Marketing the cooperative advantage

The concept of cooperatives and credit unions using the fact that they were co-ops as a “unique selling point” (USP) was historically not very attractive to co-ops in the US that believed their customers might think less of them if they knew they were not conventional investor-owned companies. The idea gained traction in the 1990s, after the Gallup Organization released the first poll on co-ops it had ever taken in its 75-year history. The poll was sponsored by the National Cooperative Business Association[1]; Credit Union National Association[2]; the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association[3]; National Co-op Bank (NCB)[4], and other apex co-op organizations.

The 1994 Gallup Poll found that all else being equal, two of every three people surveyed expressed a preference for ‘buying co-op’ because co-ops and credit unions were perceived as more trustworthy. Their responses showed a recognition of and respect for cooperatives’ ‘multiple bottom line’ accounting, which measures social and environmental benefits and values honesty, openness, fairness and caring for others.

In 1995, a national leadership forum on ‘Marketing the Cooperative Difference’ took place in Boston, MA under the direction of Andy Ferguson, then Director of the Cooperative Development Institute (CDI), Northeast’s apex co-op development center, and Tom Webb, then Director of Cooperative Extension at Saint Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia (a position created by Atlantic Canada’s heroic co-op organizer, Father Moses Coady).

From that event sprang numerous programs, conferences, workshops, training materials, journal articles and marketing campaigns in the US and Canada, based on what many cooperators now refer to as “Marketing Our Cooperative Advantage” or MOCA. A 2005 Report on how MOCA was used by a selection of co-ops and a review of its effectiveness can be found here. Tom Webb has written about the concept here; it is one of foundation blocks of the international post-graduate degree program for managers of co-ops and credit unions that he helped create and currently manages [5].