Ladbrokes Coral CMO: Marketing is fundamental to gambling so you need to bring your A-game

The pace of change, obsession with brand and sheer scale of the CMO role persuaded Dominic Grounsell to give up general management in financial services for a return to marketing at Ladbrokes Coral.

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“Marketing lives and breathes through this business, so you have to bring your A-game to make sure you realise that potential and the role of marketing within it,” explains Dominic Grounsell, CMO of gambling group Ladbrokes Coral.

The gambling sector represents the core marketing discipline, only operating at a pace never seen before, insists Grounsell, who explains that the speed of change was one of the main reasons he decided to move on from his role as managing director of Neilson Financial Services to make a return to marketing.

His appointment as CMO of Ladbrokes Coral comes at an challenging time for the gambling sector. On 1 April, legislation came into effect slashing the maximum limit per spin on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2, which it is suggested will cause the closure of up to a third of the UK’s 8,500 betting shops. Ladbrokes Coral’s parent company, GVC Holdings, is expected to close around 1,000 of its 3,475 shops as a result of the stake reduction.

Add to that the introduction of VAR (video assistant referee) technology to the Premier League for the 2019/2020 football season, the surge in popularity for esports and women’s sports, and the role voice search will play in betting’s future.

Undaunted by an industry in flux, Grounsell insists he was attracted by the scale of the CMO role and the agenda being set by the Ladbrokes and Coral brands.

“It’s a great marriage of very big brand-led thinking around product marketing and service, underpinned by probably the most advanced data and digital marketing capability I’ve ever seen,” he explains.

“The opportunity to work in an organisation with that level of capability and go on the next stage of their evolution was too exciting to pass up.”

Grounsell notes a “hunger for momentum” within the business and an ambition to take on the challenges in the market, combined with a desire to explore the role Ladbrokes and Coral can play in wider culture.

“There’s a very high bar here and as a marketer that’s a fantastic place to be, because it gives you so many exciting opportunities to drive the business,” he states.

Brand first

Despite only being a month into the role, Grounsell is convinced that a belief in the power of brand is the reason why the gambling sector is such a good fit for marketers. This opinion was evidenced by the 2018 Marketing Week Career and Salary Survey, which found gambling to be the happiest industry for marketers and the sector with the best working environment.

Reflecting on the results at the time of publication in January 2018, former Ladbrokes Coral chief customer officer, Kristof Fahy, explained that in gambling there is now a widely held understanding that marketing brings customers to the door.

Grounsell agrees with this sentiment, noting that the only place where he has heard the word ‘brand’ used more was during his four years working as a brand manager at Unilever.

“This business is absolutely brand obsessed, so it’s not just about marketing pushing the brand through a marketing lens, it’s about the business realising that winning is about having a strong brand in the marketplace and all elements of the business lining up to deliver against the brand promise,” Grounsell states.

“As a marketer that’s a dream come true because in a number of businesses I’ve worked in brand has a lot of negative connotations, often linked to the idea that brand is somehow fluffy, unnecessary, related to advertising and not an integral part of how you think and operate as an organisation. So, to come and run a business where brand is what we are trying to do, and is the focus of everybody, is really refreshing.”

Despite Ladbrokes Coral being the biggest player in the UK gambling sector on a combined basis, the marketers are clear that nailing the customer experience is the only way to win in such a “hyper-competitive category”.

While having the two brands under one roof adds scale to the business, a key challenge is to ensure Ladbrokes and Coral retain separate identities and do not cannibalise each other in a bid to take on their rivals in the market. In this respect, success comes down to having a collaborative working culture, says Grounsell.

“The culture here is very positive and collaborative and while the two brands are absolutely going as hard as they can to win in the marketplace, internally there’s a huge amount of cooperation that goes on and mutual support across the two businesses, because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” he explains.

READ MORE: How marketers are tackling the challenges facing gambling

Tech capability

Taking the position at Ladbrokes Coral has seen Grounsell become a CMO for the first time after 18 years spent working in financial services, telecoms and FMCG.

He joined Unilever in 2001 as a marketing graduate trainee, moving on to roles as brand manager for Lux and Dove. In 2005 Grounsell made the switch to telecoms, becoming head of broadband acquisition at BT, before being appointed marketing director at credit card company Capital One in 2008.

After a number of roles at insurer More Than, including sales and marketing director, Grounsell joined currency exchange company Travelex as global marketing director in 2015. He then made the transition into general management in 2017, becoming manager director of Neilson Financial Services.

From “high concept” brand-led marketing at Unilever to advanced data-driven marketing at Capital One, coupled with experience of operating in a highly regulated sector as MD at Neilson Financial Services, Grounsell believes the skills he has developed throughout his career are a great fit for Ladbrokes Coral.

“The learning you get from moving between industries around how different consumer cohorts work, how regulation influences how marketing is developed and deployed, and how marketing functions within organisations, both the good and the bad, those learnings have relevance particularly coming into a business which has a very big agenda and where marketing plays such a key role in defining and leading strategy,” he explains.

Ladbrokes Coral is a highly diversified business meaning the marketers need to take a multi-channel approach that touches on everything from retail stores, digital channels and working with affiliates to social, TV and outdoor. To help achieve this, Grounsell says that the company has implemented “the most sophisticated” marketing technology capability he has ever seen.

“We’re doing things most large organisations who get a lot more favourable marketing press would kill to be able to do in terms of our understanding of the performance of our investment and how we manage optimisation not just of our marketing, but of our business in general,” he argues.

The rigorous measurement of marketing effectiveness is something the team obsess over, Grounsell adds, because he believes that in a competitive, multi-channel market it is crucial all money is spent effectively, prudently and in a way that delivers for the business objectives and customers alike.

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