Credit: Maciej Lewandowski/Flickr

Britain's supermarkets need a more compelling story

A new study claims that consumers are losing their 'emotional connection' with the country's grocers.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 04 Apr 2016

There’s no doubt that Britain’s grocers are down in the dumps. That’s partly down to the falling price of food and changing shopping habits, but a new study published today suggests it could also be a brand problem.

Aesop, a ‘brand storytelling agency’, asked 2800 people about their perspectives on 154 of the biggest brands in Britain. It then used their responses to compile a not-so-scientific index of the best ‘storytelling brands.’

You might not be surprised to see Apple take the top of the tree. Under the late Steve Jobs it expanded rapidly and created a worldwide army of cult-like fans willing to camp outside stores to get their hands on its latest shiny white gizmo. Other top performers include fellow Silicon Valley giants Google and Facebook, and the charities Macmillan and Cancer Research UK.

‘As ever, those brands with a strong sense of mission do well in our storytelling survey,’ said Ed Woodcock, Aesop’s 'director of narrative'. ‘Their purposes for being make their narratives heroic and their storytelling clear and compelling.' Of course it's a lot easier to create a 'heroic' narrative when you're trying to cure cancer or change the world's relationship with computers. Flogging cheap food or current accounts isn't quite so compelling.  

'Those brands that have lost a sense of who they are and why they exist have taken a tumble,' Woodcock added. That’s perhaps a pointed reference to Britain’s grocers, all of whom performed poorly. Marks & Spencer did the best, as you might expect given that brand’s sense of history, but even it only made it to 22nd place. Tesco tanked to 51st, Sainsbury’s slipped to 79th and Asda ambled in at 87th. Morrisons only managed a pitiful 111.

The big four were roundly beaten by German discount chains Aldi and Lidl, which came in 28th and 29th respectively. That might not seem surprising given their recent habit of beating the big beasts in most respects, but they aren’t exactly known for their massive marketing budgets.

‘Of the big four, [Tesco] is the one that has most lost its sense of purpose, and this is reflected in opinion about it’ said Woodcock. ‘If the company is to resurrect ‘Every Little Helps’, it can’t just be a strap line, but a heartfelt reappraisal of what they really mean by it these days. Aldi and Lidl, by contrast, know exactly who they are, whom they serve and where they are going, with characterful comms that reinforce their distinct role in consumers’ lives.’

You have to wonder, though, what comes first - the story or the success? Becoming the most valuable company in the history of earth (Apple) is a pretty damn compelling story to be able to tell. Being a struggling supermarket that's squeezing its suppliers, slashing prices and suffering from a 'lethal cocktail' of high taxes and wage bills, less so.

The top 10 best storytelling brands: 

1. Apple 

2. Macmillan 

3. National Trust

4. BBC

5. Xbox 

6. Cancer Research UK 

7. Samsung

8. Sony Playstation

9. Google

10. Facebook 

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