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Published July 14th 2008

You Just Can’t Beat Marks’ – Sorry Tesco And Sainsbury’s

I don’t know about you – but growing up in the UK through the 80’s and 90’s (I wish it was later), I have an in-built love for Marks and Spencer. Yes, it’s true.

Not the Marks and Spencer that is constantly talked about in the financial pages and business sections – but the Marks and Spencer that brought us Chicken Kiev (with real chicken), sandwiches with exotic fillings (like avocado and walnuts!) and stuffing with real fruit (amazing).

Anyone who has watched “The Royle Family” will know what I am talking about.  Marks’ (pronounced “Markses”) is revered alongside the Church, “Who wants to be a Millionaire” and the Queen.

This was typified at Christmas time in our house – my mum would faithfully put her order into Marks and Spencer for the Christmas lunch (typically ordering enough to keep the Russian army well fed through a long Moscow winter), but would always have a list as long as her arm to get when she went to pick up the order.  We didn’t shop weekly at Marks, so mum was always there first thing (which was around 6am).

And this is where I come to my point – the perception of Marks and Spencer in the British psyche is incredibly strong and you have to sometimes feel sorry for the other retailers. Below is the simple equation my mum employed when she turned up at 6am:

Marks and Spencer: Food she wanted was already gone = her fault > “I should have got there earlier”
Tesco: Food she wanted was already gone = completely their fault > “Bloody Tesco’s never got any stock in”

Not particularly fair, but there you go.

(I have to show some basic science or equations in my blog to keep up with my PhD colleagues here at Brandwatch.)

But is the view of a 30-something-year-old man (and his mum) represented in the 21st century with the wealth of information and discussion available now on mainstream and social media?

I put it to the test.

Having recently joined Brandwatch, I need to get to grip with all this “Social Media Analytics” stuff and prove to myself that “Buzz Monitoring” really works (and is easy to navigate through). So, I did some analysis in Brandwatch on Marks and Spencer vs. the other big retailers to see if my view holds true on the Internet – and value can be derived quickly and easily.

Brandwatch uses clever technology to look at documents and understand the sentiment – i.e. are you liked or disliked?  It uses machines trained by people and I won’t even pretend to understand the maths behind it at this stage.

The overall Brandwatch sentiment scores for the big UK retailers for the past 12 months are:  Marks and Spencer +0.3, Waitrose -0.1, Asda and Morrisons -0.2, Tesco and Sainsbury’s -0.3 and Somerfield -0.4.  To put simply – a positive score is good, a negative score is bad.

If the great British public are really represented on Blogs and Forums – then this is where Marks and Spencer performs well. However what strikes me is their relative performance compared to the other retailers – their score is 400% better than the next best (percentages are so evil). Yes, OK … Marks is mainly a fashion retailer whereas the others are grocers – but this line is now blurred because the others devote more and more of their retail space to clothing and non-food.  And my love for Marks and Spencer is their food, not their socks and jumpers (which at my age is the vast majority of my Christmas presents).

I don’t know if I am too far programmed but I am pretty sure that Marks’ food just tastes better than even the posh ranges in Tesco and Sainsbury’s.  I’m not sure Brandwatch can help me with that. I’m sorry – but “Finest” and “Taste the Difference” just don’t measure up. (I’m pretty sure my mum will say Marks’ water tastes better than the others).

Anyone who has had Marks and Spencer custard with cream will understand. Looks like the Internet agrees too.

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