Our latest articles

Strengthening... Brand positioning & purpose

It’s not an insignificant movement.

According to the International Co-operative Alliance:

  • more than 12% of humanity is part of any of the 3 million cooperatives in the world;
  • the top 300 cooperatives and mutuals reported a total turnover of $2.1 trillion, according to the World Co-operative Monitor (2017);
  • cooperatives employ 280 million people; 10% of the world’s employed population.

However, more than just a major global and commercial force, cooperatives tend to also be businesses with ‘soul’, in which ethics, values and principles feature highly. Many believe they have a greater role than simply ‘member returns’ - a broader purpose that exists arm-in-arm with their core fiscal responsibilities and focus on member value.

So in a world of increased emphasis from all stakeholders - both inside and outside businesses - on corporate responsibility and sustainability, why is it that co-operatives often fail to reap the benefits that should come as a natural result: top-of-mind awareness;enhanced appreciation; positive, value-added associations? Is it:

  • that the concept of the cooperative movement is misunderstood? Or the benefits of being a member poorly appreciated?
  • or, worse, that it conjures up associations of old fashioned, ‘well-meaning’ - but ultimately commercially out-dated - collectives?
  • that cooperatives, by their very nature, eschew self-promotion. Or are maybe inclined to be suspicious of the ‘dark arts’ of marketing communications?
  • or being member-driven, tend to be more internally-focused and slower to react, given their often complex organisationall structures and processes?

Our experience would suggest there are elements of all the above at play.

So what do cooperatives have to do to ensure that they glean the maximum (perceptions’) value from what is a powerful and positive reality?

Quite simply, to think and act as a brand.

Because if what distinguishes a brand from a commodity - or indeed ‘Powerbrand’ from ‘run-of-the-mill’ - is being able to position itself as something more than just ‘What it does’, with a genuine vision & mission; role & purpose; set of meaningful values & principles...

...then surely cooperatives should be on a par with the world’s leading brands?

And if able to communicate that positioning powerfully and consistently, it should be able to clearly differentiate itself from the ‘also rans’.

Understood. Appreciated. Preferred. Trusted. Just like any other successful brand.

But how...?

Based on years of experience working with cooperatives and other member-owned businesses, StrategicFusion’s consultants have developed a process that can deliver not only a more precise assessment of an organisation’s brand, marketing and communications’ needs, but also optimum future positioning strategy, communicated in the most motivating and appealing way.

It’s built around three steps of work: Envisage; Enhance; Enable. Each step is connected and informed by inputs gathered from key audiences - both internal and external - who remain engaged throughout the process.

Envisage: Brand Insights & strategy development

At the heart, is the crystallisation of a company’s ‘Brand Essence’, informed by both qualitative and quantitative research.

Plotted against detailed analysis of current internal and external stakeholder perceptions and experience, a more exact definition is developed for the brand’s desired future:

  • positioning: in the market vis-à-vis competition
  • purpose: broader role & answer to ‘Why do you exist?’
  • proposition: the specific expression of its unique ‘promise’
  • vision, mission & values: corporate ambition, approach & behaviours
  • imagery: style, plus ‘look & feel’
  • tone: language used.

All the above is assessed in relation to how they support and reflect the long-term corporate ambition and business strategy.

Enhance: Brand fundamentals’ expression

Once the brand strategy has been ‘fused’ with the overall corporate and business strategy, it’s then necessary to explore how best to express that positioning creatively.

Differing ideas and concepts need to be explored that ideally build on what already exists; pressure-testing ‘the now’, before embarking on ‘the new’. This may include enhancements to, or a reworking of:

  • name & visual identity
  • supporting visual & verbal ‘language’, plus design ‘look & feel’
  • proposition ‘strapline’ & corporate narrative
  • brand architecture: not only to determine the optimum portfolio strategy, but also reflect that structure through the most effective hierarchy (roles, relationships) between differing parts of the company, or brand family
  • identity & design specification systems, supported by online management.

Strategy without creative expression remains merely theoretical; while true differentiation can only be achieved by aligning the emotional with the rational.

In this regard, the creative concepts’ stage of any project is just as important as the assessment stage.

Enable: Brand communications & implementation

Having ‘fused’ the brand strategy with its core creative expression, the next stage of the journey is to ensure that the new, or evolved positioning is communicated consistently across all stakeholder touchpoints.

This is not solely an exercise in implementation, but rather one of improving the overall ‘brand experience’; ensuring that wherever, or whenever, an individual ‘touches’ the brand, their take-out ‘fits’ with its overall promise, as defined during the ‘Envisage’ phase.

Such touchpoints - or ‘moments of brand truth’ are likely to include:

  • corporate & product-specific branded materials
  • new / revitalised on- and off-line communications’ materials, including video, web & digital marketing
  • specialist applications & larger scale applications (e.g. interiors & 3D).
  • internal change communication & behavioural / training programmes that help direct the new, or evolving, ‘brand-led’ culture
  • improved service delivery processes, procedures & systems.

However, you can have all the most carefully planned steps-of-work in the world, but if you haven’t taken people with you on the journey, then it’s highly likely that, at some stage, they’ll find it difficult to endorse your recommendations; either because they don’t understand where they’ve come from; or, more personally, don’t feel ownership.

Engage: Brand buy-in & commitment

Involving important stakeholders at all key stages of the project cannot be stressed enough. Quite simply, the more effort put in; the more robust the outputs will be.

Engagement can take many forms:

  • the gathering of insights from colleagues during the early stages of the project, be that through one-on-one interviews, workshops, or co-creation sessions
  • inputs from external audiences via qualitative, or quantitative research. Or both. Fact-finding; exploring hypotheses and concepts; testing ideas and recommendations.
  • regular feedback sessions, updates and presentations around ‘conclusions so far’.

Envisage. Enhance. Enable; and Engage...

...does not have to be overly complex; but it does need to be thorough.
Nor does it imply ‘change’; just a willingness to consider opportunities that might exist.

In the majority of cases - especially with established brands - a project is likely to be more in the area of identifying degrees of change, rather than large-scale repositioning. Evolution, not revolution.

Yet, the benefits can be enormous, delivering a more precise definition of where a brand needs to be in the future, alongside a more accurate and motivating communication of that desired positioning and purpose.

Even the smallest improvements ‘on the margin’ will drop straight to the bottom line and result in enhanced - and deserved - brand appreciation and understanding.


Quite simply, they need to begin to think and act as a brand