M&S is the UK’s top storytelling retailer

A study of UK brands finds Marks & Spencer is the best retailer for storytelling, while Apple takes home first place in the overall ranking for the fifth consecutive year.

Building a coherent narrative around a brand and its purpose helps businesses connect with consumers in a more meaningful way, one which brands hope will help them forge long-lasting and fruitful relationships. At Christmas this becomes all the more important as brands – and particularly retailers – look to win consumers’ hearts as well as their wallets.

You only have to look at the endless stream of elaborately constructed Christmas ads to hit our screens over the past week to see the importance retailers put on their ability to weave heartwarming and emotionally-driven tales. The hype and anticipation around the John Lewis ad alone is enough to rival that of the latest blockbuster.

It’s surprising then that in a study of the UK’s 100 best storytelling brands by creative agency Aesop, the first retailer doesn’t appear until a fifth of the way down the ranking, with the top 20 made up of an eclectic mix of brands including Apple (1), Help for Heroes (2) and the BBC (3).

Looking specifically at retail brands, it is Marks & Spencer that claims the prize as the UK’s top storytelling retailer, having climbed 14 places to 20th.

The study asked 2,000 consumers to identify brands against 10 storytelling attributes, including authenticity, having a clear opinion and evoking an emotional response. M&S scores particularly well when it comes to emotion, with 20% of respondents suggesting they have an emotional response to the retailer, the fourth highest after Macmillan, Green & Blacks and the British Heart Foundation.

M&S Christmas ad featuring Paddington Bear
M&S’s Christmas ad this year features Paddington bear

The retailer, which has enlisted Paddington bear to front its Christmas campaign, revealed its new ‘Spend It Well’ brand slogan earlier this year. In what it claims is a “radical departure” for the brand, M&S has brought together all aspects of the business – both internally and externally – under one positioning for the first time.

READ MORE: M&S launches ‘radical’ new campaign that aligns food and clothing marketing for the first time

“M&S has gone up the ranking because it has been investing in telling its brand story,” says Ed Woodcock, director of narrative at Aesop. “In these uncertain times, long-trusted and authentic brands like M&S benefit. The ‘Spend It Well’ campaign has a clear message about grabbing life with both hands, which consumers have responded well to.”

The fact M&S tells a consistent story both externally and internally also builds credibility.

“It helps develop a sense of purpose around what the brand is for and what it stands against and that is reflected often in the attitudes of employees, which people pick up on. Internal culture built around the purpose of an organisation gives employees motivation to perform well and consumers notice that.”

Aldi is the next best placed retailer at 26, followed by Ikea (29), Tesco (44) and John Lewis (45). Lidl, meanwhile, drops 24 places compared to last year, coming in at 48, while Iceland, one of this year’s biggest risers, moves up 38 places to 58, putting it one ahead of Waitrose. The Co-op (78), Asda (81) and Sainsbury’s (82) all fall in the lowest quarter of the ranking.

READ MORE: Vote now for your favourite Christmas ad

Apple retains the top spot

Looking at the overall ranking, Apple is again the clear winner, taking home the best storytelling brand accolade for a fifth consecutive year.

“Apple has a consistent narrative about humanising technology and around its core values of simplicity, creativity and ease of use. It is continually launching new products, which keeps the brand front of mind, but these launches are punctuated enough to always drive anticipation. Apple finds a good balance between brand and product and its consistency over the years has built up equity that doesn’t diminish over time because it keeps topping it up.”

READ MORE: Apple is the UK’s top storytelling brand

Charity Help For Heroes (2), the BBC (3), National Trust (4) and Amazon (5) join Apple at the top of the table, followed by Facebook, BMW, Sky, Google and Dyson in places six to 10.

While Facebook still features in the top 10 it has dropped back two spots since last year, and it’s a consistent picture for social media brands generally.

YouTube drops out of the top 10, falling 13 places to 19 and Instagram falls 11 places to 25, but it’s Twitter that takes the biggest tumble, dropping 14 spots to 36. Snapchat, a new entry for 2017, fares better, entering the ranking at 13.

“There has been a bit of a backlash against social media this year, and there is a counter narrative emerging around what it does to people’s mental health, its addictive nature, the fact it can be manipulative, the association with fake news, and even the fact it could be a threat to democracy, so people are becoming a bit more wary,” says Woodcock.

Social networks and media brands continue to score well among younger consumers though, with those aged 18 to 24 putting Snapchat, Facebook, Google, Apple and Instagram in the top five spots.

At the other end of the spectrum, those aged over-65s rate Help For Heroes as the best storytelling brand, followed by the BBC, Dyson, Uber and the National Trust. There are no brands that feature in the top 10s for both older and younger consumers.

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