'People are requesting a much more personalised experience'
Derren Maggs, managing director of betting odds comparison website Oddschecker, has adopted up-to-the-minute price changing technology that has taken all the anxiety out of the Grand National weekend.
Marketing Week (MW): Can you explain what Oddschecker’s business model is?
Derren Maggs (DM): Oddschecker is an odds comparison website. We’re 12 years old and about six years ago we were bought by BSkyB. We’re not Sky-branded because we need to remain impartial.
We have 24 bookmakers on the site and we offer 100 per cent coverage of any market a bookmaker offers, so if a bookmaker prices up an event of any kind, we will display and publish that on our site. That means that, at any one time, we will probably be hosting around 300,000 markets.
MW: How much competition is there from other odds comparison sites, and how does your market share compare with theirs?
DM: There are many odds comparison sites in the UK and across Europe. We, as far as I know, are the only one that has 100 per cent coverage of each bookmaker’s markets and I would estimate from ComScore [web traffic data] and other places that we are about 80 per cent of the entire UK market. That has grown, as we have grown, phenomenally in the past three or four years. I would put that down to our own marketing efforts in creating brand awareness and offering a service that users both enjoy and find valuable.
MW: What are the data-related challenges that Oddschecker has come up against and how have you gone about trying to address them?
DM: Previously, if one of the bookmakers changed its price, the whole page had to update. We’ve since adopted a platform from [data service provider] Push Technology, which gives us the ability to update an individual price on a page, for example, if one bookmaker changes a single price on one of the golfers at a given event. This enables a quicker, more reliable and more efficient service for users. From a business point of view, it has reduced the load on our databases without any degradation of speed.
The future is where Push will come into its own. Currently, we group consumers by creating personas and segments [based on similar site behaviour]. If we can get that down to an individual level, that would be the eventual ambition where we could get a real competitive edge. That creates an enormous amount of data, but it also gives us the ability to create contextual and relevant offers, so we can have targeted ads depending on the individual users’ betting interests, the type of skill level they are at, the frequency of the bets they place and which bookmaker accounts they are interacting with.
Source: Dan Perry
MW: Can you give an example of the types of services and targeted promotions you could offer as a result of personalising the user experience?
DM: We could, perhaps, see that a customer is always engaging with one particular bookmaker on a particular market - let’s say it is Wayne Rooney to score first in a Premier League football game. We should be able to alert the user that there is a better price available, or a cashback promotion, from another bookmaker that they are not actually using at that time.
MW: How far away are you from being able to offer personalised betting offers of this kind?
DM: I can’t really put a timeframe on when we will be able to do that, but we will be rolling out services over the course of the next six months that will allow people to determine what alerts, and what information and content, they want to be shown and to be pushed in their direction. The greatest challenge for me isn’t having enough data, but having the ability to use it in a useful and effective way.
MW: What impact has in-play betting, and the real-time updating of market odds, had on the online gaming industry - and on Oddschecker’s ability to publish up-to-date prices?
DM: Real-time odds have seen massive growth recently. In-play betting is probably 50 per cent of turnover for bookmakers now in most cases. With the growth of mobile, that has really exploded in the past two years, and mobile and in-play in tandem have seen the dynamics of the industry change incredibly. The importance of having quick, reliable pricing is utterly crucial.
We ingest XML feeds from all the bookmakers, so that will take in the region of five to seven seconds to process and publish on our website. What Push Technology’s Diffusion server allows us to do is speed that up. If the bookmaker has it in place, we can skip the whole database and as soon as a trader updates a priceit can be put on our site instantaneously.
MW: What benefits does quick updating have for the customers using the Oddschecker site?
DM: Trust and reliability is crucial for a betting punter, because when they click on a price and they’re watching a match, they want to know that price is the one that will be available when they go on the bookmaker’s site to place a bet. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a price on any retail site, and when you click on it it’s not there. It depends on the infrastructure of the bookmaker, but what has happened on a few occasions is that [Oddschecker’s prices have been updated from a feed more quickly than the bookmaker’s website.]
MW: Does this mean, then, that the bookmakers’ own data capabilities often aren’t as good as your own at Oddschecker?
DM: For the majority of bookmakers, harnessing data is a real challenge. Most have multiple third-party data providers for sports betting and online gaming products, they have additional partners for mobile and, a lot of the time, customer transactions have to take place offshore to reduce their tax liabilities.
So for them, it is a huge challenge aggregating all the data into one place in a data warehouse, and to get a single customer view. In reality, it means that most reporting is retrospective and running data from that to drive offers and promotions is also done in a reactive way.
The advantage we might be able to have is that we don’t have the infrastructure that they do, we just have our own single system, so we can use Push to make sure we can give the best real-time offers available to an individual, or the best prices, that are contextual to their betting behaviour.
Source: Paolo Camera
MW: And does this mean your prices are also better, or more current?
DM: I wouldn’t say there’s a benefit that we have better prices than the bookmakers, or a more reliable site - that would be going a little bit of a stretch too far. The critical element is that we display prices that can be compared across 24 bookmakers, and the key to continued business for us is to make sure that those prices are the quickest and most reliable they can possibly be.
MW: You also offer a business-to-business data service to bookmakers. Can you explain how this works?
DM: There is a void in data insight within the online betting industry.
There are many companies that gather information from their customers via questionnaires and surveying people who gamble, in the street. Due to the expense of that exercise, they are probably getting up to 1,000 people, or 10,000 tops. The ability we have from a business intelligence point of view is to have the volume of data of more than 1 million unique visitors per month, and to know that it is very robust.
We can actually see what people are clicking on, what conversion rates and what retention rates there are, and what offers people find attractive; whereas most people who place bets don’t necessarily believe they place bets as often as they do. We can get to an honest, clear and transparent answer.
MW: Do bookmakers not get this behavioural data from their own websites? Why do they need to use insights from Oddschecker?
DM: They have a lot of data from their own sites, but people have to look at things from a different perspective.
If they are making a 10 per cent profit margin on the football World Cup, that sounds excellent, and like it has been a profitable event for them. But how much did bookmakers A, B and C make? If they are making 15 or 20 per cent, there is obviously huge room for improvement.
Equally for the Grand National or Cheltenham Festivals for horse racing, there is huge competition in trying to drive customer acquisition. The last Cheltenham Festival was very competitive, brilliant for consumers - some exceptional offers were out there. The ability we had was to see which of those offers were the most compelling and which of those promotions generated the most sign-ups.
MW: Can you put into perspective what effect improving Oddschecker’s data capabilities has had on the performance of the site and of the business?
DM: With the Grand National, previously we would have had teams of people in on that Saturday looking at the service levels being provided. If the strains and stresses on the systems were too much, we would start to switch things off one at a time. But the last three Grand Nationals have gone without a hitch and we’ve got to the stage now where it’s like we’re really only having a normal, busy Premiership and racing weekend.
Derren Maggs’ three biggest challenges
1. Oddschecker isn’t transactional, but it’s a very complex product. Firstly, we need to provide the best possible service to meet our users’ goals. Having the information available on what are the best prices, or best offers; the price movements; the most popular bets, tips and stats; and tracking how users are interacting with that on their journeys to allow the best innovation are all critical to us.
2. Secondly, utilising those behavioural insights is critical as well to maximising our revenue and our profits.
3. Thirdly, we have a business-to-business role to play, in that we have an awful lot of business intelligence at our disposal and we are in the unique position of being able to benchmark bookmakers’ key performance indicators - from acquisition to retention. We have 1.2 million unique users on site each month, which gives us the volume to enable us to do that.
Marketing Week (MW): What is your background in using data for marketing purposes?
Derren Maggs (DM): My main background is in direct marketing within telecoms. I got quite a lot of experience there of using data within a business environment in a way to gain competitive advantage.
MW: Why do you think this kind of experience and training is useful today for marketers, or managing directors such as yourself?
DM: People are requesting a much more personalised and customised experience and you can only deliver that if you have got the data abilities to ensure that the user journey goals that they have are met. I think it is quite fundamental that industry knowledge is also key, and that you combine the two to maximum effect.
MW: What would be the one piece of advice you would give marketers on how to improve their skills with data?
DM: I think it is important to have an enquiring mind and always ask the question ‘Why?’. It could be going from a campaign or event that has been successful to one that hasn’t been successful, but you need to try to drive out the answer as to why that has happened.