Brand Finance chief executive David Haigh says The Co-op is a brand “worth noting”, after a greater consistency was implemented across all branches of The Co-operative supermarket following the appointment of chief executive Peter Marks three years ago.
The “Blowin’ in the wind” advertising campaign, which positioned The Co-operative as a retailer with a real difference “had great impact”, says Haigh. “The Co-operative has done a lot of work to cross-promote the different areas of its business compared with the old days when it was quite fragmented.”
The Co-operative spokesperson Russ Brady acknowledges: “Peter Marks took the business by the scruff of the neck and brought it together in a way it hadn’t been operating.
“Bringing all the businesses together under The Co-operative identity, including food and financial services, along with the travel, funerals, pharmacy, legal services and electrical, has been a major plus.”
A £2.5bn investment programme has included a focus on branding, store refurbishments and improvements to customer service. However, it is the brand’s ethical and social approaches that have resonated with the public, particularly its stakeholder structure, believes Brady.
He says: “The investment programme, running alongside our core strengths of ethics and responsibility and being a member-owned business, has been a powerful combination in a time where the perils of going down business models based purely on maximising shareholder returns and short-term profitability came to light.
“There is a clear contrast, and people have begun to see The Co-operative as a viable, mainstream alternative in the areas we work in. Our financial services arm is a good example because our member-owned bank didn’t need to ask the Government for a bailout.
“We stayed close to our members during the financial crisis, which even though we might have been labelled as boring and old fashioned, was seen as a virtue because we weren’t lending more than we were getting in. These things have really resonated with our customers and the wider public.”
The past three years has seen a doubling in profits, revenue and membership, thanks in some part to the acquisition of the Somerfield supermarket chain. A merger of the financial services arm with Britannia is also pending.
Despite such heavy commercial activity, The Co-operative’s social agenda is high on the company’s priorities. “It is not just about ‘giving back’ to communities, but is another way of demonstrating brand unity and strength,” says Brady.
“We make profits to give back to our members and to also increase our social footprint through our social goals agenda. Such goals are not something that are just centrally oriented, they are lived and breathed in each individual business with cohesion and consistency.”
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