Simon Ward: chief executive at branding consultancy Holmes & Marchant
Simon Ward: chief executive at branding consultancy Holmes & Marchant
A view from Simon Ward

Co-op should take care when navigating the agile route

News that The Co-operative Group has rolled out an online customer feedback survey to help develop future brand positioning signifies that the organisation is becoming more agile in the way it formulates products and services.

Instead of developing brand positioning and marketing activities in isolation, agile branding techniques involve canvassing and, crucially, incorporating customer insight before testing their success on the market.

However, techniques and timing are both crucial components of agile branding and unfortunately, don’t seem to have been high on The Co-op’s list of priorities.

Successful brand turnarounds should be led by a product or service innovation that consumers can readily engage with. A refreshed offering takes the focus off past associations and allows consumers to re-evaluate their relationship with a brand.

Given the range of negative associations that The Co-op has at the moment, this should be a prerequisite in any brand evolution going forward.

However, the right tactic has to be married up with the right way in which to research customer insight. Rolling out a faceless online questionnaire gives the impression that they are not actually that serious about acknowledging feedback.

Rather than a purist approach, which addresses an entire customer base, the organisation should have taken the agile route and at this early stage, simply engaged strong advocates of their brand. This would provide more constructive feedback that has a much higher chance of contributing to their repositioning than otherwise.

Customer liaison is not new to the firm. The Co-op’s website clearly states that its ethical policy was developed following a round of customer consultation. Given the negativity that has come to bear since then and the publicity that drives people to the current survey, it’s vital the firm properly acknowledges feedback.

Indeed, if a brand already has strong, positive associations, these can help it ride out the storm. For example, in spite of Toyota’s recent product recall issues, the name it has built for itself in terms of reliability and innovation has helped it to ride out some tough criticism.

Back in 2009, Starbucks’ 77 per cent dip in profits was addressed in a truly agile fashion, when their CEO became more actively involved in helping to redirect the brand. This worked by trialling new store formats and ploughing efforts into ensuring that their staff are proud to be Starbucks employees and all that entails.

As well as employing consumer-friendly tactics, the "test-learn-commit" philosophy was part and parcel of what they did. Trialling a new approach is all well and good, but without going back to the market to canvass further opinion, the involvement of consumers becomes negligible.  

It is heartening to know that every successful brand has dips in popularity and in fact it’s the way in which they recover that really helps demonstrate their ability to survive.

Given that the past 12 months haven’t exactly been plain sailing for The Co-op, any efforts to engage in agile branding tactics should be taken seriously and be a far more permanent, ongoing element of their outlook than it seems to be at present.

Simon Ward is chief executive at branding consultancy Holmes & Marchant