Branding is a foundational marketing tool, yet it wields no impact unless the “power cord” is connected to the customer base to successfully grow a name that resonates and ultimately creates a dominant footprint within the competitive industry it exists.
This is precisely the strategy that was formulated by Francisco “TJ” Tejeda and Robin Powell, the co-creators of EZ Baccarat, to see their game evolve into the #1 baccarat brand in the global casino gaming industry.
Their plan of action was not without frustration and disappointment. After securing copyrights and a patent, they worked tirelessly for 10 years to sell their product, but to put it in Tejeda’s words, “nobody would give us the time of day”.
Meanwhile, in 1997, Tejeda and Powell partnered to create Talisman Group LLC, a Las Vegas-based consulting firm for which Tejeda is principal. The firm specializes in providing expertise in the gaming industry, including project development, pre-opening strategies, marketing, operations, and asset management.
All the while their focus remained fixed upon EZ Baccarat, and although Tejeda admitted it was “incredibly difficult”, their combined belief in themselves and in the game they had created, instilled in them a never-give-up philosophy.
“Call it passion, call it fanaticism, perhaps we were on the border of being zealots,” Tejeda recalled. “Robin and I went out into the market to sell our game with the enthusiasm of children on Christmas morning. I said ‘Look Robin, this is gold’. Nobody would give us a chance.
“Then one magical day in 2008, Robin got a call from the manager at Barona Casino Resort in San Diego County, California,” Tejeda recalled. “He asked ‘Hey, you guys own EZ Baccarat?’. Robin said yes. Then the manager said that he would like to take two games.
“Robin asked him to repeat his request again, three times as a matter of fact! ‘What is it you want? You want two games?’ The light that went on at Barona changed everything, because within several months we had 10 to 15 units in California and we never looked back. The dam broke and we started selling like crazy.
“By 2010 we had a couple hundred units in the field. The watershed moment was to get the first casino. Barona was the seminal point from which everything else emanated. The momentum continued to the point we are at today, over 700 games and a reputation we have taken pride in for many years as the #1 baccarat brand in the market.”
Tejeda compares having 10 baccarat games on the floor to running a sailboat as contrasted to 10 EZ Baccarat games on the floor as running a steamboat. He reasons that you have to pay for EZ Baccarat, but it will be faster than the sailboats you already have out there.
“It was such a radical concept, but it worked,” he observed. “It took hundreds of years for wind power to give way to steam power, but this is exactly what happened to us and EZ Baccarat. People began to realize that our game was faster and more efficient.”
Another trailblazing component of Tejeda and Powell’s marketing strategy was to sell the game at the same price for every operator, no matter how big or small. They decided it was going to be a fair brand, that no matter how many games an operator has or where they stand in the market, the price was going to be the same.
“The one-price policy was a concept so radical that people in the industry all thought we were crazy,” Tejeda said. “They told us ‘No way Caesars is going to pay the same as a mom-and-pop operation’. Well, here we are, 15 years later, and that is one of the tenets of the brand.”
With EZ Baccarat, Tejeda and Powell brought innovations to the existing market as well, including avatars in the form of the Dragon 7 and four years later, the Panda 8.
“Two avatars, one on each side of the game,” Tejeda said. “The hero, Superman, needs a villain, Lex Luthor. We now had a villain depending upon which of the two avatars the player likes. All of this made the game come alive, made it different, made it sellable, made it popular.”
The first major obstacle the partners had to overcome occurred in 2013 when EZ Baccarat lost its patent protection, paving the way for other suppliers to introduce “knock off” versions of their beloved game.
“Within two months, at least one major corporation was out in the field with a facsimile of our game,” Tejeda revealed. “They used the same math, which was a complement to our mathematical prowess, they used the same everything, but they didn’t use the avatars. It failed miserably.
“From then on, we were in competition in an open market, but here is where the concept of the brand really came alive. Remember, we have one price. The competition immediately came in at 30 percent off that. It’s a familiar marketing strategy, just dump your product and make it 50 percent, 80 percent cheaper, than what’s out there. Well guess what? It didn’t work.
“Another company came out with a ‘new, best, 2.0 version’. We beat that one to a pulp, too. Ever since, we are the reigning brand in the market. Nobody has a one-price policy, nobody came out with avatars. All of these components had a track record with operators. The legend, as it were, grew.”
Acknowledging that a significant percentage of the customer base for baccarat is made up of Asian people, Tejeda took it upon himself to embark on another journey: He studied Asian culture and traditions, China in particular, and the protocols of the game that have made baccarat their ultimate choice.
“I have always been captivated by the love for baccarat with Asian people,” he said. “Asian players began asking not for EZ Baccarat but for ‘The Dragon Game’, and ‘When are you going to get The Dragon Game?’. Once they did that, it was fairly difficult for operators to deny their customers what they were requesting.
“We have always been customer centric. That ultimately is what keeps us sharper in a ‘tooth and claw’ competitive environment. The would-be competition just doesn’t get it, because they didn’t take the time and effort to jump into the culture and find out ‘why’.”
Tejeda’s wealth of knowledge about Asian culture even revealed to him the color that he and Robin selected for their brand: Pantone Orange 021 C, often associated within the Asian culture with energy, creativity, and enthusiasm. For many Asian people the color represents joy, celebration, and positivity, evoking feelings of happiness and enthusiasm.
In Chinese lore, orange is the color of change,” Tejeda said. “Orange in Mandarin sounds like ‘Fortune’. It was the color for us.”
EZ Baccarat, in turn, is THE game, the game for the people, unrivaled and unmatched within the baccarat table game sector. It didn’t happen without the drive, passion, and ingenuity of Francisco “TJ” Tejeda and Robin Powell.