THINGS have picked up on the high street over the last month, but it’s not a case of a rising tide lifting all boats: the recession seems to have made the customer more discerning. Of the 25 high street retailers which BrandIndex measures daily, we’ve taken three of our top-ranked, and compared them with three of our bottom-ranked. The results point to an emerging polarisation between the best and worst, the top-rated seeing their scores improve still further while the lowest are seeing their scores dip. <br /><br /><strong>M&S IS STILL A FAVOURITE</strong><br />For example, Marks & Spencer has seen a rapid growth from around +40 points to around +50, while Phones 4 U has slumped from around -4 to -15 in the same period. The gap between good and bad brands is growing, as consumers become less willing to give the weaker ones the benefit of the doubt, but are more willing to throw their weight behind the strong ones. <br /><br /><strong>STRIKES HIT ROYAL MAIL</strong><br />The threat of postal strike action leading up to the Christmas period was never going to reflect well on Royal Mail’s brand. While the two sides in the dispute battle it in front of the microphones, each trying to push the blame on the other while exonerating themselves, the inevitable happens: the brand collapses. <br /><br />This is not like any normal dispute, as we are all customers. When we send a letter and it fails to get delivered, the hit is personal, even emotional. Its brand strength was derived from that personal connection, and that now turns out to be its vulnerability. While Royal Mail dives, its competitors (in this case FedEx and DHL) have usurped part of its brand value, as well as its market share.<br /> <br />Stephan Shakespeare is co-founder and chief innovation officer at polling firm YouGov.