The Co-operative Marque: communicating co-operation

In November 2013, the global Co-operative Marque was officially launched at the International Co-operative Alliance’s conference and General Assembly in Cape Town. Unveiled at a dazzling laser show by ICA...

In November 2013, the global Co-operative Marque was officially launched at the International Co-operative Alliance’s conference and General Assembly in Cape Town.

Unveiled at a dazzling laser show by ICA president Dame Pauline Green in front of 1,200 delegates from 86 countries, the new global brand was the first major change in the visual identity of the co-operative movement in almost 100 years.

To date, there has been 1,144 successful applications for the marque from 95 countries, and 8089 .coop domains registered in 95 countries. In the next few months, its profile will be ramped up even further with a series of initiatives and events.

Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK since 2009, is also chair of the ICA’s communications committee, which headed up its development.

“The communications committee was refreshed in the run-up to the International Year of Co-operatives in 2012, bringing together communications and branding specialists,” he recalls. “The first project we led on was around the development of the Co-operative Marque.

“It was a wonderful project to work on, with a lot of interest from the UN.”

Co-ops were reawakening to their own power and reach as a business model and experiencing the power of ethical marques.

“The idea was to create and strengthen values over a 10 to 20-year period with a globally known and differentiated symbol,” he says.

“We ran a consultation which led to the development of the marque as it is. Its spread has been very rapid, to over 100 countries so far. There are also branded credit cards in places like Brazil and mobile phone apps, too.

“The design work was done by Calverts co-op working with an Argentinian design agency. When we started, we thought we were looking for an image of co-operation rather than a word, but traditional symbols like circles and hand-shaking bees have also been taken up by plcs and corporates to suggest they are more co-operative than they are. Out of the survey, COOP as the marque emerged, and it works. You think, ‘that’s us’. It reinforces and amplifies an existing understanding. The advantage we have is that we have been going for a long time and people are able to link in with us.”

Dame Pauline Green unveiled the Co-operative Marque at the International Co-operative Alliance’s conference and General Assembly in Cape Town last year

More than 20 years ago, Ed Mayo was one of the early pioneers of the Fairtrade mark at a time when issues like ethical consumerism and the importance of branding as a marketing tool were still in their infancy.

“We took a lot of time to get it going. I remember sitting in a basement somewhere with people having lots of discussions about trying to create a brand.

“One of our inspirations was that we wanted to do for global justice what the Woolmark brand did for wool and British producers. At the time, the Woolmark was an everyday symbol of quality and the Fairtrade mark has succeeded beyond our expectations.

“It is still a work in progress but three-quarters of all Fairtrade comes through and is sold by co-operatives. Its success shows there are chains of possibility throughout the world.”

The worldwide success of the Fairtrade brand has also spawned dozens of imitators aiming to attract a specific market.

“Here in the UK, there are 80 separate marques in the food sector alone,” adds Mr Mayo. “The key is to be able to get to the point of public recognition – that’s the point at which co-op identity begins to be a marketing asset. You don’t need to persuade people, they recognise you. That’s the commercial benefit of the co-operative difference – but we are not just doing this as a communications exercise.

“This year we are also trying to revitalise an important date for the global co-op community; International Co-operative Day is the first Saturday in July. Here in the UK it is also the closing date for Co-operatives Fortnight. We are working again with the UN to set a theme before 4 July on equality.

“Choose co-operative, choose equality is one of our core values and something that has always distinguished co-ops and our model of ownership, sharing the benefits in a world where inequality is seemingly inexorably on the rise.”

2015 will also see several summits take place, where the ICA is hoping the marque will play a key role in promoting co-operative values.

“This autumn there is a vitally important global diplomatic event at a meeting called by the UN to set sustainable development goals for the world as a whole, and in Paris in December there is a second event around climate change,” he says.

“The Millennium Development Goals had some real successes around issues like health, nutrition and aspects of poverty, but the dashboard of progress we have shows it is hard to achieve social or environmental gains unless we share ownership in the co-op spirit.”

All co-operatives are now encouraged via channels like the ICA website to use the Marque and a .coop domain and join thousands of similar organisations around the world giving greater visibility to co­-operatives. There is also a toolkit with downloadable elements to encourage more organisations to enhance their co-operative identity, including posters, video tutorials, editorial, a multi-lingual banner and buttons for websites and newsletters.

“When you are in line with co-op identity, it is a very simple and straightforward process to sign up to the Marque via the main programme run by the ICA,” says Mr Mayo.

“The co-op marque can be used quite openly in any setting. You can have it on your annual report or website and it is very visible. It has all the flexibility and signals the kind of values which we have with huge ethical recognition and marketing power.

“Large plcs have to spend billions of pounds to create and burnish their reputation, but the co-op is people-centred and has the power of voluntary action. Consumer co-operatives are owned by their customers who do a lot of the marketing for them.

“The beauty of the Co-operative Marque is that it is a symbol which echoes the co-operative model wisely and is a great device for spreading awareness.”

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