Home Commerce Why Ad Tech Is The New Change Management For Retailers

Why Ad Tech Is The New Change Management For Retailers

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Mark Heitke has borne witness to great change in the retail media landscape over the past decade.

He joined Best Buy in 2013 to help develop what was then called the Best Buy Media Network and today is Best Buy Ads.

But being the ad tech expert inside a retailer means a certain amount of corporate reorg work and education, Heitke told AdExchanger.

And so, he asked himself: Rather than supporting internal change management at one company, why not be an outside force of change?

That was Heitke’s rationale for his recent switch last month from Best Buy to to VP of strategy at Symbiosys, a retail ad tech platform built for collaborative bidding between retailers and the brands they carry.

AdExchanger caught up with Heitke about the new role and how retailers are (and aren’t) warming to advertising and data sales.

AdExchanger: Is the retailer your customer, or do you also represent brand advertisers?

MARK HEITKE: We’re built to enable the retailer to run their ad programs through our platform. We’re a bit different than Criteo, which has sales teams repping retailers and advertisers.

We work with Chewy and DoorDash, for instance, so we might meet with a brand they carry to educate them. If an agency wants to buy with a retailer, we hand back the relationship and act as a kind of educator in-between.

So it’s typically white-labeled?

Correct. Some retailers are specific about managing all the relationships directly.

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But there isn’t a branded login to Symbiosys. The brand is always logging into the retailer platform, and we’re behind that.

Is the focus entirely on search?

Symbiosys started on search with a focus on modernizing SEM. We’ve quickly learned and grown to now look at the lower and mid-funnel as our overall attack area.

We’ve got integrations with Meta and will be going live with TikTok soon. That’s on top of YouTube inventory coming in.

It’s a combination of search and feed-based ads while still working your way up the funnel, instead of coming from the top down.

A lot of retail networks jumped to way upper-funnel media partnerships. [Think Walmart Connect and Snapchat or Kroger and Roku]. But our approach gives a more performance-driven way for retailers to extend reach.

Is Amazon in the mix?

Not yet. It has come up a couple of times and is definitely up for consideration.

It’s more that the retailers we work with are not working with Amazon in that way. And since we’re primarily a technology platform for retailers, we’re not sure yet where Amazon fits into the road map for what we’re doing.

Retailers have been using their own ad networks and first-party data – which brands don’t have – to game attribution credit. What is your obligation in that scenario as the retailer tech?

What I’ve found is that, as brands increase their investments in retail media, their scrutiny goes up with it. If a platform cranks up [attribution], the brand is going to see that and pressure them on it.

Since we integrate with the retailer’s CRM on the backend, it depends on what the retailer wants to share. Post-click transactions, for example, is a potential data field we could look at and, say, compare paid media to organic sales.

It’s about what the retailer wants to bring back to the platform.

What data do retailers agree to share with advertisers?

There is a wide range.

Some retailers have different comfort levels or contractual limitations on what they share.

As we’re educating retailers, we have to nudge them along the journey of how to get advertisers to adopt the platform. One thing we say is that, if they want to scale the business, they should provide more data.

But it takes time for retailers to get comfortable with and understand the impacts before they just broadly share data with us. So we’ve seen partners share different amounts of data, mostly based on the philosophy of the retailer.

Is retail media standardization important?

It is to me!

I was part of the Retail Media Council at the IAB Tech Lab from when I was at Best Buy. It’s a necessary evolution for all of the various retail media groups. There are so many retailers and retail media groups coming to market almost weekly.

For a brand, that confusion and frustration is through the roof.

What would standardization enable?

It puts the brands back in the position they’d like to be in, which is to have an understanding of their activities across retailers and confidence in their investments.

If retailers can standardize on measurement, placements and even on designs at some point – like publishers had to do years ago – it will allow them to compete on what they do really well, as in, the retail fundamentals.

Retailers can go back to competing on how well they attract and convert shoppers, not on how great of an ad size they have.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

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