In a competitive market where other retailers are constantly reframing co-ops, asserting the co-operative difference can be a challenge.
During a session at the Practitioners Forum in Manchester, Minnie Moll, joint chief executive of the East of England Co-operative, shared best practices from the society. Ms Moll focuses on engaging members and customers and developing the brand.
“Marketing is not just advertising, it is everything – from PR to social media and how staff answer phones,” she told delegates.
Ms Moll gave five tips for how to successfully send out the co-operative difference message:
“What can you say about building co-op brands that is differentiated and no one else can say it?”
“There is potential here for us with the co-op, a factual dividend, and a feeling as well. Any time we start new communications we want people to think and feel.”
Ms Moll highlighted that powerful pieces of communication, which do not talk about the product and prices, can still play an important role in building a brand.
- Tone of voice
“Watch out around old and traditional language around co-ops. It is difficult because some of that is heritage. If you can, try to get every written and spoken expression in your business to be aligned.”
- Body language
Co-ops should focus on expressing their authenticity, warmth and real care. These are features that have been carried on from the Rochdale Pioneers, said Ms Moll. By body language she described “all of those things that are unspoken”.
“In our body language,” she added, “it’s about being 100% East of England.”
She gave the example of radio ads used by the society to send messages to members and customers.
“People on ads on radio have local accents,” she said, adding that this could help differentiate co-ops from other retailers, perceived by the public as “the establishment”.
“We need to be much better at body language,” she told the forum, adding that millennials liked the idea of co-ops. “It’s an exciting time to be a co-op.”
“The medium is the message. Sometimes where you choose to be is as powerful as what you say to them.”
Ms Moll encouraged co-ops to respond quickly to social media interactions and to use local communications, not just national ones. Village magazines can be “key grassroots local channels” for co-ops, she said, adding that other mainstream retailers would not use such channels.
Ms Moll gave examples of East of England campaigns which embodied the five themes – including “Pop to the Co-op”, an initiative to encourage customers to visit co-op shops.
The society advertised the message at a local football match and fans of the home team started chanting the “Pop to the co-op”.
“It was non-corporate-y, the right sort of language. It’s messaging, it’s the tone of voice, it’s the channel,” she said.
Another popular campaign, Sourced Locally, focused on differentiation, language and channels. While other retailers are running similar promotional campaigns, East of England uses communications with playful shots of local producers.
Co-ops have an advantage here because they really engage producers, added Ms Moll.
“It’s our authenticity, we know these people by name, we pay them on time. As co-ops we are trying to adopt a different body language and communicate in different ways. Retailers are all trying to compete, which pushes us back to our principles and how we can be different. All our ads are real people, real customers, real members.”