The benefits of brand focus: The Sun on Sunday

Back in July 2011 I posted here that "The closure of the New of the World leaves the door open to a stronger brand portfolio through the launch of "The Sunday Sun"."

And, voila. This Sunday Rupert Murdoch's News International will indeed launch The Sun on Sunday newspaper. It will replace the gap in the brand portfolio left by the killing of the toxic News of the World (NOTW), fatally damaged by a series of sordid scandals about phone tapping. [Note for non-UK readers: the Sun is Britain's biggest selling daily newspaper, sold Monday-Saturday. The NOTW was the biggest Sunday newspaper, sold only on Sunday].

Although its in the world of media, there are some interesting branding learnings from this story which are broadly applicable, in particular the benefits of brand focus.

Screen Shot 2012-02-24 at 09.12.01

1. The benefits of brand focus

By replacing the NOTW with the Sun, New International will end up with a better brand portfolio, focused on one single brand. This means all the marketing effort put into the Sun brand can now be leveraged seven days a week, instead of just six.

This move will also be more efficient from a cost standpoint. With two brands, the temptation is to have separate teams, as was the case with The Sun and the NOTW. "Oh, we're not like the Sun. We have our own editorial style. And a proud history of our own. etc." Now there can be a single editorial team, which should reduce complexity and costs.

2. New brands are a last resort

Company's often rush into branding decisions, without thinking through the issues in a structured way. This often leads to a new brand being created, when this should be a last resort, given the costs to create, build and manitain it.

The key issue to consider is the degree of stretch from the core product (The daily Sun newspaper sold Monday – Saturday) and the new product (a popular Sunday paper).The Sun has similar mix of sport, sex and scandal that the NOTW had. The stretch from the core is limited, and so a brand plus decriptor is the right strategy. If the stretch had been bigger, a sub-brand or even new brand could have been considered, as illustrated below. For example, if the strategy had been to launch a more middle-market newspaper.

Screen Shot 2012-02-24 at 09.51.40
3. Being forced to follow the money

Perhaps the most interesting bit of the story is how it took a sordid scandal to force News International to "follow the money" and create an efficient, single brand portfolio. Shouldn't the NOTW should have been replaced with the Sun years ago, especially given the decline in newspaper circulation, which requires more cost reduction and a drive for efficiency? After all, this is a common branding strategy used with The Times/The Sunday Times and the Daily/Sunday Telegraph.

And come on. What better brand could there be for SUNday that The SUN? Duh!

So, why do companies like News International not follow the money with their brand portfolios? One key reason is the emotional attachment to brands in the company. Managers find it hard to kill a brand they have grown to like or even love. Second, companies over estimate the importance of brands. As long as the service or product stays the same, or even improves, most people will carry on buying if the brand changes name.

In conclusion, the Sun on Sunday shows beautifully the benefits of brand focus. When it comes to branding, as in business in general, less is definitely more.