Starting a Cooperative in Finland

Marketing is vital for any business

The backbone for the means of action of a cooperative relies on its viability: its income must outweigh its expenditure. The foundation of its marketing is defined in the business idea of the cooperative: what, for whom, how and why the cooperative is planning to produce products or services?

Based on a market investigation, the cooperative defines its scope of action and the circumstances in which it is pursued. This investigation can be based amongst others on common and own research, observations, and interviews and taking advantage of the data available in the Statistical Yearbook of Finland or from start-up centers and other advisory services.

1. The Marketing Plan

The program of marketing measures will define what is going to be done, when and at which price. It covers measures chronologically, generally during one accounting year. It contains all tasks which intend to sell, promote or sustain demand

  • sales (e.g. on the sport , by telephone or by electronic means)
  • marketing communications (e.g. Postal canvassing, advertisements, direct mail, electronic marketing)
  • event marketing (public selling, exhibition centers, other events)
  • communication to the media and the stakeholders
  • liaison activities, i.e. Maintaining consumer and other essential relationships.

The marketing plan can be written as a program of measures. It is a tool allowing the cooperative to execute efficient and well-targeted marketing measures. It can include responsibilities and the objectives of the actions, development, and coordination.
The program will facilitate the monitoring of marketing.

The expenditure due to the measures will make up the marketing budget. The starting cooperative needs to assess the chronological compatibility of the revenue and expenditure; marketing will generate expenses before any income is received.

2. The Market Analysis

The Targets

To whom are we willing to sell – to businesses or private individuals? Where are they? How many possible customers are there, and what is their average purchasing power? Who makes the decisions to buy, and how do we reach those making the decisions?

The Customers’ Needs

What are the customers’ needs and expectations related to the product or service offered? Are they related to price, quality, availability, timeliness, or other similar factors? And what is the weighting between these factors?

The Competitive Situation

Who are our competitors, how do they work, and what are their products or services? Which are their strengths and weaknesses? What is the competition’s nature – is it about price, quality, characteristics, availability, or something else?

The Environment

Are there newcomers approaching this sector, or are existing entrepreneurs exiting and why? Which are the competitors’ collaboration and subcontracting models and networks?

Our Competitive Factors

Do our products or services correspond to our customers’ values? What are our own strengths, trump cards, and predominant factors? Possible collaboration or subcontracting relationships? Already existing customer base?

3. Segmentation

The division of possible customers into groups or customer segments is necessary especially in cases when the customers are divergent or regionally differentiated or when your own resources (financial or human resources) are scarce.

If there are any electronic client acquisition, marketing, or transactions in use, the segmentation takes on importance because customers used to electronic means expect quick reactions.

4. Marketing Communications

For a starting cooperative, it is vital to gain awareness, as well as credibility and acceptability. It is preferable to start with a sufficiently robust initial marketing than wait for the news to spread little by little. Similarly, well-defined campaign-style sales impacts are more efficient than continuous presence in mass media.

In the advertisement, the message is noted and, in the best case, remembered if it is repeated often enough. When selecting an advertising medium, it is crucial to concentrate on its ability to reach its target. Cooperatives should also take advantage of new electronic media, like SMS and e-mail, because their cost can be a fraction of the expenditure for an extensive press campaign thanks to appropriate targeting. This is why an accurate customer file is worth its weight in gold. Still, it will also necessitate collecting or purchasing the data, some insight in the legislation concerning personal data and maintenance.

Specifically, in smaller communities, incorporating a cooperative is an interesting piece of news for the local media. A good relationship with the regional media will help with the pressure of gaining and maintaining awareness. It pays to adopt active outreach as a way of cooperative communications. It may even reduce the need for marketing. A good press release is always a source of news.

5. Cooperative Image

Early before starting to plan the marketing, you should consider what kind of image the cooperative wishes to convey. The target image must be realistic and reachable, relate naturally to the products or services and to its way of doing things. Each member of the cooperative should commit to building this image. You must be able to react appropriately to every inquiry of potential customers, “no can do” will rapidly decrease the customers’ interest in any company.

Symbols are the most visible part of an image. The name, the logo, the slogan, the colors, the forms, the materials make up the frame for the phenotype and the company’s representation. The key priorities are originality, timelessness, a consistent relation to the line of activities, the way of doing, the promises, and the strengths or alike. Everything clear and straightforward will be remembered!

The symbols are applied consistently to everything representing the cooperative, like calling cards, letterheads, packages, brochures, workwear, and exhibition and window dressing. When designing the logo, you should consider the possibilities of dimensioning and producing the colored version in a single color. Before its adoption, it is a good practice to check how it works electronically, like on the website of the company.

6. A good bell will be heard far

One single bad product or work can tarnish the good reputation of a company – and every good product or work is part of the next one. The marketing of a cooperative belongs to every member, being a common task, even if the responsibilities are differentiated where appropriate. Also, every member is “marketing” the common enterprise with his own behavior. Thus, the members of the cooperative are its calling cards or outdoor advertisements. The power of social media, like Facebook, is not to be underestimated. Visibility can promote the awareness of the products and services of a company, and similarly, customers’ dissatisfaction will spread largely into general knowledge.

The follow-up and regular review of any marketing and action plans will help keep an eye on the expenditure and reveal any development needs. As to the image’s follow-up, a simple quality program will suffice: the essential quality components are noted, and their execution is followed through their own observations and customer feedback.

7. Web Visibility

People search for services and products in the web. Web visibility may consist of keyword advertising, web site and social media. For the web site and its pages the cooperative can lease some server space from a so-called web-hosting service provider. In addition to disk space, the web host can provide a domain name (the URL/WWW address), the registration of the site, the mailboxes and visitor statistics. These kinds of service providers are numerous. Certain simple web site creation tools allow the production of web pages.

As soon as the cooperative reaches the step of website creation, it pays to sacrifice some time and money for this exercise because the increasing number of customers will repay the expenditure many times over. The contents and the functionality of the website on different terminal equipment, its protection, and findability (search engine optimization) are worth considering thoroughly. What objectives will the website attain? Do you intend to receive correspondence or direct orders or only to communicate information about new products, for instance? If the skills and time are sufficient, you can create the website yourself. However, it is relatively inexpensive to have a website produced by an external provider.

It is important to remember to maintain the website. The data must be updated; otherwise, they can do more harm than good. Old information and inoperative links can repulse potential customers. If an external provider creates the website, it is useful to verify how the updates work, how much they cost, and who is responsible for what.

8. Website as a channel or trade

Before opening a webshop, the first question is to assess, whether the products offered are fit for sale on Internet. Where the potential customers are and navigate, and whether they are ready to buy this product without seeing it first.

The e-shop can be a part of the existing website or function separately, behind a link that takes the customers there. The simplest way of opening a webshop is to acquire a ready-made webshop package. It may contain management software, an URL address (if a separate address is needed), the server space, the infrastructure, and the visual design. The product pages of the webshop can be modified and updated with an ordinary web browser.

The products sold on the webshop must be well presented with photos and texts and clearly structured. Exhaustive and reliable business, contact, and product data contribute to customer credibility. The pages must show at least the conditions and terms of the sale, the postage and delivery costs, and the instructions for retracting and complaints.

Like all other web pages, the webshop is an excellent way to collect information and build a customer file. The customers must always be informed about the use of the data, and they must be told how they can refuse any other use thereof.

The ABC book of e-commerce is published in Finnish: under Tieke manuals.

How excellent the product may be, it will not sell itself. Marketing is needed to make the products and services of the cooperative known to the customers who would like to see buy them.