At a time when the public’s faith in established institutions is in rapid decline, it’s never been more important for brands to lead with purpose.
Co-op have an inspiring legacy of supporting communities.
The brand can trace its roots to The Peterloo Massacre in 1819, when state cavalry attacked a peaceful protest for universal suffrage in Manchester. 654 people were injured and dozens died. This was one of the darkest times in the industrial revolution in Britain — food was scarce, wages were cut, and unemployment was on the rise.
Following that, a group called The Rochdale Pioneers established what would later be known as The Co-op, introducing affordable food and rationing to ensure that everyone received their fair share. Their organising philosophy was based on the idea that businesses should give back to their customers. Today, this idea remains a core part of their mission. When you shop with Co-op, you get 5% of your transaction value back for you, and a further 1% gets donated to important local causes.
However, while we might trace the provenance of purpose-driven business practices back to The Co-op in the 1800s, we live today in a world where every brand has a CSR campaign — and, sadly, too many of them look alike.
Co-op approached Blue State because they wanted to do something truly transformational. Instead of just funding incredible local projects all over the UK, they also wanted to help build resilience within communities, empowering them with the tools, technology and resources needed for those projects to succeed at a grassroots level.
Breaking The Fourth Wall
Grassroots, community-based organising is central to Blue State’s core philosophy as a company. We’ve always believed that brands have an important role to play within society, not just philanthropically, but also as catalysts for change, facilitating opportunities for their customers to give back.
We knew that if we were to realise Co-op’s vision to drive grassroots organising at a local level, we’d need to draw from all of our resources as an agency — from our deep experience in British and American politics, to our work with advocacy groups such as Freedom To Marry, and purpose-driven brands such as Patagonia.
What followed would be an intensive strategy project to help us determine how Co-op could break down the fourth wall between the brand and its audience, creating opportunities to not simply serve a community, but to become a driving force for change within it.
Choosing The Right Model
Fundamentally, this project would be about how Co-op could become an effective community organising force. But no organising campaign or movement is the same. They each have their own unique strengths, (an inspiring leader, ownership of an issue or mood, national or global reach) and weaknesses (poor internal communications, lack of financial resource, indecisive leadership). Generally though, in the way that they’re structured and governed, they can be categorised in one of these four ways:
The Role of Digital
True community organising isn’t about one group organising the many, it’s about empowering the many to organise themselves. Digital has a big role to play in this mission — but it’s not a silver bullet. In a world saturated with online petitions, pledges and surveys, there’s no doubt that we’re all a little fatigued by the perceived ineffectiveness of these light-touch digital asks.
When working with Co-op on this project, we explored the emergence of an important organising trend — what we’ve come to define as ‘digitally-instigated offline organising’. This form of organising, typified by organisations like Indivisible and technology like CallOut, is about using digital to both recruit and mobilise supporters, as well as activate them offline where they can have the most meaningful impact.
Digital engagement campaigns have an important role to play in organising. However, without a powerful action-oriented platform to grow your supporter-base and a coordinated grassroots organising operation, movements can lose momentum and fall flat. With this in mind, we leant on our deep experience in digital campaigning, field organising and platform development to advise Co-op on how everything should be integrated to deliver the best positive results.
We’re happy to say that Co-op has just launched a pilot of the platform we helped them craft for Stretford, Manchester. Under the moniker ‘Co-operate’, it aggregates groups, sports clubs, activities and other community events into one place, making it easier than ever before for people to find opportunities to get involved. We can’t wait to see what’s next.