Today sees the publication of a survey that purports to reveal “The Best Retail Brands”. Assembled by branding consultancy Interbrand, the top five European players, perhaps unsurprisingly, are H&M, Carrefour, Ikea, Tesco and Zara, in that order.

What is interesting is a comment in the report by global chief executive Jez Frampton that “branding was historically viewed as the ‘lipstick on the pig’,” but that attitudes towards it have changed.

The report claims that H&M and Zara have understood the “perfect mix between finance, space and brand”, although it does not really go on to say what this mix actually is and how it works – but perhaps results speak for themselves.

There is however a commendably succint analysis of the way in which a brand can speak to its shoppers.

“Merchandising logic”, which turns out to mean the arrangement of the stock on the shelf, planned adjacencies and layouts within categories, wayfinding, shopper flow, packaging and imagery / graphics. That’s quite a list and goes a long way towards defining the job description of those people found in retailers’ visual merchandising and store design departments.

All of which wouldn’t amount to much without the simple building block on which all good retail businesses are constructed – understanding customers and their motivations for buying.

There is a reason why shoppers choose one retailer’s offer over another and, allowing for the fact that there is frequently little to choose between the products on display, it boils down to in-store environment. The Interbrand report accuses some retailers of overlooking this and says the outcome in difficult times is declining sales and market share.

At last Thursday’s Retail Week Awards, Tesco emerged triumphant as the Consumers’ Favourite Retailer of the Year, a gong that would seem to back up this report’s view of it as a retailer that succeeds in giving shoppers what they want. And yet, try to crystallise what the Tesco brand amounts to and it is not easy.

Low prices? Well, there are others who have lower for certain items, but in general, yes.

“Every little helps”? Well, we all know the strapline.

Stores where you can seem to get almost anything? Not quite, but not far off.

So do all of these, and of course the way the stores look, add up to the Tesco brand?

Tesco has developed such a recognizable series of formats that you know where you are even without the logos. It is perhaps this level of understanding that marks this supermarket out as one that has delved deep into its shoppers’ psyches and, somewhere along the line, created a brand.