Episode 10: Jack Markham

Episode 10: Jack Markham Featured Image

How do you make some life’s biggest decisions, like choosing a mortgage for your first home? It’s a complex process, often navigated with little guidance. In this episode of “73 and Sunny,” Damien Swendsen sits down with Jack Markham, Senior Director of Performance Marketing and Business Strategy at Red Ventures, a powerhouse behind brands like Bankrate, CNET, and The Points Guy. Through a blend of strategic partnerships and a commitment to quality content, Red Ventures is simplifying the consumer journey in the digital world. Join us as Jack shares insights on SEO strategy, the balance between performance marketing and user-centric content, and the evolving role of AI in making informed decisions. This conversation isn’t just about marketing; it’s about making life’s significant decisions a little less daunting.




Damien: Hello, and welcome to 73 and Sunny, the podcast about the journey of getting things just right. We talk to tech sales and marketing leaders about how they’re growing, dialing in best practices and getting closer to that sweet spot. Today, we’re happy to have Jack Markham join us, senior director of performance marketing and business strategy at Red Ventures, working with huge brands such as Bankrate, CNET, The Points Guy, CreditCards.

com, Lonely Planet, and others. Jack, thanks so much for joining us today. 

Jack: Yes. Thanks, sir. Thanks for having me, Damian. Excited to be here. 

Damien: Uh, let’s, let’s start off with, with Red Ventures and Bankrate and, uh, you know, all the different, uh, portfolio companies that you’re working with today. So maybe if people aren’t as familiar with, uh, with Red Ventures, maybe you can kind of help, help people understand that the relationship between Red Ventures and these, these great brands that people typically know of and, and deal with on a daily basis.

Jack: Yeah, absolutely. So, so Red Ventures is, is the parent company. I’ve, I’ve been with the, the Red Ventures, uh, broader company for, for eight years now, have worked on a variety of our different brands. Uh, we have some strategic partnerships that, that we work really closely with, uh, on for, for some brands and then, uh, for some larger brands.

And then we have over the years acquired companies and now operate a large set of owned and operated brands that, that. Users may be more familiar with in terms of those brand names that they interact with on a day to day basis. I think you named a lot of them upfront and, uh, Red Ventures really is, is a place where you can share learnings across these brands, they operate in a lot of different industries and typically we focused on getting into industries where we feel we can help within the digital ecosystem and are really in places that.

Um, and so we really approach our work really meaningfully in a way that, you know, we’re, we’re trying to make sure we’re doing what’s best by our customers and for our partners as well, knowing that these are all, all really considered purchases within, within a lot of the brands that we work in. Uh, 

Damien: well, I appreciate that.

And what you were just saying right there about Uh, helping people making huge life decisions, uh, nothing is, is bigger, uh, for most people than buying a house. And, and, you know, bank rate helps with that and credit cards. When I was in college, uh, you know, I didn’t have a bank rate that was in the, uh, in the nineties.

So I just, uh, uh, bought a credit card that was, uh, outside the cafeteria, uh, during welcome weekend. So I wish I had bank rate back then. Um, that’s a pretty lofty, uh, responsibility there, right? To be able to, to help people make, uh, life’s most important decisions. How, how does that affect you in terms of your job with, uh, business strategy and performance 

Jack: marketing?

Yeah, absolutely. I think on, on Bankrate and, and a lot of our other brands, we, we have a heavy SEO presence and, and to win in the SEO space, uh, you, you need to have high authority, really high quality content that the user can trust. And so as we look at our strategy and, and what’s important to us, you know, a lot comes back to that and making sure that we’re doing right by the customer and providing the best information that we can and providing them with all of the.

The data and, and information they need to, to make these decisions and, and believe that helps us win in, in the long run. If we go through that approach, we work similarly with our, our partners. I think you have the, the performance marketing side of things where, uh, we, we operate in some other channels, but, but it all comes back to a lot of that true organic content that is consumer first.

Um, and then being really upfront about, uh, how, you know, what, what our goals are and, and, uh, the quality of our audience with our partners as well, so that it’s a, it’s a really good relationship across. You know, Red Ventures brands are our partners and then our end consumers as 

Damien: well. Totally agree with that.

And I think that as, uh, as regulations start creeping in, uh, more and more to any and all of, of how we’re browsing, how we are communicating, how we’re reaching out to people that, that having that quality content and or, and organic content, as you said, is, is going to be more. Much more important to be able to, to have that inbound instead of that, that outbound, which has now become a lot more difficult to do regulatory wise.

So, um, what are some of the lessons that you’ve learned in terms of building up some of these, these brands and, and, uh, working with a lot of these, uh, advertisers in terms of, uh, best practices or what you would maybe give advice to, to people who are just starting out in, in performance marketing. 

Jack: Yeah, I think the, um, it depends, right?

A lot of it can be business specific and it can be industry specific as well. You know, if we We hone in on, on bankrate, uh, I think it’s a couple of things. If you’re looking towards the, the consumer, it’s, it’s trying to put yourself in their shoes and say, if I was in this position, if I was looking for a mortgage, if I was looking for a credit card, what are the things that one, I would be looking for if I was in, in that, uh, position?

And two, what are the things that knowing what I know being in the industry, uh, I, I didn’t know what I was, I would be looking for, but, but now that I do, I, I think is important for, for them to have access to when, when making that decision, those, those things that you learn when you’re in the industry that, uh, you didn’t know what to ask, uh, when, when you’re in the user perspective of it, I know as I’ve come into the mortgage industry, I’ve learned a lot.

Uh, plenty of things around, around how that process works compared to when I got my personal mortgage three years ago. So, um, I, I think it’s being able to put that user first and, and create an experience that’s, uh, designed in a way and, and has the right authoritative content that, that is gonna be really helpful for the user and, and, and that helps you win.

And then I think on the, the, the partner side, um, you know, you, you wanna create a, a win win relationship, right? I, I think it’s. It’s easy to get caught up in, in, uh, numbers and metrics and see what, what works well for, for you. Um, but, but in it, in order to, to really create that, that longterm growth, it’s.

Uh, again, putting yourself in, in your partner’s shoes and, and saying like, Hey, is, is this a strategy that we’re employing that really is a win win for both that we can grow together? 

Damien: Yeah. And it’s a great point. It’s like, it’s the metric because you have performed, you know, your, your job is performance marketing and business strategy.

Obviously you want everyone to succeed business wise. Your first point was, Hey, we need to make content. We need to make this experience. Relevant and helpful for the consumer themselves, or else no one’s no one’s going to be looking at these anyway. Right? And so how do you get that balance? Because gosh, we, you know, we would love to, to, to have, you know, So many more advertising, you know, on this page or something, but in just looking at bank rate, looking at others, like it is so content heavy.

Like, how do you, how do you manage that? Or what’s your thinking around driving for metrics versus being helpful for the, the visitor or the consumer? 

Jack: Yeah, I think it’s, uh, to, to me, you, yeah, I guess Red Venture is in general is a place where, where we’re, we’re always testing heavily. And, and so there’s, there’s things that you can do within testing that the users will tell you through some of those metrics at times as well.

If you’re putting in, say, an extra monetization unit and no one’s interacting with it and people are scrolling past it, you can, you can delve into some of those numbers and understand, hey, this wasn’t a useful full exercise for our users. Like they’re, they’re scrolling right past it. They’re not engaging with it.

Um, so there’s, there’s a component of that, but ultimately. You know, it comes back to, uh, you’ll, you’ll always find yourself sometimes in, in those situations where it’s on the brink and it’s not a clear cut answer. And, you know, we, we default towards what we would want as a user. Uh, and, and so I think having that, that tiebreaker that, that brings you back to, Hey, here’s, here’s what I would be looking for if I was on the page is a helpful way to say, Hey, if this isn’t a clear, our users are telling us that this is helpful and, and, and a great place for them.

Then, you know, we, we can continue to iterate and, and look back towards creating that ideal experience. 

Damien: Yeah, that, uh, it reminds me of a, a guest we had on 73 and Sunny earlier, Scott Lease, who said that, uh, business processes are, are living, breathing entities, right? That you’re, you’re constantly having to change that.

Um, one, do you agree with that perspective? And, uh, and if so, how do you keep up with it? Like you were talking about AB testing, but you know, you’re talking about millions of visitors. Is this just having the right tools in place and, and knowing where you want to get to ahead of time? Like, how do you, how do you keep up with this, this living, uh, you know, changing organism?

Jack: Yeah, I think it’s having the, the, the right people with a curiosity to, to want to stay ahead of the game and, and figure out what’s going to, going to work best, you know, with, if you go back to, to the people, right, then, then if they’re naturally inquisitive and, and asking these questions, I think that’s the best way to, to be able to keep up with, with it, you know, all of all, as you mentioned, um, Every industry that Red Ventures works in, uh, is, is always rapidly evolving and, and changing, whether that be from a regulatory perspective, whether that be from a, um, you know, consumer intent or what matters to people per perspective, like that all of those things continue to evolve.

And so if you have the right people that are asking the right questions, uh, you know, you’re able to build those solutions, whether it be. The, uh, technology or, or other that, that helps you, uh, better serve the, the right experience to the right user. And it’s not always going to be a one size fits all answer as well.

And so making sure that you’re, you’re doing the analysis on, on the backend, understand, Hey, this, this segment of people is really interested in, in this type of experience versus. Uh, this other segment of, of users that is more interested in, in researching right now or, or something along those lines, like it, you know, you, you just have to have those inquisitive people that are asking the right questions.

Damien: Jack, I could not agree more. I think a curiosity, what you had mentioned. Is to me, one of the most underrated qualities of any business person, because I think for so, for so long and so often we’re given data, we’re given information, we’re given a task and we just go do it, which is a equals B and that’s it, then we’re done.

But. I, I don’t think that we question things enough that, that we’re curious. So why are we doing it this way? Because there could be a better way to actually come to that same conclusion. So I’m glad that, uh, that you and red ventures are, uh, are, are using that as a, uh, differentiator. So I think that’s, that’s great.

And I do also think that curiosity has been driving, um, what, what Forbes calls is, or. So Forbes said 50 percent of a sales cycle is done before anyone even goes on a website or before they actually talk to a salesperson. Serious Decisions, Serious Decisions says it’s about 67%. I’ve also seen some other ones that are even higher than that, that people are doing, are curious, innately curious.

And so they want to be able to do all this, uh, on their own. And I think, uh, you know, Bankrate and CNET and the points guy there, uh, these are formats for people. To, to explore that and to be able to, to have that percentage go even higher in your estimation, are, are we at the top, are we, are we there, are we as, you know, as automated or as maybe isolated from, uh, you know, from the buyer as, as possible where they’re doing all their, their own, uh, investigation without any help from, you know, kind of, kind of the sales side.

Jack: Yeah, I think for, for me, that one really, uh, can, can be dependent on the. Industry and, and the brand and yeah, can certainly, can certainly vary user, user to user, I think, you know, with, with a lot of these brands that we have at Red Ventures, they’re, they’re very considered purchases where we drive a lot of our volume is through, you know, the, the organic search engines.

And at that point, if you’re searching for what are the top mortgage rates right now, you, you’re probably. pretty far down the funnel and and have done a lot of research and are ready to make a decision and so It’s there’s definitely a large portion that will always be be that and hey How do we get someone from from point A to point B in?

In the most efficient way possible and and help ease the process of some of these complex decisions But I, but I don’t think it means we can’t be doing, continue to do more and, and build up what, how we help, uh, you know, interrupt that decision making process so that they have that better information upfront earlier.

You know, we, we do that through organic content. We can target certain keywords, uh, that people are in that research phase so that they become familiar with our brand and trust our brand. With, with the, those authoritative signals, uh, we can create products that, that help someone in, in the space and better nurture that journey.

And so, uh, you know, there’s, there’s a, a part in sort of the digital and, and sales world that you’re, you’re not going to be able to. You can’t get in every step of that journey, but you can start to build trust over time so that when, when it does come that decision making time, they, they know where they want to go because they, they’ve trusted you in the past.


Damien: I would agree. I do think that there is, uh, more that we could be doing, especially with what you were saying with, hey, if we’re curious, we can find these answers as to what the consumers or what the visitors would want. I also think that there’s a technological advance that will be helping consumers drive up that self sustained, um, education.

And I, I think that’s AI, and I, I’d love to get your perspective, Jack, on how you think AI will change, or, or has it already changed, the, the, the buying journey, how it is changing or will be helping performance marketing. Uh, I’d love to get, get your perspective on what you’re seeing with AI. 

Jack: Yeah. I mean, I think, uh, AI is, is, is definitely in the, the first, second inning, uh, of, of what we’ll see in the future.

And you know, those that are able to, to help understand how you can make it more efficient for, for your industry are, are definitely going to have an advantage. And that’s something at Red Ventures that we’re, we’re really passionate about is. helping, helping that journey along. And, and we, we certainly believe that AI is going to be a way that gets us there.

Now, how that actually comes to fruition industry to industry is going to be very different. There are some that are, are more, uh, digital heavy industries. There are some that are, are more, um, consider, you know, consider purchases as we’ve been talking about, but the, the length of that can go. You know, uh, a good ways from, uh, a credit card to buying a house, both consider purchases.

Uh, some take a little bit longer than others. And so I think, you know, it’s certainly going to be a focus for us and it will, it will change how consumers interact, what forums you need to, uh, be, you know, in and, and very strong with your, your marketing approach. Uh, it’ll, it’ll change the, the data signals that are, are helpful.

So. Um, you know, I, I, I wish I had a better answer of exactly where, what’s going to win, where, and in, in every industry, uh, if I, if I did, you know, we, we, uh, well, I wouldn’t say we’d be there because it, these things take time, but, um, I don’t think there’s, there’s a, a belief that it’s not going to meaningfully change how, how users are going through all of these purchase cycles across all of these different industries we’ve discussed.

Damien: Yeah, I think it’s, uh, it’s a good point. Like, I don’t think any of us really know. I’m, I’m, I’m always just, I’m, Curious as we talked about as to what people’s perspective are in turned in terms of where AI is going to be going, because I think we just, we discovered fire. It’s someone, I took this from someone else, but we, we’ve discovered fire and we have no idea what fire could do, right?

It could cook our meat for us. It could, you know, help us stay warm, but it could also. Burn down the village, you know, it, there’s, there’s so many different, there’s just a huge spectrum, uh, there and I, and I’m also thinking back to my history when I, I was, uh, actually worked at Cisco systems, um, at the, uh, the, the, the turn of the, the century and, uh, John Chambers had said, Hey, I just bought my car online and people were blown away.

I remember it was a red Jaguar. And, and people were just, what, like, they couldn’t imagine being able to make those decisions online without the help of, you know, walking around a, you know, car lot and, and having someone talk to you about it and doing all that research. But, uh, you know, Red Ventures and, and Bankrate and, and everyone is, uh, is making so much more possible, uh, through, through all of this education.

So. Uh, and it goes back to what we were talking about before, you know, really helping people make life’s most, uh, important decisions. I think, I 

Jack: think it, it, you know, there, there’s for a while, right? This preconceived notion of, of AI and, and the thing that first pops into your mind when you hear the term AI.

is, is very different than where every single use case of where you’ll see it in the future, right? There, there are, uh, forms of AI that will be more about operational efficiencies and, and making your, your business more efficient. There are forms of, of AI that’ll be more user facing. There, there are a variety of different ways that, that it will be able to help businesses.

Damien: What, what, what advice would you give to people who are, who are looking at either Uh, you know, implementing some of these strategies, um, you know, but for, uh, for borrower engagement, you know, and, and for, uh, you know, for advertising or for bar, whatever it might be. Well, what are, what are some of your pieces or your nuggets of, of wisdom that you’d like to pass on to, to other people?


Jack: I think, um, are you looking specifically at the, the mortgages space for now? 

Damien: Yeah, let’s, let’s start with the mortgage space. Yeah. Yeah. 

Jack: Yeah, I, well, I guess outside in all spaces, definitely in the mortgage space, I think a multi channel approach is going to be really critical. People interact with, with different forums and in different ways and respond more to text or to, to email or, or to call.

And, and I think being able to have a, a sound strategy where, where you’re able to, to reach these people in, in and meet them where they are versus trying to have them meet you where you are is, is going to be really important to, to be able to, to nurture that I think in, in mortgages. You compare to, to three years ago where, you know, more, more people than not that were calling in were trying to refinance their mortgage and that can happen right then and there that the purchase journey is a lot more complex and a lot longer.

And so when we’re now in a place where not as many people are, are refining and, and more people that are inquiring about a mortgage are, are in that purchase cycle. Uh, some of them might be ready to, to go right away. Uh, a lot of them are, could be really quality users that, uh, you know, just aren’t quite at that stage in, in their process.

And so being able to, to use that multi channel approach and being able to nurture those, those users in the right way, uh, I think is really critical in the mortgage space right now. Um, just given where, where the industry is at. 

Damien: And I think you said something really important about meeting people where they are, right?

Because especially if you’re going to have younger buyers, uh, you had said, you know, texting, email, phone call, uh, the younger buyers, I know my four kids, uh, they only want to text, right? And so, uh, they don’t want to be picking up the phone. And so it really is. Uh, meeting them where they are and whether that is, uh, you know, through social content or through, uh, helpful websites, uh, such as CNET or, or bank rate or the points guy.

If, um, you know, my daughter just was looking at, uh, you know, what credit card to get and, and she was doing a ton of research on, you know, which, which credit cards to get, you know, using bank rate and others. But, um, what, what would you feel is, is, is most important to, uh, to be attracting the people? Is it, is it the omni channel approach and just.

Hope that one of them will work. And as we were talking about doing that AB testing and, uh, because this is such a, you know, a living, breathing entity, uh, is it, is it more on the, uh, the content side to be able to, to, to get people? Is it, is it just me where they are? Is it something like a guerrilla marketing?

Like what are, you know, what have you found that have been like real game changers in terms of, Hey, this is the most important thing that, that we should focus on, or maybe is it that omnichannel approach? 

Jack: Yeah. I think when it, when it comes to that, um, you know, top, top of funnel marketing in particular, to me, it depends on the company and it’s about finding what, what you do really well and where you think you have a competitive advantage.

Uh, the, the kind of guerrilla marketing approach and try and see, see what sticks will, will lead to some things and, and maybe some things are working better for, for you than others. Um, but understanding the, the product that, that you’re offering and, and how you’re differentiating yourself in the market, can that help lead you to, uh, what, what channels, what forums are, are going to make the most sense for you, I think.

You know, if you take the, the credit card world, for example, uh, where, where you’re going to find users that want to get a travel credit card to go on their next big trip is going to be very different than where you might find someone that is, is looking for a 0 percent APR card because they just, uh, purchased, uh, you know, new windows in their house and need to put it, put that on a credit card where they’re not going to accrue interest for a while.

Uh, so, so using, using that as an example, I think it’s about what is, what is your product and, and what are you good at? And, and then how do you find the right channels to, to do that? And for, for Bankrate, we, we do, uh, you know, we, we have a lot of great experts and people in house that can do a lot of these different things.

Um, but, but we really default back to that, that user first content approach. Um, and, and although we do other things, that’s, that’s kind of our, our MO. Um, but I think that can be different for, for different people based on how they understand their, their product and, and where they 

Damien: have expertise. I think it, it so often comes down to those differentiators that you talked about that, you know, Hey, someone is just looking for something with zero APR.

Someone is looking, Hey, I’m going to take a big trip. I need international, you know, travel or whatever it might be, or points for, you know, eating out. I remember my first, uh, credit card. I thought my biggest expense, senior, uh, freshman year in college was Uh, was gas and so I, I bought a, uh, a, a gas card and I didn’t realize how few gas stations, uh, of that brand were around me.

So it wasn’t very helpful, but, uh, I think we’re always looking for those differentiators. Uh, but I think it’s becoming a little bit more, uh, difficult to. Uh, to shout that out, you know, because there’s so much, there’s so much content. There’s so much, uh, information, uh, around here, uh, in, in terms of, Hey, and it’s almost like a me too, like a more, Oh, me too.

We have this, or we have, uh, you know, this rate or me too, uh, you know, we have these perks or, you know, we have, uh, you know, 25 off, you know, your, um, uh, your, your meals or, you know, whatever it might be. Um, you can get into this lounge. Me too. You can do this. Me too. Um, what have you found in terms of your experience, uh, has, has been, uh, a, an effective approach to, to illustrate those, those differentiators in a crowded market?

I mean, is there, is there any advice or anything that, that you found that has, has really worked in terms of really showcasing those differentiators? 

Jack: Yeah. I, I, and you’re looking more from the. The, uh, you know, lender bank 

Damien: kind of. Yeah. Yeah. And then maybe how you do that with, within advertising and, or how you do that, you know, maybe, maybe it is the placement, maybe it is the con, you know, the copy, maybe it is, you know, other areas, but how, how would you, you know, knowing your experience, how would you say that it would be the best or, or some, some lessons, uh, to be able to get the best results, to be able to, to share those differentiated values.

Yeah, I, I think, 

Jack: uh, you know, there, there, there’s a lot of testing that you can do in terms of what headlines are going to work best, what, you know, if you have a, in a, in a marketplace, a flag, and you only can say so much in it of, of, of what makes you different, I think the, the main thing that comes to mind for, for me is making sure that what, what the consumer is seeing doesn’t have those.

Three asterisks below it of, of where it comes, you know, where, where that value is then being taken out elsewhere. Right. Right. I, I think the, the biggest issue, especially if you’re in say like a, a paid marketplace where you’re spending dollars and, and clicks and spending money to get people to come read more about this product in, in places.

The, the places that you find the most difficulty is, is people that might have that good value prop and that one liner that’s really attractive. And then when people read further into the product, they’re, they’re seeing that, uh, Hey, like this, this extra a hundred dollars they’re giving me is being taken out here, here and here.

Um, and, and so I think the, the more you can explain and, and be upfront about the value that you’re providing and, and, uh, the, the details of it, which granted in the financial services space can be, can be difficult to do and how complex a lot of these products can get. Um, but, but the more you can do that and create that value proposition without the asterisks I think is, is where we find a lot of people that, that can win and, and carry that conversion through the funnel versus just driving 

Damien: clicks.

And it sounds like it’s the message, right? It’s the message first that, that can be that, that game changer. And I think that that goes full circle to what we were talking about before is kind of the message of Red Ventures is helping people make life’s most important decisions. And it, and it goes to what I was looking at the Red Ventures CEO, Rick Elias.

was actually had a great story. He has a Ted Talk. People should check it out. But he was on the plane. That was the miracle on the Hudson with Captain Sully. And, uh, and they went, uh, had to land on the Hudson River. And, uh, he survived, obviously. And, uh, but that changed him. And that that made him. And I think that I see that in the messaging.

In, in the Red Ventures portfolio, in terms of all the messaging that you have in terms of your belief, like you believe to, to make every second count and running, winning the right way, uh, and being the change we can see in the world, uh, you know, I’d, I’d love to understand you, Jack, have you had one of those aha moments or those life changing moments that, that has really made you shift in terms of, uh, you know, how you perceive either Yeah, 

Jack: I think, uh, it might not be necessarily like one specific aha moment, but you, you, you start your career and you get into the, the working world and, and you, uh, You know, your, your focus is on doing as well as you can and setting yourself apart, improving, improving what you can do.

I think what’s nice about Red Ventures, if you pick out, you know, one of, one of those belief statements and in terms of, uh, you know, leaving the wood pile higher, we, we. I’ve gotten very involved and done a lot of non profit work that the company has started, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in a few of those different programs over the years, and so while it wasn’t one specific moment, I think it’s getting involved in things outside of work that Brad.

You know, really, really change your view on, um, on, on, you know, what can be important and what you want to be known for at, at work as well. And so, you know, having, having had some of those experiences and working with some of those nonprofits that, that Red Ventures has started, I think is just a good reminder that there are, there are other people on the end of.

Uh, all of these websites that we have, there are, there are real people that are, are making these important decisions that, that we come back to. Um, and, and for me, I think, you know, being able to get outside of it on, on all the other side of the computer in a sense. Has always helped bring me back to, to, you know, what’s, what’s important and how we want to operate the business.


Damien: I, I love that because it’s, it’s then not just copy on a webpage, right? It is actually people going out and doing it. And I know, I think that you’re probably. Referring to Road to Hire, which is a mentorship and skills training program that, uh, that connects under, under resourced young adults, uh, from marginalized communities, uh, with on ramps to careers through training, college, and mentorship.

So, it’s great to, to know that, uh, Red Ventures is not just saying these things and putting copy on a website, but actually, uh, following through with that, which, as you said, really gets you to that sweet spot, which is really what, uh, we wanted to talk about. to you about today, Jack. So thank you very much for your time, your insights, and your education, and, uh, look forward to, to speaking to you again soon.

Awesome. Thank you very much. 

Jack: Appreciate the time, Damian. Thanks, Jack.