Home Commerce Symbiosys Pitches A New Collaborative Bidding Model For Retail Search And Social

Symbiosys Pitches A New Collaborative Bidding Model For Retail Search And Social

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Retail media networks have been adding ad tech audience extensions for the open web and CTV. Now, new startup Symbiosys wants to take retail ad platforms a step further into search and social.

Symbiosys brings a retail search innovation it calls “collaborative bidding,” where retailers and brands use its programmatic platform to jointly contribute to search and social bids, said Bashar Kachachi, founder and CEO.

Kachachi knows a thing or two about these search and auction dynamics after a long stint as Google’s director of product management for search ads 360 and the DV360 DSP. And he’s also got a bench of well-known investors, including Jonathan Opdyke, who sold his startup, HookLogic, to Criteo in 2016, and Patrick Miller, co-founder of the commerce media agency Flywheel Digital.

The problem with search and social shopping campaigns is programmatic tech can’t bid effectively into walled gardens, and search ad policies work against store-based brands. A laundry detergent company may prefer to send search traffic to a retailer site, but it can’t because Google doesn’t allow an ad to redirect to a third-party site.

Symbiosys’s approach is for brand advertisers to do that search and social bidding within the retailer’s platform. Social targeting diminished after Apple’s ATT, but brands can resharpen those campaigns by once again attributing to known sales. Also, a brand can send people to a site where they may actually purchase and can pick up some enhanced search analytics, such as whether searches for their products generate large cart sales.

And that’s where collaborative bidding would come into play, since retailers might want to support a brand’s search bid with co-marketing budgets of their own.

The Symbiosys strategy

Symbiosys doesn’t have any public retailer clients to name, Kachachi said, though there are a few testing the product.

Even if Symbiosys sees great adoption coming out of its testing phases, it may take a while to gain brand recognition. This is because the Symbiosys product itself isn’t branded; it becomes the search and social hub within a retailer-branded platform. The retailers pay a SaaS fee for the tech and slap on their own label.

The white labeling means it will take longer for Symbiosys to get its name out there to advertisers, but it creates a cleaner sell since the startup only considers retailers as its clients. The brands are the retailer’s clients, Kachachi said, and Symbiosys doesn’t want to get in between them.

There is outreach with agencies and brands, though. For one thing, Flywheel Digital’s co-founders are early investors, and the agency can evangelize Symbiosys to clients. Retailers also want to bring the Symbiosys tech and brand advertisers together to effectively set up the collaborative bidding system.

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Retailers have more advertiser demand than they can fill with on-site ads or open-web extensions. Programmatic partners like The Trade Desk open upper-funnel branding opportunities on the web and CTV, Kachachi said, while retailers own the bottom of the funnel with their sites and apps.

But the middle of the funnel, where active shoppers actually consider products and are trafficked to the retailer for a sale, is still the domain of platforms like Google, Meta and Pinterest. Programmatic display is “miniscule compared to Google or Meta,” he said, and retail media hasn’t effectively tapped into that supply.

The retail data asymmetry

There is an “information asymmetry” in retail media right now between retailers and brands, Kachachi said.

That’s always been the case: Retailers own the customer and the data; brands hope for shelf space.

But search and social traffic creates an even stronger imbalance in the retailer’s favor.

For instance, Target may know that a search to “buy hot dogs” is great for Oscar Mayer. But Target may also know that search offers an opportunity to upsell its private-label lines of hot dog buns, ground beef, burger buns and condiments. Target also knows which searches lead to large carts and which are likelier single-item purchases.

With Symbiosys, the retailer can now offer the advertiser more insights into how their branded traffic contributes overall, with finer controls for co-bidding. Kraft still may want to partner with the retailer on that search for hot dogs, but it can adjust its ROAS target specifically for its own products in cart, such as adding a sponsored recommendation for Heinz ketchup.

“Maybe that brand drives really strong cross-sell to some of the retailer’s private-label stock or other brands,” Kachachi said. “But that should also factor into the retailer’s contribution to the bid.”

For the retailer, the benefit is that brand search and social – which is to say, performance marketing budgets – can now be centralized on their retail media networks.

Investor buy-in

Although the commerce and retail media space is highly competitive, Kachachi has numerous backers with significant experience in the category.

In addition to Opdyke, the startup’s backers and C-suite include other former HookLogic leaders and founders from Flywheel Digital.

John Roswech, HookLogic’s CRO, is now CRO of Symbiosis, and the startup’s head of engineering, Dan Cooke, is a HookLogic vet, too.

The former HookLogic team wanted to push further into retail search, Opdyke told AdExchanger.

When the company was acquired by Criteo and became the backbone of Criteo’s retail media business, HookLogic laser-focused on on-site search and off-site sponsored product ads. Which is to say, the Criteo stuff.

“If you think about it,” Opdyke said, “where the retailers themselves get organic traffic and where their performance marketing teams are focused is search and social.”

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