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I recently had the opportunity to spend a few hours observing (not playing, I know the house odds!) people at a casino during a business conference. What a superb experience – not as a player, but as a marketer, to see how casinos manage the end user experience for maximum profit.

Imagine for a minute that someone put a box in front of you that, on average, will give you 42 cents for every dollar you put in it. No one in their right, rational mind would ever use it. Imagine for a minute that someone built an ATM that gives you exactly 42% of whatever amount you request. That ATM would be torn out of the wall by riotous crowds.

Yet thousands of people a year flock to casinos and use machines and games designed to do exactly that. Why? Because casinos have mastered the user experience.

Let’s take a look at some of the tricks of the trade:

1. No windows or clocks. Time is the enemy for casinos – they want you to spend as much time as possible in the venue (on the premise that you’re not a weirdo like me who just stares at people without spending money) and gamble as much as possible. No cues to show just how much time has elapsed ensure this.

2. Low lighting and lots of ambient sound. Every machine in the room makes noise, and more often than not, even the demo modes have sounds that are pleasant to the ear and evoke video game-like feelings of winning. Why? Low light keeps you relaxed and slightly less aware than harsh, stark light, and lots of ambient amusement sound contributes to the idea that you’re playing games instead of spending money.

3. Play money. I lost count of how many times players referred to their chips as play money, fake money, toy money, or some other proxy by which they completely forgot they were using real currency. At one blackjack table, I saw enough money cross the table back and forth in just a few minutes (table minimum 200, maximum50,000) to buy several cars. Casinos use proxies for money to get you to spend more, because the money doesn’t look or feel like money at all.

4. Leave no dollar behind. Right outside the casino floor was… a Rolex shop. And an art gallery. And a Swarovski crystal shop hawking stocking stuffers starting at $40. Casinos know this above all else: you might win on the floor, but you’re not leaving with your money if at all possible. Every hook imaginable is available to get you to spend anything you didn’t lose to the house.

Now, how does this apply to marketing online? Take a look at your web site. Does it evoke the feelings that you want to elicit from your customers? If your goal is to get customers to spend some time with your content, does the “atmosphere” of your web site – color palette, brightness, tonality, contrast – encourage your visitors to relax, to forget about whatever else they were doing? Look at the patterns of lights and textures in a casino and you see endless repeating patterns that are nearly hypnotic. I’m not saying you should turn your web site into a slot machine’s decor, but think about what decor you do have and what it’s conveying.

Take a look at how you process transactions. Do you make it as easy as possible for visitors to transact with you? Do you use proxies for money like point systems or credits? In a casino, you can slap down a C note on the green velvet and have chips in hand, ready to gamble in less than 10 seconds. How fast can your visitors buy? Does your site let your visitors slap down the plastic and buy immediately? iTunes and Amazon figured this out long ago with 1-click.

Are you leaving money on the table? Are you letting your visitors get away with their wallets intact? What other things can you sell to your visitors as they browse through and leave your site? I’m not saying be obnoxious and run a javascript that forces a visitor through an annoying series of ads, but think about all of the different products or services you have and that you sell via affiliate programs. Are you presenting them as powerfully as the Rolex shop in the casino next to the cashier’s cage?

Casinos make good money because they’ve distilled the user experience for maximum profit. Are you doing the same?

Photo credit: acaben

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