The pandemic may have driven the uptake of digital and omnichannel in many markets but the focus of Russian betting pioneer Fonbet will remain on servicing and growing its retail and online customer bases as separate businesses. CMO Alina Yakirevich explains why to iGB
Alina Yakirevich is CMO of Fonbet. She has extensive experience in all areas of marketing – TV, digital advertising, BTL-communications, printed and radio advertising, PR, SMM, SEO and context, content and native advertising, as well as B2B marketing. She also reorganised and established all divisions of the Fonbet marketing team, setting KPIs which reflect the key business goals of the company.
The 2020 pandemic did not cause punters to move to online betting channels, despite other industries, such as retail, seeing a more permanent shift, according to Alina Yakirevich, CMO for Fonbet, Russia’s largest betting operator.
“In most industries, consumer preferences shifted online during the pandemic. For example, people started to shop more frequently online and buy more, and for many this turned out to be more convenient and faster.”
The trend however, did not appear to translate to Fonbet’s 800 betting shops throughout Russia, which saw little shift in the balance between its online and offline players. Yakirevich said this is most likely as when the pandemic hit and its physical betting shops were forced to close, so did the majority of sporting tournaments around the world.
“Since there were no major events, there was almost no betting on anything, either online or offline. At the peak of the pandemic, the majority of betting club customers simply took a break from betting on sports because no sports were really being played.”
Yakirevich noted that during the pandemic, only 60% of its retail betting shop customers took the plunge to try betting online. The other 40% decided not to place any bets at all.
When restrictions across the country eased and betting shops were allowed to reopen, the company saw the full return of its offline players.
“These customers saw that we were observing all the new safety measures and eventually returned to the shops. The fact that players who had been coming to betting shops for a long time didn’t transition to online can be explained by the fact that they’re accustomed to the advantages of our shops, including personal service, comfortable rooms and cash transactions.
People at the heart of the business
Founded in 1994, Fonbet is the country’s oldest and most established online and offline betting provider. Since its establishment, the company has been a pioneer in innovation and new technology.
“When the company was founded, we could never have imagined that bookmaking would become one of the most high-tech industries around,” says Yakirevich, reminiscing the early days of bookmaking in Russia. “We wrote our lines by hand, and everything was stored on floppy disks. This all required a lot of effort which naturally served as a catalyst to automate the processes.”
Fonbet was the first bookmaker in the country to start operating online, and soon after the launch, released its first live betting service. Over time, the ability for customers to bet on sports events in real time became a hallmark of the company.
Despite being a pioneer in the use of new technologies, including artificial intelligence and the development of its match centre and mobile app, the company says that “people” remain at the heart of its business.
“Betting companies today use special robots for betting, or programmes that analyse statistics and offer options for hundreds of in-play odds at the same time. Robots are created for specific sports, from football and hockey to esports… [However], from a conceptual perspective, we don’t support a 100% automation of bookmaking.
“Technology can only help us to accept bets faster and increase our offerings in different markets. However, a bet at Fonbet is still a bet between a customer and the bookmaker, just like it was 25 years ago. Only the scale has changed.”
Looking past the pandemic
Looking ahead, Yakirevich said Fonbet aims to continue to focus on growing its offline, relationship-based retail offering, which makes up for approximately 20% of it customer base, whilst investing in its online betting offering, which services the other 80%.
“The last six months have shown us that the world is returning to its usual way of life. We don’t predict any changes in customer preferences in terms of betting… Our aim isn’t to transition players from one category to another, we focus on both.”
Fonbet wants to add more customizability to its mobile “superapp”, according to Yakirevich, one which gives punters a much more personalised offering compared to a standard betting website. “We like the idea of a mobile superapp. When we work on new content, we always do it for the mobile app first.
“I feel like betting company sites lack the personal touch. If you compare a betting company’s site with any e-commerce site like Amazon, you’ll notice a huge difference. For example, I’ve been using Ozon for a year, and it already knows that I’m a woman who, for example, orders laundry detergent. So it immediately shows me laundry detergent and related products that people like me also order.”
“However, when you look at a betting company website, everyone has the same profiles. Even if you always bet on esports, your first page will always have football. If you like betting on tennis more, you’ll see football anyway. I think that personal selections and recommendations for customers are a must. Though it’s not easy from a technological point of view”, concludes Yakirevich.