Co-op plots “energetic” marketing to move beyond food

The Co-operative Group has vowed to take a more “purposeful and energetic” approach to marketing in a bid to modernise perceptions and raise awareness of its businesses beyond its retail division.

Co-op Bank

The group is best known as a food retailer but will increase investment in marketing divisions such as banking, funeral care and travel to boost the number of consumers that deal with more than one of its businesses.

Gill Barr, who was appointed as group marketing director in February to develop a customer centric brand and marketing strategy across the group, says The Co-op is often guilty of “hiding its light under a bushel” but believes that now is the time for the organisation to shout a bit louder about its other businesses.

She says: “One of the things that unites all our business is the flight to trust. At a time when trust is in short supply, consumers don’t trust government or large corporates, footballers or talk show hosts – actually The Co-op is trusted.”

“There is an awareness and information challenge. People don’t necessarily understand all the things that we do. The number of customers that shop across more than one of our business is currently too low. The good news is that our businesses have propositions that customers like; all we have to do is tell them that they are there. That’s the long and short of it.”

The Co-operative Group reported total gross sales for the trading businesses were up 3.1 per cent in the month to Christmas with its retail business up by the same amount. However, it has since announced that up to 280 jobs could go in its food business to “improve cost effectiveness”.

Barr has set up two steering groups – the customer leadership team and the strategic marketing board, to encourage the businesses to think about customers across the group, rather than in terms of separate businesses to develop a group strategy with the customer at the heart.

She is also in the process of recruiting a head of digital to increase its presence online and in social media. It will be the last of a raft of new senior marketing roles, including heads of brand, strategy and insight, that have responsibility across the group to help drive a more “unified” marketing strategy across its businesses.

“From the outside [a Co-operative] can sound like a very old fashioned idea but its actually a modern, dynamic business. Take our banking business, it’s a really good bank but people don’t know about it. It’s partly because The Co-op isn’t very good at boasting.”

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