The Co-operative Group is asking customers to help develop its brand positioning as it attempts to move on from the biggest crisis in its 150-year-old history.
The Manchester-headquartered organisation has launched the biggest piece of research and engagement in its history, asking customers, colleagues and members to “Have Your Say” via an online survey.
Developed in conjunction with YouGov, the survey asks people for their views on the future of the Group and the issues it faces and will be available until March 24.
The poll is being promoted by a multi-million pound marketing campaign, including the words: “We know it’s time to change. But not until we’ve heard what you have to say.”
These views will then feed into the Group’s wider strategic review, with the results to be unveiled in May.
Chief executive Euan Sutherland said: “In recent years The Co-operative has lost touch with its customers and members and with the communities in which it operates – we haven’t been listening. As a new management team we are focused on renewing The Co-operative and the UK public will be vital to that process.”
The Co-operative suffered a series of high-profile traumas last year, including pulling out of a deal to buy 630 branches from Lloyds bank when a £1.5bn hole was found in its finances. The Co-operative Bank’s chairman Rev Paul Flowers was also forced to resign over allegations he took class A drugs.
But the Co-op’s survey strategy did receive criticism in some quarters, with one marketing academic at Manchester Business School claiming it was akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater”.
Senior lecturer Dr Stuart Roper said: “The Co-operative Group is unique in today’s business world – it was founded with a clear, specific ideology and philosophy, and this heritage and history has helped it to create a strong identity.
“The company’s model is a genuine alternative to the profit-led businesses that the public is increasingly distrustful of. While the Group’s banking arm has been hit by scandal recently, there is little evidence that an overhaul of its entire way of doing business on the basis of this will prove successful in terms of restoring trust in the organisation.
“The Group’s decision to poll the general public about its future is akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Going out to the general public – which might have no idea of the company’s history or have any connection to it whatsoever – is one way to ensure that its strong heritage will be eroded. The Co-operative Group is in very real danger of diluting the message it was founded on, and ending up just like any other retailer.
“A better approach would be to separate the main business from the banking arm – which is, after all, only 30 per cent owned by The Co-operative – and to go back to the values upon which it was based.”