Brand strategy : general reflexions from Open Food France experience to nurture session at global gathering

#1

We had some discussion in the past about issues with the current branding, especially the confusion between “Open Food Network” the software, and “Open Food Network” the community that does also research, learning communities, etc.

In France we started with a non profit and chose the name Open Food France to easily stay associated with the global brand. Under this brand, the non-profit not only have deployed and proposed a Saas version of the OFN software. We have run some research projects for instance, launched the DFC initiative, some articles have been published about us as not only providing a software but building a learning community about food distribution practices.

With the creation of the cooperative, we will somehow transform the current non profit into a coop, but we want to keep/recreate an association, with the respective mission :

  • The association facilitate a community around the production of food distribution commons (software, knowledge, etc.) that anyone, any enterprise, can use. All is open source.
  • The coop use those commons, especially in a first place the OFN software, to build some collaboratively run commercial activity that enable to organize coinvestment around the improvement of the platform, and shared maintenance and support, but also integrations, thus reducing the cost for everyone and ensuring democratic governance of the digital infrastructure. But the coop will also use the knowledge to offer trainings, and also contribute to this commons by participating to research project, writing papers, etc.

We need to rebrand the association in any case, as it’s not possible to both redirect the domain (open food france to new platform brand) and keep the domain for the association.

So we are considering three options :

Association name Platform name Coop name
1 Open Food Commons/Community Open Food France Open Food France
2 Open Food Commons/Community Open Food France CoopCircuits
3 Open Food Commons/Community CoopCircuits CoopCircuits

For the platform name, some hubs already sell other products than food, and we had requests already of people who want to organize buying groups for wood, ecofriendly building materials, or ecofriendly electric bulbs. One has applied for 50K€ grant to adapt the OFN to organize collective purchase of eco-friendly building material for self-building. And we regularly have users asking us “can we sell other products than food through the platform” ? As the brand makes it unclear…

Even though food is our core center of interest, we don’t see why people couldn’t use the platform to organize sovereign distribution channels for other ethically sourced products. That’s a bit the reflection we had when we first decided to adopt the name “CoopCircuits” for the coop.

We see 2 possible long-term branding strategies around the platform in France:

  • If we keep “Open Food France”, the coop CoopCircuits might then have to deploy other instances for other type of products, like “Open Bazaar”, “Open construction”, etc. Which then will require buyers to go on the good platform to find hubs to buy specific products. And what if a food oriented buying group organize a sale of eco-friendly bulbs ? This strategy is the one Open Food Facts has adopted, and as a user it’s pretty hard to find your way. Open Food Facts, Open Beauty Facts, Open Products Facts… the user experience can be questioned. We see that as a risk if we stick to a brand associated with food only. The pros are that we don’t change the current brand for current users and don’t have to manage on a short term a change of brand. And people who want to buy or sell food clearly identify the platform.
  • The other strategy is to pay right now the cost of changing the brand to a more “inclusive” one, CoopCircuits, for the platform (same as the coop name). It will require to manage redirection and support current users on how they communicate that change to their users. And we need to test how redirections of shop url behave in an iframe. Also the platform is less targeting a specific domain so might be harder to identify for users searching for specific tools for food distribution, or others. But it’s probably easier to maintain on a long terme. We pay now, but probably cheaper that if we pay later the cost of the change ?

Also we are questioning the scope of the Open Food Network brand, which can orient our strategy :

A- Is Open Food Network mainly the software ? In that case option 2 seems more logical, CoopCircuits today propose offers on the OFN software, but could tomorrow propose offers on other software, connection with Odoo modules, pack of modular software together, etc.

B- Is Open Food Network strategy to become an “umbrella brand” and community that gather and curate multiple open source software, that can be integrated with one another in a modular way ? In that case, shouldn’t we rebrand the current OFN software something like “Open Food Software”, so the Open Food Network would curate Open Food Software, but also Odoo modules, Clic’AMAP, etc. Option 1 would then make more sense, we keep just everything under Open Food France and forget about CoopCircuits.

C- Is Open Food Network going to keep on focusing only on food ? Or are you having the same questioning as we have in France about other type of products and possibility to use the same platform to exchange them ?

For the association it seems logical to us to use a name clearly associated to the OFN brand as the mission of the association is to coproduce commons with the rest of the community. Also there are less issues as this association will clearly stay connected to food topics, if we need to create other associations to work on other topic or more general free software things we can easily do it or just work with existing non profits on those domains.

Both the association AND the coop could become affiliate of the OFN, ans use different parts of the global commons, and contribute also in different ways to the global commons.

We feel like we need a discussion about global branding to be able to decide about the strategy we adopt in France. We want as much as possible our actions in France to benefit and contribute to the renown of the OFN brand and community worldwide. But we also want our decision to be consistent with our commercial strategy (ex: be open to non food hubs ?) and to be consistent in our local use of the OFN brand with the global use of the brand (umbrella brand that curate other software or not).

We are proposing a session on this topic and invite you all to reflect on that. You can comment here, with your own case, or just think of it to share when we meet very soon !

@Kirsten that can be some page you want to print to read in the plane :wink: @sauloperez @lin_d_hop @tschumilas @lauriewayne1 @Theodore @Jen @gen.shanahan @danielle just pinging you so you can read before the gathering if possible.

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#2

Great analysis!

Slightly off topic: I keep reading CoopCircus. I hope that’s not a negative in France.

And a few quick thoughts without deep analysis:

  • Yes, people want to sell more than food. It would be a waste not to use the existing platform if it’s suited for the task. Communicating that can be tricky.
  • Food is the main focus. A lot of workshops and education is around helping farmers and coops to be successful while delivering good, local food. While other bulk buying stuff is great, it’s not as important as supporting regenerative agriculture and reducing food waste (in my opinion).
  • I’m looking forward to discussing this and here other’s thoughts about the future of the software and other ways we can use it. That then leads to: do we want to run general bulk buying workshops? Or does OFN become a not-for-profit tech company?
#3

In Canada our ‘mulling’ is very similar to yours in France. We are already selling more than food - flower farmers here are very excited about the platform (and likely thats because of my personal connections). But I don’t think we are far from other non-edible agricultural products — wool, hemp and other fibres, artisanal wood products, etc. For me the type of product is less important that conveying and gathering together communities around ideas of fairness and sustainability. I can see us use ‘fair trade’ concepts more in the future. Personally, my first thought about OFN (platform) was that it was a global fair trade platform with authentic connection and traceability, transparancy to the local growers (something that current global ‘fair’ trade is seriously lacking).

OFN-CAN - is a not-for-profit - and we proposed a mission much broader than deploying a SAAS platform. We include (as France does) research re: digital solutions & sustainable agriculture; helping local communities to distribute food more fairly; etc. I have found that as I talk about the current platform with groups, the conversation very naturally goes to the immaterial commons (knowledge, code, data) and the material commons (seed, genetics, tool libraries). I like the idea of using the term commons somehow in an organizational name. It seems easier to shift the organizational name that the platform name for me. So - I agree - an important discussion to have at the gathering.

#4

For non english speaking countries you could adopt double names for the coop name maybe?

  • “CoopCircuits, Open Food France”
  • “Katuma, Open Food Catalonia”
    You could then use both domain names to redirect to the platform.

For users though, there should be only one name to remember and that’s probably the name of the platform.