In February 2009, a multi-million-pound advertising campaign introduced the nation to a new co-operative visual identity. Designed to create a consistent look and feel for the UK’s consumer co-operative societies, the new brand was adopted by the Co-operative Group and several of the independent societies, including Midcounties, Southern and Central England.
Less than a decade on, the Group has reverted to a refreshed cloverleaf logo, and a new membership proposition – ‘5% for you, 1% for your community’. Discussions are currently underway between the Group and independent societies regarding the re-brand.
A spokesperson from the Group told us, “We’ve been talking to the independent societies over the last few months to help them understand why we’re changing and to encourage them to be part of our plans. While no applications have been made so far, we’re mindful that the decision to apply for a licence sits with each individual society and is for them to consider in their own time.”
Gemma Lacey is director of sustainability and communications at the Southern Co-operative. She told us that, as an active participant in the existing national co-operative brand licensing arrangements, Southern “hopes to be in a position to adopt the new branding more broadly (e.g. on store fascias) in the fullness of time.”
Southern has recently refreshed its own visual identity, including introducing a new logo. This identity does not, however, affect the appearance of stores or funeral homes. Gemma Lacey explains: “Our new Southern Co-op brand reinforces our values and underlying purpose as a co-operative. It helps us to tell the story of our own independent society: who we are, what we stand for and what makes us different, and refreshes and strengthens the visual impact of our corporate communications.
“This is particularly from an employer brand perspective, ensuring that we stand out as an employer with a strong recognisable brand that reflects our business. Our new brand has been designed to complement either version of the trading brands.”
The Group’s refreshed cloverleaf logo supports its new membership proposition. Members now receive a 5% reward when they buy Co-op own-brand products and services, and a further 1% is spent on supporting local causes. While marketing materials do state that this reward doesn’t apply to products bought from independent societies, there is potential for confusion, as the cloverleaf branding features on products and point of sales materials used by the independents.
Ms Lacey adds: “We are aware of the potential confusion for members, particularly given we are not participating in the new Co-op brand and 5+1 membership proposition. At this stage, we are working to ensure that our own membership offer is clear and remains focused and relevant for our members, to minimise any confusion.”
Societies who adopt the new brand will also need to adopt the 5+1 membership proposition, so will need to consider the effect on their own member and community activities. “We are currently reviewing whether the approach is compatible with the future vision for our business and in the best interests of our members,” she says.
Other societies are waiting for more information from the Group before they make a decision. Midcounties told us that they’re planning to review the situation in October, when more details around the rebranding will be available. But they are currently trialling the international COOP marque as a food store facia. Plus its Coop Energy business has fully adopted the COOP marque.
It is certainly understandable if the independent societies need time to reflect before making any commitment. This new logo comes less than a decade after the last one, and rebranding doesn’t come cheap. As Gemma Lacey explained: “You will appreciate that a change such as this requires investment; we, therefore, need to be confident that this investment is in the best interests of our business and our members.”
Many societies chose to keep their own independent identity when the 2009 rebrand took place. A spokesperson from Scotmid said: “Scotmid, like several other co-operative societies, felt it was the right step at the time to maintain its independent co-operative brand, although it was actively involved in the early stages of the brand panel.”
East of England is another society which chose to keep its own brand. “The East of England Co-op has a very strong sense of regional heritage and identity, so it was felt to be beneficial to maintain an independent brand identity as the local co-op for East Anglia,” says Minnie Moll, joint chief executive. “There is confusion between the different co-operative businesses, so arguably having a different visual identity helps reassure members and customers that they are supporting their local co-op.”
It remains to be seen whether any of the societies that didn’t take part in the original rebranding exercise will now decide to adopt the cloverleaf. “There are ongoing, very collaborative, meetings between Group and the independent co-ops to discuss how this would work,” says Minnie. “The East of England Co-op has its own distinct branding and membership proposition, which we are happy with, but we are part of the conversation to understand how the new branding and 5+1 proposition are working and therefore whether it should be a consideration for us.”
So, one year on and we’re still very much in a ‘wait and see’ situation. What is clear is that the continued collaboration between the Group and societies is welcomed from all parties. As a Scotmid spokesperson said: “Scotmid is watching with interest and will await the results of the brand and membership trials the Co-operative Group are conducting and appreciate the spirit of openness in which this is being carried out.”