A trip worth the risk: Taking Southland Casino from challenger to champion

How a change in fortune necessitated a change in positioning

Climbing an uncharted hill is a lot harder than just strolling along a paved path. The steeper and taller the hill, the harder the climb. That’s what makes reaching the summit so rewarding. But if you want to stay there for a while and enjoy the view, you’d better secure your position and steady your footing. 

Yes, the preceding metaphor for challenger brands is more than a bit hackneyed. But it’s also a spot-on description of the journey Archer Malmo made with Southland Casino, and how we helped lead them from an also-ran challenger brand in a crowded category to the unrivaled market leader – and how we positioned them to stay there.

First, understand where you stand

For years, it felt like Southland Casino was trying to scale their marketplace summit in roller skates. They had a product that didn’t really meet customer expectations thanks to unfriendly local regulations (no, slot machines are not all created equally); they had an intimidating collection of well-funded competitors operating nearby in a much more gaming-friendly state; their facilities didn’t offer the types of amenities that local gamblers had come to expect; and they suffered from a severely unflattering origin story – everyone knew them as the run-down, out-of-date greyhound racetrack.

This wasn’t really a challenger brand. It was more like a bona fide, honest-to-goodness challenge.

Next, fix your focus

Even with that mountain range of obstacles standing before us, we were able to pinpoint a somewhat underwhelming yet significant brand benefit — Southland is closer to the major population center than all casinos in the area draw their customers from. It was something we could own, so it became the cornerstone of our every strategy.

And slowly we began climbing the hill.

We hammered away at our proximity message while developing a brand voice that was aggressive, humorous and…well, challenging. We turned the tables by calling out the competition for their singular shortcoming and put them on the defensive. As a result, we started generating trial and changing habits.

Then, adapt to changing terrain in order to maintain momentum

As we grew our market share, the casino invested in facilities. Slowly the state regulations loosened. Up the hill we climbed, until we eventually passed our competitors. 

Ultimately the governing body allowed Southland to play on an even field with the other casinos – real slot machines, live table games, the works. No longer were we the challenger, but thanks to our long-established location advantage, we became the market leader. And with that change came a pivot in how we presented the brand.

Finally, plant your flag and defend your turf

Southland didn’t just reach the summit, it placed its feet firmly in the face of the competition on the way up. By adapting to changes in the product and the marketplace, but maintaining a consistency of voice and message, we helped the client grow by more than 1000% over a 10-year period. Its grab of market share forced consolidation and closure of its competitors. The resulting market conditions inspired ownership to make a significant investment in facilities to ensure even greater long-term growth and market dominance.

And if we’re in a position to brag, we’ll never forget that single market insight that led us there.

If you own or manage a challenger brand and are looking for a partner with the experience, insight and long-term discipline it takes to help you climb your own market summit, let’s talk.