Strategic marketing communication in retail: channels & media investment

The 'why' behind the 'buy' series - article 3

Communicate to captivate: Retail strategies for powerful media engagement.

In part one of our retail insights series, we shared practical ways for retailers to understand consumer mindsets and identify which missions and values matter most, to inform messaging that resonates. Part two expanded on brand building’s crucial role in insulating retail brands from market shocks and positioning them for sustainable growth.  

For the final article in this series, we unpack how retailers can optimize their investments for maximum consumer reach and performance enhancement. The analysis delves into the crucial role of marketing communication strategies and tactics, highlighting the art of crafting high-impact messaging that, when delivered through the right channels at the right time, substantially enhances the overall effectiveness. 

Effective advertising will resonate universally. You often can’t limit exposure to your target audience, so hyper-tailoring diverse messages and brand personas for various segments can prove impractical, particularly in media where exposure is widespread. This challenge is especially pronounced with in-store or retailer website experiences, where uniformity prevails for all. 

  • A dual strategy is crucial to meet ever-demanding growth objectives. Today, retailers must win more valuable consumers by intimately understanding, and delivering on, their needs with remarkable experiences and product portfolios that consumers cannot live without. At the same time, they must invest deeply in creating unified, brand-building messages for broad audiences that futureproof growth by ensuring they win purchases by being top-of-mind in future category moments.
    Catherine Gibson
    GfK Global Head of Landscaping and Segmentation

In today’s volatile and saturated markets, retailers need consumer-centric communication strategies to capture high-value segments, spurring purchases, advocacy, and reviews. They also need to connect with a broader audience, create meaningful brand associations, and generate interest in their offering. To succeed, retailers need to reconsider how they perceive and adapt to the changing consumer landscape — targeted activation and brand building need different types of insights, but they still need to be aligned. Ultimately, the aim is to uncover comprehensive and cohesive insights that stimulate existing and future demand and inspire strategies for sustainable growth.  

Retailers are in a great position when the different impact of messaging for short- and long-term growth is understood. Using tactical advertising is a great way to activate consumers who are in the market to buy today. But it does little to ensure those who will be active tomorrow have your retail brand and physical and virtual stores in mind when they are ready to buy.  

A recent collaboration between GfK and Meta clearly shows that its retailers’ investments in brand building ensure long-term growth is delivered: 

What does this mean for retailer outcomes and communications planning? 

  • Get your owned channels right, in terms of both messaging and experience. 
  • Get the messaging and creative right, and ensure creative across ALL communication assets are clearly your brand, and have a strong enough hook to hold consumer attention and a compelling message to engage them.
  • Get the media mix right, by ensuring your paid media mix maximizes reach across those consumers that will drive performance. 

Get your owned channels right

NIQ’s Global Retailer Performance 2023 study, called "Shopper Trends" shows that, in FMCG, 35% of global consumers shopped online in the last month. 

This has remained relatively stable in recent years. Clearly, retail brands have opportunities in both offline and online channels to connect with consumers and deliver efficient, easy-to-navigate, fulfilling experiences.  

GfK data shows that the same holds true in Consumer Technology and Durables. GfK retail brand management insights, shared in more depth in part 2 of this series, exposed experience as a key driver of consumers’ brand choice in both these retail sectors.

Using owned (or rented) real estate to reinforce paid asset messaging is a logical choice, and an accompanying focus to this should be on delivering an irresistible experience.   

Get the messaging and creative right

What is “the right” messaging? And how can retailers ensure their creative ideas deliver it? In the first two articles in this series, we explored some of the key topics retailers must interrogate to better understand what motivates consumers to purchase, and what drives them to their retailer of choice. This uncovered two focus areas:  

  • Consumer needs and values, and their category entry points — these serve as a great anchor for retailers’ creative. 
  • Retail choice drivers, especially when comparing a retailer’s performance against their competitors — uncover opportunities to close gaps in performance and focus messaging on what matters to consumers, clearly identifying what consumers need to hear to favor one retailer above another. 

Ultimately, retailers want their brand to be top-of-mind, and sharing a compelling message will help make their retail brand memorable and inspire consumers to action. The best ads focus on the aspects that matter to reach campaign goals — be it creating a lasting positive impression or a direct trigger to purchase. 

Of course, the definition of ‘success’ depends on the objective of the campaign and the consumer. For most campaigns, success depends on a retail brand’s ability to fascinate and imprint on its target audience, as most consumers are not in the market to buy immediately. Here, an effective campaign ensures the brand is top-of-mind when they are ready to purchase. But tactical ads that want to trigger immediate action must imprint — ensuring the consumer that’s moved to purchase buys from the correct brand. 

While ads heavy with technical details may speak to niche groups — ads that inspire an emotional connection tend to succeed across all demographic profiles. They also drive non-customer consideration more effectively. 

GfK AdFit Optimizer framework shows that effective advertising that captures interest and fosters engagement shares common themes across 3 key pillars: 

  • Fascinates: The degree to which an ad will actively grab attention and stand out from the crowd.  
  • Imprints: How much of a lasting impression an ad leaves with the consumer. 
  • Triggers: How much of a direct or indirect response the ad is likely to generate.  


It’s clear that there are further insights to be gained by looking holistically at the role of various elements in driving interest and engagement. However, while this is an important component in delivering a successful message and striking creative, they’re rendered ineffective if not communicated through the right channels. On the wrong mix of channels, even award-winning creative simply will not reach the audiences that matter.  

Get the media mix right

Let's explore how retailers can ensure their paid media mix strategy maximizes reach across the consumer groups most likely to drive performance. The main finding? Targeting still matters, but measurement is key to perfecting your media investment.  

Targeting still matters

Targeting truly shines in supporting tactical efforts: for example, when retailers use loyalty cards in Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) to activate their own customer base. It’s also a fantastic way for new retailers to kickstart their sales by activating the consumers who are ready to buy NOW, for example with a focus on hyper-local consumers. Further, because it’s not always affordable to target the whole market, mass marketing often needs an element of targeting.  

The defining factor to ensure efficient investment is advertising effectiveness measurement. 

Why measurement is key

To get their media investment right, retailers must find ways to measure both (passive) exposure and the (more subjective) human reactions to advertising. At GfK, we uncover the full picture of ad performance across channels by scientifically linking ad exposure data to mental states and true purchasing behavior insights.  

Marketers are provided with a single source of truth that reveals the impact of the campaign and identifies the course of action required to amplify this effect, by sophisticated modeling​​. 

Retailers gain a full understanding of the effect their campaigns have regarding exposure in the target group, effects on sales (sales lift), and brand perception (brand lift). 

GfK Campaign Amplifier enables you to accurately measure ​the full impact of your brand campaigns to defend your budget, amplify reach and frequency to out-market your competition, and multiply ​value with impactful creative that captures attention and drives positive brand associations.​ The value of having clarity on the reach, frequency, and visibility of a campaign, and whether it grabs attention and builds positive brand connections, is a valuable tool for retailers.  

Designed to empower marketing teams to adjust and optimize their campaign’s cross-media spend, GfK Campaign Amplifier analyzes: 

  • Full reach, measured cumulatively across digital & non-digital channels. 
  • Visibility through optimal frequency and repetition, ensuring the retailer is mentally available to consumers. 
  • How effectively the campaign drives retailer recognition and inspires an emotional response that grabs attention and builds positive brand connections. 

Grab attention and growth with insights-driven, optimized media investment

Understanding the significance of refining your owned channels and ensuring that your creative content resonates seamlessly are crucial steps in ensuring the clarity of your marketing messaging. The final piece of the puzzle is optimizing your media mix so that your marketing activity, whether tactical or aimed at longer-term brand building, truly hits the mark.

  Underlying success across all these aspects of media strategy is timely measurement, to provide you with the insights you need to guide your efforts to activate your consumer targets, now and in the future.  

At GfK, our Brand and Marketing Performance team has leveraged proprietary data, partnerships, and expertise to ensure some of the world’s biggest retailers drive long-term sales growth with campaigns that attract and convert.  

Don’t let a tightening budget stand in the way of optimizing your campaigns and ensuring maximum returns on your media investment. Contact us to gain a deep understanding of the ‘why’ behind the ‘buy’ of your target consumers and identify which marketing communication strategy will drive the biggest impact to capture long-term growth.  

3 Keys to understanding the ‘why’ behind the ‘buy’ in retail

Series Wrap-up 

To succeed in challenging markets, retailers, like brands, must uncover what drives consumers to pick one option for shopping over another. Three pivotal strategies can leverage these insights to unlock white space and foster sustainable growth. 

Secure your growth and resilience with strategies grounded in consumer insights

At GfK, our Brand and Marketing Performance team uses exclusive data and expert analysis to propel your retail to the cutting edge. Start today. Dive deep into your audience’s mindset to inform strategies that find growth even in challenging times.