As CMO of MGM Resorts International, a leading hospitality and entertainment company, Lilian Tomovich views her role much like her peers — as a growth driver and brand builder. But she also has a laser focus on perfecting the guest experience to help distinguish the company’s vast portfolio of destination resort brands, including Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, and Mirage. That’s why Tomovich carries the dual title of Chief Experience Officer.
“In this day and age, being the CMO is simply not enough,” Tomovich says. “In our case, developing great advertising and expecting people to come to our hotels isn’t going to cut it. Consumers want and expect more. When you walk down the Las Vegas Strip, there are lots of hotel rooms, casinos, restaurants, and other attractions. The only way to really differentiate yourself is by focusing on the guest experience before, during, and after their stay.”
Tomovich, who will speak at the Association of National Advertisers’ Masters of Measurement Conference, Sept. 16-18 in Miami Beach, Fla., explains how the guest experience is evolving at MGM, the role insights and research play in driving customer loyalty, and the importance of challenging the status quo.
Q. How are you elevating the guest experience at MGM brands to attract a new wave of casino-goers?
Q. In Las Vegas, only 30% of our revenue comes from gaming. In fact, less than 10% of visitors claim “gambling” as their primary reason for visiting. This means the overall experience must continue to evolve to appeal to customers’ changing preferences. We have seen that evolution in non-gaming amenities. For example, the long fine-dining experience is less interesting to today’s guests. We see a desire for smaller portions, shared foods, communal tables, and shorter meals so guests can move on to enjoy the next part of their day.
We’ve also been focused on the design of our integrated resorts. In the past, casinos were designed to keep guests inside and not encourage them to leave and visit other properties. Today’s travelers are very social and do not want to be tied down, so we turned some of our properties inside out. At Monte Carlo and NYNY, we introduced plazas with multiple dining and entertainment offerings, making it easy for guests to experience us. And in the spring of 2016, we will open the first outdoor park on The Strip.
Lastly, we are changing how “entertainment” is defined in Las Vegas. Traditionally, it was all about production shows, which remain very popular, but new audiences demand new ways of looking at things. We have launched two outdoor festival lots on The Strip, where we can host music festivals, food events, sporting events, and more.
Q. Loyalty marketing is among your core responsibilities. How has the discipline evolved?
A. In 2000, two-thirds of MGM Resorts International’s revenue was derived from gambling. Today, non-gaming revenue comprises two-thirds of the total revenue. This shift represents a new type of Las Vegas visitor. At MGM, recognizing someone for their total value, not just for what they gambled, has become increasingly important. That has resulted in the need for a more advanced loyalty program. Our focus is on delivering a thoughtful contact strategy, driven by predictive analytics, with compelling rewards and benefits.
Q. Please talk about the important role insights and research play in driving a loyalty program.
A. We are a consumer insights-driven organization that has the ability to connect with our guests 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We often know in the moment whether our guests are happy or not. Not too many businesses can say that. In addition to real-time feedback, we gather customer feedback through our Guest Experience Monitor (GEM) research tool. We survey all guests, including those who are part of our M life loyalty program, to better understand their overall satisfaction with our resorts. We also utilize primary research in the form of focus groups and quantitative studies on behavior and satisfaction with our loyalty program. One of the things we heard from our non-gaming M life customers was that the program was not necessarily meeting their expectations. We are working now on evolving our program to provide specific benefits to our valuable non-gaming guests.
Q. You have said that “true leaders have the ability to respectfully challenge the status quo.” Please elaborate.
A. I expect my leaders to have a point of view, whether or not I agree with them. A leader needs to be a creative problem solver and have a point of view that he or she can substantiate. Our role as leaders is to do many things, but most importantly, it’s to bring creative thinking and solutions to the table and to constantly be thinking about ways to do things better. I actually have a framed poster in my office that simply says, “Do Better.” I love it. That’s what we should all strive for.