British tabloid The Sun overhauled its loyalty program 18 months ago. Since then, it has grown to 800,000 members, enough for it to use this first-party data on its most loyal audience to inform other parts of its business, like driving more branded content deals, affiliate and in-app ad revenue.
The loyalty program — called Sun Savers, its former loyalty scheme was Sun Perks — was primarily built to reward readers through discount vouchers when the title still had a paywall but only ever amassed around 30,000 members, according to the company. The publisher learned giving away easily accessible discounts doesn’t lead to long-term loyalty.
In July 2017, the program was upgraded primarily to stem the tide against print circulation losses: Members need to digitally enter voucher codes gained from the paper each day to earn £5 ($6.38) in credits a month which can be spent with The Sun’s partners like travel operator Haven and hotel and attraction company Merlin Entertainments.
“Two-for-one dining is wallpaper stuff, you don’t often see tactical promotions in The Sun often anymore,” said Nathan McPherson, chief marketing officer at The Sun. “To get cut through, chasing the casual sale through those offers don’t work.”
As expected, the scheme captures its most loyal base. According to the company, 22 percent of its 800,000 members entered a code in the last two weeks, which is a tight scale. Often subscription publishers look at recency to gauge how engaged their subscriber base is but over a longer period. The Financial Times, for instance, which has a very different paid-for product, looks back over the last 90 days. McPherson said that 67 percent of Sun Savers use the Sun Savers app to enter their code.
The Sun Hols, a promotion the title runs three times a year — during January, April and July — where members pay £9.50 ($12.12) for a holiday, is the biggest driver in getting people to buy copies of The Sun and sign up to Sun Savers. Last year the publisher sold 2 million holidays through Sun Hols. The Sun Hols site drives an extra 2 million unique visitors over the year, according to the publisher, where it sends traffic to its third-party travel operators.
The revenue The Sun gets from the affiliate deals is slim, but the focus with promotions like Sun Hols is on driving loyalty rather than a direct revenue stream. According to McPherson, Sun Savers has helped stem the decline in print circulation by 5 percentage points year-on-year; the rate of decline is 8 percent year-on-year, he added.
“We’ve never chased revenue from partners, we’ve kept that price point [for Sun Hols] for 20 years,” said McPherson. “We’d rather generate other revenue streams. It’s a more efficient way of enabling better commercial deals. It’s a powerful beast having that money sitting in wallets.”
The Sun Savers app will soon carry ads, adding another stream. Also, News UK uses Sun Savers videos, particularly this video where a couple gets a new fridge and a Sun Saver member gets a new Amazon Kindle, as examples of high engagement when it’s pitching commercial deals, said Derek Brown, head of video at the publisher. “There’s a lot of brands out there where it’s eye-opening stuff, the reaction they get and tapping into that value is spot on for what brands are trying to do,” he said. “It’s a good sentimental feeling.” So far it hasn’t yet won a deal off the back of Sun Savers.
The richness of its most loyal members can feed into News UK commercial pitches that include branded content solutions, linking to their online wallets. “As data co-owner, we can build pretty good profiles and customer segmentation through key Sun loyals to hard-working mums, what they like and where they shop and where they want to go on holiday,” said McPherson.
The challenge is to continue evolving a paper-based loyalty scheme into a digital business. The publisher is improving the backend of the platform so it can forge more direct partnerships with different brands. It’s also improving the customer journey to integrate other parts of The Sun universe — like Sun Bingo and fantasy football vertical Dream Dream — encouraging relevant audiences to use its other services.