Special Report: Visual Content Strategy

Exclusive research examines the challenges and opportunities in creating visually engaging experiences for the online consumer.

It’s no secret that visual stimulation is a powerful tool for capturing consumer attention. The retail world has consistently leveraged imagery to influence consumer behavior. The role of visual content in digital strategies continues to be a key factor to engage audiences and gain market share.

With each year comes new technology to enhance visual content creation as well as higher consumer expectations for quality content. As brands and retailers evaluate their visual content strategy, the challenge is how to create imagery that engages the image-overloaded consumer across the path to purchase.

This special report — downloadable here and brought to you by the Path to Purchase Institute and Retail Leader in collaboration with Vizit — offers insights into the primary opportunities within digital shelf optimization. The survey participants represent a cross section of the industry: 68% CPG/durables brand manufacturers and 32% retailers. Respondents were professionals leading or working in roles that include visual content strategy or creation.

In addition to opportunities and challenges, the report shares perspectives on measurement effectiveness, insights on where brands and retailers are investing resources, and comments on team communication and collaboration.


Opportunities & Challenges

(See pages 6-10 in the full report, which you can download here)

Respondents were asked for their insights on the biggest areas of opportunity when considering priorities for digital shelf optimization. Imagery/enhanced visual content was cited by 43% as a key area for optimization. This was closely followed by understanding the customer journey (40%). Retail media as well as price and promotions were also prioritized by 33% and search optimized content by 32%.

Obtaining clear return on investment data is often a challenge when evaluating the success of marketing tactics. Respondents reiterated this dilemma, even with the primary areas identified as opportunities. Imagery/enhanced visual content and understanding the customer journey were also identified as the top two most challenging areas to measure.

Breaking down the survey information based on respondent’s unique perspectives, from organization type and company revenue to professional levels and roles, reveals interesting insights for organizations to consider. For instance, in addition to imagery/enhanced visual content (42%) and understanding the customer journey (40%), CPG organizations viewed retail media (40%) as well as search optimized content (37%) and reviews (37%) as areas of opportunity. CPG organizations also see retail media as difficult to measure. On the other hand, retailers prioritized price and promotions (43%) and cross-channel consistency (27%) as beneficial focus areas for digital shelf optimization.

Evaluating the comments based on organizational revenue, retail media (44%) is more often seen as an area of opportunity for organizations with revenues greater than $500 million. These organizations also noted search optimized content and reviews, whereas companies with revenues less than $500 million identified price and promotions. When considering the most challenging efforts to measure, organizations with revenues less than $500 million indicated having more challenges measuring their imagery/enhanced visual content (43%) compared to companies with revenues greater than $500 million (24%).

Insights gathered also show varying perspectives based on respondents’ roles in an organization. Senior leadership believe price and promotions as well as search optimized content top the list of opportunities compared to their colleagues in manager or director positions. Those in shopper/customer marketing roles prioritize retail media as well as reviews.

While respondents’ perspectives show some variations across organization types and roles, it is clear that image/enhanced visual content and a deeper understanding of the customer journey are primary opportunities for digital shelf optimization. The challenge is these opportunities are also considered difficult areas to measure effectiveness.

A Focused Investment

(See pages 11-13 in the full report)

When considering the greatest investment focus for the year, visual content strategists and creators anticipate having the greatest investment in retail media (28%), e-commerce (24%) and advertising (22%).

In comparison to previous levels of investment, over half of respondents say their organization’s investment in visual content creation (54%) and retail media (54%) has increased. This is closely followed by an investment in enhanced content (47%). One-third or less reference an increased investment in the tools to create visual content or analytics to test content pre-flight.

The investment concentrations once again vary based on organization type and company revenue. Those in CPG are more likely to say their investment in visual content creation has increased for 2022 (60% did). Enhanced content seems to have more investment within organizations whose revenues exceed $500 million, while those in organizations with less than $500 million in revenue indicated having greater investment in tools to create visual content this year.

Evaluating Success

(See pages 14-19 in the full report)

As organizations evaluate and consider future visual content creation strategies, respondents agree that the biggest concerns or roadblocks are the availability of data to measure effectiveness before investing in further research (53%) and the ability to achieve a positive ROI (52%). This is closely followed by availability of data to measure content effectiveness pre-flight (42%). It is important to note that internal operations and collaboration with partners are also posing concerns and roadblocks for organizations.

As organizations are looking to implement strategies, how do they measure visual image effectiveness pre-flight? While objective data through A/B testing, obtained from partners or through focus groups and surveys may be desired, less than three out of 10 visual content professionals surveyed said they use any objective measures of visual image effectiveness pre-flight. The majority reported using subjective strategies, including team consensus (41%), manual review of competitive imagery (36%), and review of previous content performance (36%).

Perspectives on current measurement practices also vary based on organization type, company revenue as well as roles and responsibilities. While subjective means consistently lead, A/B testing (28%) and data gathered from partners (26%) are the leading objective means of measurement.

An organization’s ability to create content and measure effectiveness pre-flight plays a role in successful digital shelf optimization. Half of professionals surveyed said it takes one to four weeks for creation and measurement. This is particularly true among retailers, those with lower company revenues (less than $500 million), and those in non-shopper/customer marketing roles.

With organizations focused on enhancing imagery and visual content and an expressed desire for more effective measurement, there is a great deal of opportunity to provide more measurement tools. Respondents are looking for more objective information to support decision making. Over 58% want more details about what makes an image effective and 56% are interested in real-time analytics. There is also interest in defined visual standards and benchmarks, more and faster consumer testing, as well as access to important visual trends and competitive activities. Once again, perceived value of these tools varies across organization type, size, level and role.

Effective Collaboration & Communication

(See pages 20-23 in the full report)

The varying perspectives highlighted throughout this report show that collaboration and communication between team members needs to be improved in order to support digital shelf optimization. With slightly differing priorities, it is not surprising that team members feel a disconnect.

Approximately four out of 10 respondents said they do not have good collaboration with their partners when it comes to improving imagery effectiveness. A number of roadblocks are impeding collaboration, including differing priorities, an overall lack of communication as well as time/bandwidth/staffing.

There are opportunities to foster better internal and external team relationships and look at ways to compromise in order to align retailer and brand goals, as well as set expectations around budget allocations, bandwidth and measurement.

In addition to team members having different goals and priorities, respondents expressed frustration at partners with a lack of understanding or desire to listen and learn about what makes an image effective or how to improve effectiveness. Respondent comments included:

  • “Each partner has their own initiatives they are pushing, which don't always align with ours.”
  • “Most of our suppliers don't have the staff, knowledge or desire to help with visual marketing for their products.”

From general communication challenges and lack of insight sharing to not having a designated point person, communication is at the heart of the issue among those who mentioned an overall lack of collaboration. Respondents said:

  • “Lack of clear channels of communication.”
  • “Lack of a timely response.”
  • “Lack of consistent and direct feedback from buyers.”
  • “Lack of real-time feedback and image standards.”
  • “Every retailer has different image guidelines, and it's not always clearly communicated. It's also hard to track down the right contact and get the information you need.”

In addition to ineffective communication, respondents referenced limited time/bandwidth/staffing as a roadblock to effective collaboration. Comments included:

  • “Too many needs and not enough time.”
  • “Time constraints in pre-flight to rollout.”
  • “Turnaround time to get the desired outcome.”

Brand standards and the image management process also pose challenges to successful teamwork. Respondents shared frustrations with:

  • “Retailer standards or requirements that are in opposition to performance data.”
  • “Customer defined guidelines, which have little flexibility.”


This report demonstrates that there are ample opportunities for creating visually engaging experiences for the online shopper. A key to the success of digital shelf optimization will be improved teamwork and collaboration. Enhanced communication is needed between the varying internal and external perspectives so there is consensus around goals, expectations and measurement. While there is room for more effective measurement tools to support successful visual content creation, aligning the parties involved in developing and implementing the visual content strategy will better support success across the path to purchase.

To download a full copy of the report, click here.