Risking Your Brand: the Co-op and the law

In a fascinating article on the Co-op’s entry into legal services, Mark Stobbs looks at what the move means for the legal profession and the Co-op itself.

Stobbs acknowledges that there are challenges ahead. One problem for the Co-op is its brand positioning. Stobbs, quite rightly, asks: “If I shopped at the Co-op, I wonder if I would continue to do so if I found it writing me unpalatable letters on behalf of my estranged partner.”

At this stage, I should make a declaration of interest. I have a Co-op membership card, bank with smile, the Co-op’s online bank, got the family will from them, shop with them and have just become a user of their energy service.

The Co-operative group consists of lots of co-ops: banking, insurance, food, funerals, energy and now legal services. It has built its reputation on the principles of its founders, the Rochdale Pioneers. As a customer, whenever you deal with the Co-op you know that it is owned by its members, aims to provide value for money and behave ethically.

By acting on behalf of a client against another, who is a customer, it could create the perception that it is no longer living its values. That is not to say that perception is correct but perception is what matters when it comes to brand reputation.

The Co-op has established a great, reputable brand. But according to marketing experts, Al and Laura Ries in The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, you have to be very careful about extending your brand line. If the Ries’s are right, perhaps the Co-op should have distanced their legal services offering by giving the service another name. However, the Co-op is so well established in the high street that it would seem a missed opportunity not to maximise its fame.

However, what is more likely to damage a brand is poor service. For the time being, from my experience, the Co-op continues to deliver on its values.

With all this talk of brands there is an irony here. The changes to the legal services market, brought in under the Legal Services Act, are regularly called ‘Tesco Law’. For now Tesco has said it has no intention of offering legal services. To have your brand established for you by others in a market you have no intention of entering says quite a lot about the power of this leading supermarket.

Simon regularly blogs about communications at http://simongoldie.blogspot.co.uk/

Filed Under: Legal Services

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