their bets, and the dealer reveals the cards. Here you need to wait until the end of the current hour. But still, it’s very, very instant by comparison to other financial trading options. As such, it stimulates more people, because it’s very easy for any half decent Joe to comprehend. “Okay, I read a bit about the stock market. I can definitely say if this stock is going to go up by the next 20 minutes or down by the next 20 minutes.” As such, it attracts a lot of attention. Also, it provides some glue factor. People keep on trying, because they feel that they are being rewarded for their knowledge, rather than pure luck, which also, in a way, resembles blackjack. If the house advantage on roulette is 2.73%, then in blackjack it’s 0.49%, in most media platforms for example. Now, most people won’t be able to calculate this, but still they can feel that, with blackjack, they have a lot more confidence in their hands. They can control the way the game evolves, because they can decide what to do now. Because of that, blackjack is always the most popular online casino game. This goes back to binary options, because people feel that, whatever they do, it’s not because they are simply players. It’s because they are trading.
Warren: I want to wrap things up, Shahar. I really want to thank you for your time and all this insight. You’ve covered some topics that, I think, most affiliates tend to ignore. I want to thank you for the information on binary options, as well. Again, very interesting. If any affiliates are watching this and they wish to get in touch with Shahar and ask some questions, or learn about his background or how he’s helped maximize player values and lifetimes, send us an email. It’s interviews@CasinoAffiliatePrograms.com. We’ll be happy to put you in touch. Thanks again everyone for watching, and stay tuned for future interviews with industry leaders. Take care.
Shahar: Thank you very much, Warren.
Warren: You’re welcome.