The Co-operative’s decision to reinstate its distinctive clover leaf logo is more than a superficial exercise in re-packaging. It heralds a return to the organisation’s core values and reminds us that the Co-op has been a progressive force in the market for over 150 years.
During a disastrous period of mismanagement, ill-considered diversification and scandal, the UK’s Co-operative Group had unquestionably lost its way. Its indistinct position in the market and lack of clear purpose was reflected in a brand that lacked emotion and meaning. You would struggle to find a more compelling case study to illustrate the inextricable link between an organisation’s brand and its underlying competitive strategy.
Bold, confident and friendly, the new retro identity harks back to a previous style from 1969 and has been widely welcomed by branding aficionados. From an aesthetic and practical perspective, the four letter logo is demonstrably more effective. Scalable and clear it makes an instant impact on both small pack of sausages and on of the side a huge truck.
The emotional effect is also strong. Older consumers see something familiar, trusted and nostalgic. Younger folks will see a fresh new brand worthy of re-appraisal.
The charming and versatile clover leaf device will encourage customers to reconsider the Co-operative. Perhaps more importantly, it will ensure that those running the business stay true to the strategy that once made the Co-op so successful. This is important. Visual identity is just one facet of this story.
The logo is emblematic of the Co-op’s radical founding principles. Today, these principles are perhaps even more pertinent than they were back in the 1960s.
Amazingly, the original Rochdale Principles – dating back to the 19th Century – seem so contemporary that they could have been drafted by a modern day entrepreneur.
And this is my central point. Over a century later, the Co-op’s ‘source code’ is still robust and pretty radical…
Long before ebay, etsy et al brought a new wave of digital egalitarianism to business and a generation before Starbucks waxed lyrical about their sincere concerns for coffee growers, the Co-op championed the very essence of fair trade. Fair for producers and consumers. The 2016 re-brand (re-set?) marks a newfound commitment to these ideals.
Decades before Walmart and Tesco devised their machiavellian loyalty programmes, the Co-op was a pioneer in customer retention, building a very equitable rewards scheme in the form of dividend stamps.
Those of us from the vinyl generation still have distant memories of Green Shield Stamps, an analogue precursor to modern day club cards. The return of the clover leaf coincides with a return of dividend payments after a hiatus necessitated by the Co-op’s lamentable financial state.
While crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and P2P lending are on trend at the moment, the notion of community driven and owned ventures is far from new. One of the original ‘member-owned’ social enterprises was the Co-op.
The re-birth of the Co-op’s neat little logo is especially apposite in light of fundamental shifts in the retail grocery market. The big giants are realising the growing appeal of small, local stores. Among other challenges, huge out-of-town sheds are struggling to remain relevant as online services gain share of the ‘weekly shop’ market.
According to industry association IGD, the convenience-store market (typically premises of <2000 square feet) is expected to increase by 17% to £44bn over the next five years. And smaller, convenient, friendly, local stores are at the core of Co-op’s real estate. Until Amazon can deliver a carton of milk and some tampons in 20 minutes, the demand for convenient and local store will remain strong.
Finally, let’s not forget that the Co-op Group is not just a grocery chain. They also have diverse interests including banking, insurance and funeral service. In these sectors, the clover leaf and everything it stands for – familiarity, equity, transparency and fairness – is also appropriate. With care, it can serve as the perfect mark to differentiate these businesses. I wish them all the luck in the world.
Kudos to North Design, the consistently awesome team responsible for making all this happen. Their portfolio includes a delicious array of witty, elegant and meticulously executed brand projects, including for the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. And, hats off to Co-op CEO, Richard Pennycook and his team for having the clarity of thought and confidence to rescue this great British institution.