Last week’s Global Innovation Co-op Summit in Paris included a discussion on how to use the co-op identity when communicating with members, customers, employees and the public.
This has become a more pressing issue in an era of overflowing communication, when many corporate businesses are looking to assert their values via corporate social responsibility.
“We know that by definition the co-op model has an identity, so we know that when co-ops market or brand themselves that’s different,” said Violetta Nafpaktiti, CEO of DotCooperation, the registry of the .coop domain and custodian of the Coop Marque.
This identity gives co-ops scope to market their business model and differentiate themselves from others. Samara Araujo, marketing and communications manager at the Organisation of Brazilian Co-operatives (OCB), said her team has done this by adopting the seal “Somos Coop”, which translates as “We are Coop”. OCB also encourages the use of the seal by all co-ops and runs national campaigns publicising the co-op movement.
“We have to show that we meet the needs of consumers,” she added. “We have to communicate it well, clearly and loud,” said Araujo.
Co-operative branding is also at important to Aroundtheworld.coop, which carries out research projects and films documentaries about co-ops worldwide – combining the two strands to increase impact. “Our aim was to make co-operatives visible to everyone,” said co-founder and team coordinator Sara Vicari. “The idea was to reach everyone, not just publish the findings in a journal.
“People should be at the heart of the communication, we need to know what co-ops do and how they do but the key asset is motivation, they attract people because they can contribute with their own ideas, all this should be directly communicated.”
Meanwhile Ethiquable, a French workers’ co-op selling Fairtrade products, uses its product labels to highlight its ethical values. At Ethiquable the general manager is chosen by general assembly, his salary is voted on and 50% of profit is kept by the co-op, not given to external shareholders.
“When you explain that to people they say – why are not all companies like that?” said Rémi Roux, commercial director and president of the co-op.
He added that being an effective business with a 2% market share for chocolate ensured that customers continued to buy from Ethiquable.
For Juhee Lee, team leader of International Relations at the Cooperative Institute of iCoop Korea, co-ops can best promote their identity by staying true to their values and principles. During the pandemic iCoop put co-op values to work to show its commitment to local communities. “Supporting each other (the co-ops) and working as part of an ecosystem is also very important,” she said, adding that iCoop is trying to build an ecosystem of co-ops and works with civil society organisations established by consumer members to address social issues.
She warned against the danger of co-op members becoming mere customers, adding: “When co-ops grow larger various devices are necessary to provide a framework for members to participate.”
A common language can also help co-ops, said Lee. She thinks tools like the dotcoop domain and joint slogans can help explain what co-operation and the co-op identity mean.
But communicating the co-operative identity is not without challenges. To address these, Vicari suggested focusing on impact and social innovation and adopting a participatory approach. Involving all stakeholders in this effort can lead to members and employees telling relatable stories.
“We need to do things effectively,” she added, “but customers can empathise more with you if they know your story.”
Asked how co-ops can appeal more to young people, participants suggested trying to simplify their discourse, run fun activities and diversity their communication products to include videos that can be shared on social media.