The Southern Sun Story: The Rebirth of One of SA’s Favourite Brands

11 Aug 2006|Added Value

Ask consumers to list the hotel brands in SA and it won’t be long before they mention Southern Sun with a smile on their faces. Ask them where the nearest Southern Sun Hotel is and you are likely to get a blank stare.

In 2004, Southern Sun began a journey to reassess their brand portfolio strategy and invigorate their communications with the help of brand development and insight company Added Value and ad agency Morris Jones. 

At the time, Southern Sun was pursuing a multi brand strategy with an international flavour.  Brands like Holiday Inn, Crown Plaza, Holiday Inn Garden Court had been introduced to give the hotel chain international flair and recognition, but the marketing team were concerned that the Southern Sun brand was getting lost in the clutter and wanted to assess the effectiveness of their strategy. 

Mapping the Market
Developing a strong, responsive portfolio of brands relies on a deep understanding of the market and in ensuring that the needs of each segment of that market are being met in an effective and unique way. 

The starting point of this journey was with the consumer.  To identify what consumers were looking for, Added Value began a process of speaking to a wide spectrum of travellers in the market; both local and international business and leisure travellers as well as procurement agents and travel agents.

The research unearthed a number of insights, through which the new Southern Sun Portfolio started to take shape; a portfolio that covered the premiere, economy and budget sectors, as well as unearthing a new, emerging segment in the traveller market.

Southern Warmth
Added Value’s insight work showed that the mother brand, Southern Sun, was well loved; cueing feelings of warmth, refreshment, leisure, energy, caring, family holidays and sunshine.  Most importantly, it had much more emotional appeal than any of the other brands in the existing portfolio. 

The discovery of this residual strength of the Southern Sun brand opened up a wealth of opportunities to recreate and redevelop a strong and multifaceted portfolio of hotel brands under the Southern Sun umbrella, falling within its overall positioning of ‘Southern Warmth’.  The Southern Sun hotel brand was seen as the perfect anchor point for the portfolio, because of the strong presence it still held in the mind of the consumer. 

Premier:  You’ve Arrived
At the heart of the old portfolio were the flagship hotels like the Cullinan, the Cape Sun and the Elangeni.  While these were part of the family, they weren’t overtly seen as being part of the Southern Sun Brand.  These four star hotels were subsequently all re-branded under the Southern Sun banner.

The research highlighted that the premier sector (four star hotels) was seen as a bit of a no man’s land, with little understanding from consumers of what to expect from this offering.  Consumers were not sure if it was just a little bit better than economy or just shy of the five star hotels. 

The consumers in this sector were looking for a more personalised, stylish and ‘pampered’ experience, guiding Southern Sun’s recreation of a four star brand experience which aims to focus on one guest at a time.  Generous attention, together with the creation of distinctly individual personalities for each hotel, aims to ensure a personalised, stylish and non formulaic experience in each property.  An experience that really ‘inspires delight’ in the hearts of guests, which is the key promise of Southern Sun Premier hotels.

Economy: Great Stay, Great Day
A further learning from the insight work was the lack of differentiation in the economy sector (three star hotels).  In this sector, everyone seemed to be offering the same services at similar prices, and was ultimately seen by guests as being a dull and uninspiring choice; a bit of a necessary evil in both the business and leisure sectors. 

As a result of this, a gap existed for Southern Sun to reinvent its Garden Court brand, pulling it directly back into the Southern Sun family and subtly injecting it with some of Southern Sun’s flair.

Previously linked with Holiday Inn, the decision was made to create a clear South African brand that removed any of the previous confusion that existed in the market around Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Garden Court.  

Morrisjones&co, the advertising agency for Southern Sun developed the brand essence of “Great Stay, Great Day” to meet the consumer insight that “a bad hotel experience really impacts on the success of my day whether it be business or leisure”.  The brand offers guests a fresh look at the economy hotel experience: no longer a ‘just the basics’ hotel, but one that made the basics special.  A hotel experience steeped in the tradition of South African hospitality and which focuses on creating a hotel experience that “just gets it right so that the guests’ stay is comfortable, refreshing and productive”.

A New Breed of Traveller
Another interesting discovery was the emergence of a new breed of traveller; the “balanced styler”.  This type of traveller was looking for “an affordable hotel which didn’t compromise on style”. 

This presented an opportunity for Southern Sun to create an entirely new hotel experience that catered to this type of traveller; a hotel that could straddle both the economy and premier sectors by challenging the perception of economy.  The soon to be launched SunSquare brand is the result.

In a high paced world where travel is a function of modern living, the SunSquare brand aims to offer travellers an experience that is both unique but also great value.  SunSquare is positioned as a hip hotel which sets the trends, yet is relaxed, comfortable and welcoming, promising the guest authentic urban cool.  SunSquare will launch in early 2007 at the Montecasino, Fourways, Johannesburg.

Budget: Wake Up!
Finally, in the budget sector, the insight showed that many frequent travelers were resentful of the amount of money they were spending on accommodation.  The sentiment of these travelers was: “When I am travelling for business the amount spent on accommodation doesn’t make sense – I would rather spend my money building my business, yet I can’t stand the thought of a real budget hotel”.  This was the voice of a large group of smart business travellers – highlighting the gap in the budget end of the market.

With this is mind, StayEasy was developed as the new ‘budget’ hotel offering from Southern Sun, delivering a style of accommodation for people with a progressive mindset.  The positioning centres on “Wake up! – staying anywhere else is just a waste of money.”

Bringing strategy to life
Morrisjones&co was tasked with bringing the strategic portfolio to life through communications that clearly differentiated each brand, but still wove in the Southern Sun parentage. 

The research insight provided great inspiration for the development of individual communication strategies.  This translated into the creation of advertising imagery and copy – as well as media solutions- that would most effectively reach and resonate with each consumer segment covered in the portfolio. 

Portfolio magic
The result is a strong portfolio of clearly defined brands within the Southern Sun family, each speaking to and meeting a specific set of consumer needs, creating an experience that is memorable in the mind of each guest.

Deeply connected to the consumer insight in each sector, each brand has a unique offering which both draws from and adds to the overall Southern Sun positioning of “Southern Warmth”.  This means a stronger platform from which to build on the equity of one of South Africa’s favourite brands and grow into a new era of success. 

By Charles Broome, Added Value South Africa

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