Episode 176 Featuring Connor Curlewis

How StubGroup Successfully Use Digital Marketing To Boost Your Sales

How StubGroup Successfully Use Digital Marketing To Boost Your Sales

In today’s episode, we talked to John Horn, CEO of StubGroup, a digital advertising agency that focuses on helping businesses scale profitably via Google, Facebook, and other platform.

John has been with Stub Group for near a decade, working with companies across the globe, managing marketing for them with the focus on pay-per-click advertising. 


He also shared how fulfilling it is to drive success for their clients, how he loves to onboard people, give them a great paying job that helps them support their families, and a place where they can grow professionally, personally, and skill-wise. We also talked extensively about pay-per-click, marketing agencies versus individuals, crypto payments, and the future of advertising. 

How StubGroup helps businesses

John Horn: StubGroup. We are a digital advertising agency. So what we focus on is helping businesses create and manage advertising campaigns online. Mostly we're talking about the big platforms, Google, Facebook, Instagram, Microsoft, et cetera. And we're helping all kinds of different businesses find and connect with customers online and drive, ultimately drive up there, their bottom line profits. 

Connor: What kind of advertising platforms do you work with? 

John Horn: Yeah, so I'd say pay-per-click is kind of the model that we're typically working with. And so that is from really Google. So let's say, you know, Google search, certainly in Google shopping as well as YouTube Google's display network, so forth. They're the 800 pound gorilla in this space paralleled by Facebook and Instagram, of course, with their massive audience as well. So serving ads to those platforms. 

And then outside of those platforms, you have, let's say Microsoft advertising there being network. You have Amazon where we work in the advertising space for clients, and then you also have things like TikTok, which is just burgeoning. No, I wouldn't say burgeoning it's already massive, but from an advertising perspective, definitely seeing a lot of advertisers figuring out how that platform works and how they can connect with audiences there. And so on. 

Connor: I didn't realize that you guys worked with everything. Do you tailor per business per platform? 

John Horn: Absolutely. Yeah. It's when a business reaches out to us and looks for help with advertising, they bring them on board as the client. It's a process of understanding, who are they? What makes them unique? You know, what is their differentiator? Let's say from other competitors, other people in the space. Who is their target audience? Where is their target audience spending their time? And how is their target audience making decisions about purchasing? Are they searching Google and seeing what the options or are they not even aware of the existence of the service of products?

And so we need to go out there and find them through Facebook or Instagram or TikTok and say, hey, here's an awesome thing that you should know that you should get. So it's very, very tailored process to every client. 

Connor: Well, I want to say, do you have a threshold for clients? Like just for people coming in as a smaller, big, or? 

John Horn: We don't have any predefined thresholds, that's more a factor of, do we think we can be successful for you? And so we work with a wide variety of businesses, both in terms of what they sell as well as size. So everything from small mom and pop shops up to publicly traded corporations. And so we might have client come to us, maybe they're a local business and they're like, hey, we've got a thousand bucks a month to spend. 

Well, if we think we can drive positive ROI for them in their tight local area, because you know, there's people looking for their, their service and we can reach those people with that budget and we can make money for them. Then absolutely we'll work with them. Or if we have somebody saying, hey, hang on 100 K a month or 500 K a month or whatever, you know, we'll obviously work with them as well. 

Connor: Little bit of change in topic but if you're bringing on clients, do you have a limit of clients that you can handle or you, you kind of just scaling like mad?

John Horn: So there's definitely scaling has to happen. People can only work with so many clients at a given time and do well. So spend a lot of time and attention looking at the rate at which you're bringing new clients on board and therefore the rate at which we need to bring on board, new experienced team members and the approach that we take.

And every agency has a different approach and there's not really a right or wrong in that. Some will train from the ground up. They'll work with people who maybe don't have experience in advertising and train them. And how to do advertising and build them up. And then some agencies will look for people who already have that experience and training and talent and bring them on board on board with their team. 

That latter approach is more we do. We look for people who already are really good at what they're doing, and then we bring them on board and then, you know, are able to scale our services for our clients by scaling. 

Recognizing your mistakes as an agency

Connor: I guess, is there any interesting clients that you've worked with or any sort of big mistakes that you've made with clients?

John Horn: So many interesting clients. Yes. And you know, certainly plenty of mistakes across the lifetime, you're never going to pretend that we are perfect at our jobs, but I think when it comes to mistakes, kind of speaking to that point, but secondly it's really important when you make a mistake as an agency, A to recognize, yes, we've made a mistake and figure out what can we learn from it obviously. So we don't repeat this mistake again. B, the obvious not have this be transparent with the client. Take ownership. If you made a mistake, say, yup, that's on us. Don't try and know. They'll try and explain it away. 

But at the same time, it's also important to not take blame for mistakes you didn't make, which frankly happens constantly in the agency world where maybe a client, what I love and the client says, Hey, I want to do this type of campaign. You're like, well, I don't think that's going to be successful. Like, here's the, here's the reasons why we should do it this way or not do this. And clients is now now trust, trust my gut. Go for it. Okay, well, you're hiring us. We're going to give it the best chance of success. And then the campaign doesn't work well. And the client's like, well, this campaign didn't work well, guys, you messed it up in those types of scenarios. 

You know, you need to appropriately push back on clients too and make sure it's a partnership of, hey, doing what we can over the variables we have control of you as the client also need to do what you do, your duty with the variables that you control. And you're only going to see the success that you really want to see by us marrying those two things together and doing well too.

Benefits of getting an agency vs an individual

Connor: I was going to ask what the benefit of an agency is? I know you're going to be pretty biased, but compare it to an individual. What do you think? 

John Horn: Yeah. And then plenty of bias here. Certainly since that's my bread and butter. This is something that I've talked about and done some writing about you in front of the idea of in-house versus agency. Why would you obviously make one choice or the other? And I think there are situations where it makes a lot of sense to have in-house people. And then there's situations where it makes sense to have an agency. 

Some of the benefits that come from the agency world are a, you're getting exposure to what is working well across the marketplace. So if you're an in-house person, let's say you're, you're a business and you've hired one person to do your marketing. All of that person's going to see is your data, your market, you know what maybe what your competitors are doing, but they're not going to see, oh, had this new strategy it's working well for this industry. We can translate this over to this client. They are, they don't have the breadth of access to client data and access to different strategies to be able to even test new things or see, oh, you know what? This thing is not working. Let's not waste our money on this because, you know, as an agency we've tested it for five other clients who were open to that and it didn't pan out. 

So I think he have access working with an agency to just a lot more experience, a lot more options in how your own campaigns are going to be managed. And then also you often have a lot more access to the platforms themselves. So for example, StubGroup, where a premier Google partner, which means that we have a dedicated team at Google who helps us to support the advertising for our clients, everything from, you know, getting into new betas to help with figuring out new campaign types of features to, you know, proactive conversations about, Hey, here's a client's goals, you know, how can you on the Google side, help us figure out how to better meet those goals and exceed those goals.

So I think those are some things. And then honestly, on the cost side too, sometimes it's cheaper to hire in-house and sometimes it's cheaper to hire an agency, especially if you're kind of a medium sized business where it's like, okay, I kept a salary for an in-house person versus what I would pay to an agency. Often, you're going to end up paying less to an agency because they're able to also amortize that cost across a number of different clients and pass those cost savings onto you as a business. 

Google's premier partner program

John Horn: So Google, they have a program is called Google partner program and then actually above that or component of that is what they call the premier Google partner program, which is where StubGroup. And so essentially what that means a Google partner is typically an agency or company that manages Google advertising on behalf of other companies. And they get into Google's network based upon the amount of ad spend they're managing and a couple of different performance criteria that they need to hit. And that gives them a badge and some credibility and some access to support to some support on Google. 

And then Google looks at the very kind of crème de la crème of those Google partners and picks out what they call premier Google partners, which are based on much more stringent levels of best practices and client retention, ad spending, managed other things like that. And those partners, you know, I get more credibility obviously, but having that badge, but also more support within Google and more proactive help and working with their clients. 

Connor: Awesome. Well, I was going to ask how you got there. I guess lining out the factors at play. It makes sense how you go out there, but did you look at that and go, well, that's one, that's something that we need ? 

John Horn: We've had, I think, since 2016, really? Since the beginning of that premier partner program, we were kind of at that level back when they started rolling it out. And so we've been able to maintain ever since, including, they just did a whole big restructure that organization in this month, beginning of this month. And we were able to still maintain that still kind of meet their thresholds, exceed those thresholds. So it's been, it's a fun signal to tell us that we're doing well and that we're doing well for our clients, you know, compared to the benchmarks that Google has for their agency partners.

Connor: That's a hell of a metric to be not in not only a partner of the biggest search engine in the world. But also in the crème de la crème. 

John Horn: It's definitely helpful on the sales side to you because it gives credibility and give some comfort to businesses that they don't have to just take our word to say, yeah, we know what we're doing, but we also have Google themselves saying, hey, you know what they're doing? And if we need to, we could introduce a lead to our team at Google so they can ask them, you know, right out and say, hey, are these guys going to what they do? 

How StubGroup was created

John Horn: We're looking at probably close to a decade ago. And I actually personally wasn't a one of the founders. So there were two founders of the company who both came from a marketing background, business background. And both, you know, from friends of mine, one of them actually my brother and they were looking at the markets. And seeing what are the needs right now, especially in the advertising and marketing space, what do businesses need and where are they going? What are the next 10, 20 years look like? 

And at that point, pay-per-click marketing, Google, Facebook, et cetera. They were already very, very big by that point. But there was such a market need. As businesses switched over from traditional advertising to digital, as new digital, only businesses build up, there was such a need for people who knew what they were doing in that space and could effectively steward ad spend on behalf of clients that they, you know, they identified, okay, this is where we want to go.

And so it kind of took those marketing chops and, you know, together we created a study group, has an agency. Just really bootstrapped it, build it from the ground up in terms of bringing onboard clients, figuring out what worked well for them, what didn't work well, growing over time. Getting those partnerships, statuses, and so forth with Google and Facebook and grow into where we are today.

His 10 year experience in the industry

Connor: That's a whole 10 year block of your life. What was it like at the beginning compared to now? And were there any moments where you felt well I've made a doozy here, or? 

John Horn: I don't know if you've seen that the whole entrepreneurs journey graphic. They have basically the rollercoaster up and down and up and down. Definitely. Definitely can relate to that. 

You know, you have the seasons where it feels like everything is going wrong and campaigns aren't working for clients or clients that are freaking out or whatever, and you're in one of those slumps and then you'll get those wins of, hey, we did awesome for this client or we've got this great new client on board and really it's a process of dealing with those slumps, not getting too down, dealing with those highs, not thinking you're the best person in the world because you got to that high and just kind of being a level headed and saying, okay, we're going to keep working our way forward. 

You know, watching the numbers. Do we have the right trajectory over time? Are we going in the right area? Are a client staying with us? Are they happy? And then also growing the team because in the agency world, really what we're, what we're selling is the expertise of our people and certainly the tools and platforms they use, but it comes down to. Who are we putting in contact with the client? How do they grasp a client's business model? How can they work with the client to establish a good relationship and figure out how we can best help that client succeed? 

And so on, you know, the leadership side of stub group, it's about finding those right people and figuring out how. Higher good team members. How do you figure out which team members are not going to be a good fit and move on from them earlier, rather than later? And that's always a process of growth. Not going to pretend to figured it all out. It's a every day is always a learning experience. 

How John hires people quickly and efficiently

Connor: How do you bring people on? Do you sort of have a trial period? How do you figure out kind of quickly and efficiently that they fit in with the culture? 

John Horn: Yeah, we put a lot of time initially, certainly into the hiring process of talking with them, researching them. We'll usually have kind of mock things for them to do, whether that's looking at client scenarios and writing example emails or building demo accounts, things that help us understand how they analyze information and what their skill level is. How they communicate with clients, if they were to be put in that position. And we're able to weed out lots of candidates who aren't up to snuff, you know, there with our policies or with our standards there. 

And then when we find good fits and say, hey, you, you're a good fit. You know what you're doing? I think you're going to work well for our clients, then we bring them on board, start working with them. And that's really where the the rubber hits the road, as they say, as you start to see how they engage with clients, how they work in the context of the agency and trying to have processes in place for making sure they get the appropriate training, as well as making sure there's appropriate oversight, that we are doing a great job for our clients and that they're not our clients can not be negatively impact by those team members coming on board. 

And then, like I mentioned earlier, you've got to make decisions earlier, rather than later, if you see things going south with an employee relationship and saying, I don't think they're going to be a good fit. They're not doing well for our clients, or you're not being transparent with clients or whatever the case may be. Then you've got to be willing to make those hard decisions and say, hey, I'm sorry. We're not going to be a good fit for each other. We need to move on and find someone else who's going to be better. 

Connor: Who has somebody that you've hired, or maybe a group of people that have radically improved the business, whether you expect to do or not? 

John Horn: In terms of hiring, primarily, we're looking to bring on board air people who are obviously working with our, with our clients directly. And then you've got people who are there to help the agency grow and help us reach out to new clients and figure out, how to make that happen and grow as an agency. I can think of one client, one higher on the kind of a sales, organizational side of things that we made in the last two years, who has been super instrumental in just coming on board and saying, okay, I understand what you're doing. I understand the culture. I understand the agency world and really helping to do a great job of communicating that to leads per reaching out to us, looking for help and bringing onboard new clients. 

And that person has been a very significant asset to the company and in that role, but then even separate from that role, just in terms of the type of people that have the biggest impact, I think, or the type of people who ultimately who care about their job, who don't just view it as, okay. It's nine to five punch my time card, do my thing, and then move out that doesn't really work in the agency world.

And I'm not saying you have to work tons of extra hours, but I'm saying that you have to care of, okay, I'm going to do what needs to be done for this client. And I'm going to think creatively think outside the box, because that's what we're being hired to do is not just push buttons, but understand their business and figure out how can we creatively, you know, using the, the budget that they have to work with, figure out a way to turn those ad dollars into many more profit dollars. And that's the type of person that I'm always looking for in the hiring process. 

How to use PPC effectively

Connor: You mentioned PPC earlier. Can you tell me about the history of PPC? When did it start to become more mainstream and how do you use it and what is it?

John Horn: So PPC has a model of stands for pay-per-click and it's really the concept of showing an ad to someone. And then paying when the person clicks on the ad when they engage with your ad. And it's been around as a model for quite a while. I couldn't tell you the exact year that the model came out, but you know, we're talking 20 plus years at this point, certainly. Google. What is now called Google ads. What used to be called Google AdWords is one of the pioneers, certainly in pay-per-click as a model. And it's still a massive, massive player in that space between Google and Facebook. They control the majority of ad spend that goes through that pay-per-click model.

And the idea is with, let's say a billboard, for example, you're going to pay X amount and have hope as many eyeballs, see it as possible. But with the advent of the internet and being able to actually, you know, people engage and go to a website and then take actions, it made much more sense to say, okay, well, I only want to pay when I get someone who comes to my website and have the opportunity to sell to them as opposed to, hey, I served the banner ad on this page. Hopefully somebody, hopefully they read it. I don't really know what I really want to pay for that. 

So that's where kind of that cost-per-click or pay-per-click model came from and it's still. Used by, you know, most, most platforms right now, as well as you guys CPM, which stands for cost per thousand impressions that that's used in some cases as well, especially if you're talking about more of a brand awareness campaign type where your goal truly is just to get people to see your ad. You don't necessarily need them to interact with it right now. 

Connor: If I'm a client, I've got a little video production company. So I come to you and I want to get maybe another 10 clients. Next, next quarter. How do you really like hone in on that paper? Like for each different client? 

John Horn: It has to do firstly with understanding what are their goals. So what you did there is great. You gave a goal. Okay. So this is how you measure success. It's if we can get you 10 clients next quarter, for example, next question is figuring out what is the value of clients. How much are you going to make from those clients? And what's kind of the lifetime value too, because that's going to directly impact what you can afford to spend, to acquire a customer or client.

Once we figured that out and have a sense for what a client can afford to, to pay, to acquire a client, then it's about figuring out, okay, well, what. Who is your target audience? Where are they spending their time? Are they searching for you? In the case of video production company, a great place to be would be on Google search, someone types in video production company. I'd love to come up for that search term. However, even that is probably going to be too broad because it's a big country. There's a lot of video production companies out there, and a lot of ones that have massive budget to spend on Google ads, for example.

So now it's about figuring out. What is unique about your video production company? Is it that you're based locally? Is it that you're in Fort Worth Texas? Well, we should run campaigns focused specifically on that and messaging talking about how, you know, you're you're local and you understand the community and testimonials from local companies, stuff like that. Or maybe it's, Hey, we're really good at making videos for app developers to advertise their apps. Well, that's a niche then we're going to focus down on those types of keywords and that type of messaging and through niching down and figuring out kind of where is that lowest hanging fruit. That's how we're going to most effectively use an advertising budget that we're given by a client to get those 10 clients for them next quarter. 

Connor: That low hanging fruit, you know, is that a completely different search terms? The first query of just video production. It would be like local video production company or something like that? 

John Horn: That's a great question because sometimes yes and sometimes no, yes. Sometimes there are differentiators in how people search. Maybe they're searching for, um, something, something near me. So for example, you can think of storage units. People typically in that space search something like storage units near mean something because cause they want to go to the, they want to, they don't want to drive for an hour. Obviously the storage unit, they want to see what's in my area.

But then you also have terms where people they're going to search the same thing they might, they might not care about locale. They might search video production company. And they might actually care in their mind. Yeah. I want to see ones that are local to me, but maybe they don't search that way because I just want to see, okay. What comes up when I type that in which happens a lot nowadays too, because people know that Google is really good at surfacing local results to them. And so people don't always type everything that they're thinking because they know Google is really good at kind of figuring out what they're, what they're thinking.

And so for those types of scenarios, sometimes you have to run the numbers and figure out are there things that we can do with maybe our ad copy to try and discourage people from clicking and costing us money, who we don't want to click on our ads because they're not relevant. A great example would be industries where let's say they're B2B. But consumers might also search very similar search terms. And so you have to be very careful there. You don't want a bunch of, of consumers. Driving up your costs because they're searching the same keywords as businesses, but there are, you know, a hundred times more of them. And so all your budget goes to them.

And so you might want to get creative and your ad copy to say things like, you know, for businesses only, or different qualifiers to try and add some context there. And then same thing on your landing pages that you send people to try and not flood your sales team with people aren't relevant to what you're doing. So there's a lot of different strategies I'd say on the targeting side, what keywords to choose the ad copy side, the landing page side that you can do to try and position your clients for that lowest hanging fruit. 

Connor: So it's kind of like a lot more back and forth talking to you guys and trying to align what your discovering with how your website's set up for.

John Horn: It's very much a partnership yes. Between, between us and the client. They are our best clients. Our best success stories are where the clients really are on board with that. And they view us as an extension of their marketing department or as their marketing department for them. And we're able to get insights from them that we're never going to know on our own about their target audience, about their business. And then we are going to be able to leverage insights that we know from how to use the marketing platforms and what's working well, what isn't working well and marry those two things together. 

Connor: Yeah. It sounds like a pretty good business model. How much cut do you guys take? Or like, how does that finance work? 

John Horn: Typically you're looking at, you know, monthly retainer, is kind of the model that we use and then a percentage of ad spend as well. In addition to that. And so. Yeah, we have to know, at least we're making X amount from each client. And then as the amount of money that we're that we're managing for them scales the work involved in managing that typically scales as well and their success is scaling as well. And so that percentage of ad spend model kind of helps reward us and drive us value as we're driving that value to the client. 

And so those what those numbers are exactly, you know, they're going to be dependent upon different factors, how much ad spend we're we're handling for a client, what different channels we're running for them, whether it's just Google or also Facebook or other platforms and things like that. But that's kind of the general model that we approach or that we take. 

Google search and bidding

Connor: So just going back a little bit, I've never really wrapped my head around like bidding. So Google search, we can change the example if you want, but I don't really certainly understand it.

John Horn: It can get quite complicated. So I definitely at its core, those platforms, taking Google search as an example, they have an office. And so what that means is every time you type something into Google, let's say you want to buy an umbrella and you type by umbrella into Google, will behind the scenes. There's an auction that takes place right then. And all of the different advertisers who have indicated that they're interested in potentially showing an ad for someone who does that search are going to be a part of that. And then there's different factors that go into which of those advertisers actually win that auction and show up. One of those factors is how much they're willing to spend for the click.

And there's lots of different ways to communicate that to Google. Sometimes it's just straight up saying, Hey, I can, I'll spend up to X dollar amount per click. Sometimes it's more of an automated strategy where you're giving Google flexibility to make different decisions at auction time. Based upon the conversion rate or the conversion data that you're giving to Google and the target cost per conversion, for example, that you gave to Google.

So there's all different ways to come up with that bid, but ultimately you've got bid is one aspect and then other aspects are how relevant is your ad to the search term? So for example, let's, let's say state farm. They could tell Google, hey, I'm going to pay you $200 per click for someone who searches by umbrella. And that may be way, way higher than someone who sells umbrellas is bidding, but Google's still probably not going to show that ad there because it's not a relevant ad to someone looking to buy an umbrella. And ultimately Google cares most about relevance about westbound to keep bringing people back to Google, to use Google because they're getting the most relevant, possible results.

And so state farm. In that example, they would have a terrible what they call ad rank because they're just not relevant to that keyword that their service in their ad. And so that plays into it. And then also even just the performance of your ads are, do you have a good, what they call click through rate, which is just the percentage of people who are clicking the ads after seeing them?

Well, if you have a great click through rate, that's a signal to. Again, that your ad is relevant and interesting to people. And so you're going to get a better ad rank for that ad because of that relevancy and ultimately Google X making money.

And so the more, the more relevant ads you have, the more people click those ads and therefore the more money Google gets to make Google's and also in it for the relevance, that's kind of a cycle that feeds itself. But on our end, what we can do when we're making decisions about bidding is, hey, figuring out what can, what can we afford for, to pay for traffic based upon the client's conversion rates and goals and so forth, but then also what can we do when it comes to crafting very relevant ad copy and compelling ad copy that has a high click through rate and things like that, so that we can increase the client's ad rank and therefore decrease what they actually have to bid and pay for clicks to get that traffic to their website.

Connor: Wow. Thank you. Sorry, the state farm example. Can you just give me a different example that I didn't quite get that. 

John Horn: Yeah, totally. In other words, like back back in the very, very early days, let's say a Google ad words. You might have people who say, okay, I'm going to build on all the keywords out there. And I just want my ad to show up kind of like a billboard. So let's take an example of a local tree service and they want to get as many clicks as possible in their ads. And they say, they're saying, okay, having really high bids will tell Google we'll we'll afford it. We can afford to pay a lot for clicks from any of these keywords. Google is, is going to look at that and say, that tree service ha is in no way relevant to someone who wants to buy an umbrella. And we're not in the billboard. You know, we're not in the billboard space. If you want to buy a billboard, go buy a billboard or go get an ad on Google's display network to put on a website. 

But when someone searches by umbrella on Google, Google wants to show ads that will help the person buy an umbrella, help them solve that, solve that need. And so the ads that show up are going to be for. Amazon or Walmart or, you know, whoever, whoever actually has ads relevant to buying an abroad. 

Connor: Okay. That makes a lot of sense. The tree service company could match for terms like tree or like types of tree, but people who want to cut down trees are like lost on that. And people who want to discover a kind of tree, a lost on that. Yeah. Finding that middle ground where. 

John Horn: Yeah. And then also crafting the ad copy. So you might have a situation for a tree company, they'll have different ads for different intents. So you might have people who are searching a tree company. Well, so all I want our ad to talk about how we're a great tree company. We've been around since 1972 call for a free quote. But if someone's searching for Oak Wilt, for example.

Well, that might still be very relevant to my company because they probably are going to have to cut down that tree at some point, but they're not yet to the point where they're searching for a tree company right now, they're researching to see what's wrong with my tree. And so it might be profitable for me to still answer that need and have an ad about here's how five ways to identify Oak wilt, get them to the website, give them that information. And then you've got a captive audience to say, you know what? You need a tree company because your tree is wilting. Guess what? We're a tree company. And so you've got different levels of that funnel that we'll use for, you know, for clients to ultimately to hit their goals. 

Future of digital advertising

Connor: So where do you think this is all going? Do you think that like, it's kinda like the placebo effect, you know, it dripped into the public consciousness at one time and now people can react with, and against that effect, do you think that the public and people in general, just going to become more up to speed with how all of this works and the model will shift?

John Horn: Yes. To a large extent. I think you certainly have people have a better grasp now of how. The online infrastructure let's say of advertising information works than they did in past years, some of that comes from there's a lot in the news right now about big tech, about privacy issues, about, you know, legislation against big tech, about monopolies, things like that.

So it's a very present topic at the same time. A lot of people still really don't understand it. And they don't realize the difference between ads and organic listings on Google, even though there's a very clear, you know, ad label on each one, they're like, oh, I just, I clicked Google, wait, what? That's not. So you have a very wide range, certainly of education in just, you know, normal people who are not in the advertising space of what they do or don't understand about how advertising works. Whereas I see things going right now. We're an interesting time because privacy is very much a concern of consumers and of legislative bodies.

And there is a lot on the technical side of things. That's going right now with Google, with Facebook, with apple, with other tech platforms, figuring out. What they're going to be able to do moving forward when it comes to tracking how people use the internet tracking people who navigate through their products. I'm sure you've heard about the iOS14 updates that apple came out with last year. And at a significant impact, especially on Facebook and Instagram and some of the other social platforms. 

And I think there's a lot that will be decided upon in the next one to two years. That will probably usher in front of the new stage of how the internet works for a while. And I don't think the internet itself is going anywhere. I think web three is they talk about it is going to play a role in some people's lives. But I think it's going to be a long time before web three. And I am the web three experts. 

So please don't ask me to explain too much, but from what I understand, you know, it's kind of the decentralization of the internet and like the next, the next phase of, of the internet, we're in two point, oh right now, I think there will, there will be early adopters and some places where web three will be a very significant player. And then I think we'll still see a lot of the same industry infrastructure that we have right now for. Yeah, the next decade, because it takes a while for people to get used to something and then move on from that to the next thing. 

Connor: Absolutely. Yeah. I think you hit the nail on the head. There will be a broadened specific one thing that I probably think might happen and I'm no web three expert either, but it makes a lot of sense to pay direct, you know, that's one area. I think that people will circumnavigate things like Google. You could just go straight to the company, pay a premium to not pay a third party, like Google to reach them. And that sponsorship model already works with like things like Netflix. So yeah. How do you think that'll go forward change, maybe the ad policies and things?

John Horn: No, I think for some people. They put up, you've got people who prioritize convenience and the people who prioritize other things. And so take Netflix as an example, it's kind of wild, but YouTube actually makes more money from advertising than Netflix makes from their entire subscription base, which is pretty wild given how much money Netflix makes as a company.

But that tells me that people. Are still, you know, they're willing to put up with ads to watch free content or just to watch the content that is on YouTube. That is not on Netflix at the same time, you've got tons of people who are willing to pay the money directly to the provider and get access to the exclusive and non ad content on Netflix. 

And you've got probably most people who do both, you know, I've got Netflix subscription. And I spend lots of time on YouTube because there's different content on those different platforms that I want to engage with. And I don't think that the ad supported model is going to go away anytime soon because it just, it works well for a lot of people and they put up with the ads, so they don't have to pay the monthly but there's still definite large squads and segments of the population that do like that subscription model. And so I think there's plenty of room for both in the ecosystem. 

Connor: Yeah. I love the subscription model. I love paying direct to the people who made the product and, you know, cutting out the arbitrator, but I'm also a big fan of an ad blocker. So, you know, I've got a free browser brave with a free ad blocker. I like, how do you think things are going to go? If that becomes mainstream? If people knew, you know, I see my dad sitting through ads and I'm kind of like, what are you doing, man? But I make sense if you don't know about it, you don't know about it.

John Horn: It's that combination. I think of functionality and awareness, like you said, so, hey, it's a matter of. Let's talk about competitors to Google a competitors to browsers. It's a matter of are they as, as good at getting the results that people expect to see as Google, for example, but then B and probably this is the bigger one is that awareness.

Google is so integrated in our lives in so many ways from being the default search engine on browsers, to having Gmail, to Google drive to YouTube, to just so many aspects of our life. And we're so integrated that there's definitely cost a convenience cost to switch to a different platform. And so you have people like yourself who are maybe more, more early adopters of things and maybe more privacy oriented and so forth, where they are happy to sacrifice some of those convenience costs and make that switch.

And it's always a question I think of just how large, a percentage of the population fall into that category, because I think that generally. That percentage of the population is, is relatively small. You've got kind of the leading edge. You've got the people who were using Google back in the day before people knew what a search engine was.

And there's always that leading, cutting edge people who are using the latest and greatest, and then you have the rest of the population slowly following behind as they kind of figure out those things. And as those companies are then able to, to create awareness of themselves and get out into the marketplace. So over time, I think people should definitely be watching out for competitors. But I think it's also going to take a long time for people to switch away from grown accustomed to a hundred percent. 

Connor: I mean, full disclosure. I mean, when I'm on duck duck go. I'm often closing duck duck go to go on Google.

John Horn: I was going to say that's one of those things too, where often it takes a while for new let's let's. If we're talking about search engines, it just, it takes a while for them to get up to speed because. Going against a behemoth like Google, the decades that they've invested into learning the hundreds of billions of dollars invested, you know, it's going to take time for anybody else to take, to get up to that kind of level of excellence.

Connor: Yeah. I was going to ask about, I think the company is called Neeva. They're like a search engine, but you pay a subscription to use. And yeah. When you outline things like the decades of data that Google will have, it makes me feel a less confident about things like. What do you think? 

John Horn: Yeah, it's a very interesting model. I'm familiar with the model. I haven't, I don't think I'm familiar with that specific one, but definitely have read a lot about, you know, the concept, both for search engines and many things in the internet of well, will people pay for this in order to get rid of ads? Ultimately, I do think a lot of it comes down to that quality of the product. How are you going to make a product that can compete with the, with the established players in the space and Austin? 

I think what we've seen in history is the new winter. They're not necessarily the ones that beat, let's say Google, the beat, Google at their game. It's the ones that figure out where the internet is going. And, you know, when search dies, the thing that replaces search, which I'm not saying search is dying anytime soon, but kind of drawing the parallels with, you know, Google grew to where they were based upon a new idea, the internet, and having to figure out how to find information on the internet and collated that together and make it relevant and safe for people to browse.

And the next Google is probably not going to be a better search engine than Google. It's going to be the next company that solves those present needs that people have based upon where technology and culture has evolved to. And yeah, makes Google obsolete because a search engine is no longer relevant.

Connor: That makes a lot of sense. So do you think they'll kill search? What do you think? 

John Horn: I mean, I think I definitely, I'm not smart enough to tell you what will replace search. I mean, I think search just makes so much sense. It's going to be here for a long time. It's how do I find what I need? What a search for voice as an aspect of search that's one area where you know exactly how search works has changed significantly. Everything with typing into your computer than it was typing into your computer, or, you know, tap with your films on your phone now, you know, voice search for what you're looking for.

So the exact criteria of the technology changes over time, but ultimately we as humans need to find solutions and we're going to search for those in some way. 

Connor: Yeah. I mean, the thing that comes to mind when you said that was a neural, like instead of even speaking out loud, just thinking concept and appearing and helping you in that way.

John Horn: Yeah. That's fascinating. And I'm definitely, I'm no expert in understanding how that is being built out or how that will work, but it's fascinating to watch sure. 

Cryptocurrency in the advertising space

Connor: What do you think about like tokenomics and cryptocurrency and in the advertising space? 

John Horn: So most of my exposure so far in the advertising space has been more dealing with policies and platforms about advertising because those policies from Google and Facebook have changed significantly over the years. Lots of scams. They're trying to protect people from absolutely. And just as they've been figuring out. You know, what does it mean? What are we comfortable with exposing our users to used to be really couldn't do much. 

Now you can do some advertising, but you have to be very careful and get certificates and so forth and so on. So I spent a lot of time working with crypto advertisers on that policy side of things and figuring out how to create awareness of their products, whether that be software related to crypto or, you know, actual cryptocurrencies themselves or things like, you know, we have a client they're a crypto ATM with physical locations and helping people find those locations, lots of really interesting different business models that all pertain to the crypto space in terms of how crypto itself will impact advertising.

I think that there a is going to impact advertising in terms of how money changes hands, how programmatic advertising works with different platforms, being able to send contracts and say, yes, this ad did show or didn't show. There's a lot of, I think, very interesting technical ways that crypto can impact that space. I don't view myself as a crypto expert, so I can't tell you with much education how I think that will be rolled out, but it is something that I'm watching very closely and monitoring to see what impact that will have on kind of the infrastructure that pertains to the advertising that we run for our clients and the platforms that we work with.

Connor: Yeah. Just with the platforms you work with, that's kind of interesting way you'll writing your own metrics cause you don't want to be going, oh, you're a crypto company. Sounds cool. Let's pump it out there. And then Google's going to. Well, these guys are actually just a pump and dump scheme, right? So you have to kind of step into the quality control of it. 

John Horn: Yeah. We have to certainly quality control, you know, who we work with. And then also we have to make sure that they're abiding by Google's policies that are usually very strict about what you can say. And you know, what information you have to have about your legitimacy and credibility and safety measures and certifications and all that good stuff because Google and Facebook and the platforms again. They want to protect their users. They want the way that they continue to make money is by users trusting that they're going to be safe when they search for something or Google or when they click on a Facebook ad. 

And so they are highly incentivized as platforms to not give the benefit of the doubt to new advertisers and to put the burden of proof and legitimacy on those, on those advertisers or the agency is working with.

Connor: Yeah, it's kind of buzzy one because the crypto idea is to be transparent, be decentralized peer to peer, but it is a shame that it's kind of smattered with lots of scams. 

John Horn: Yeah. And I think that's the reality of how much any new technology that comes out. There's usually that period of figuring out, what are the rules and regulations going to look like in that space? And we saw that certainly with the internet when it came out, not that that there are no longer any scams and internet, because that's not true, but standards being put in place to try and protect people from scams is definitely a safer, you don't have to safer place to be now than it was back in the early days. 

Connor: Yeah, totally small pivot here. Just with the crypto in general, I just made a video for e-commerce businesses, payment processes, because it is fascinating to me. I work in New Zealand and it takes me about eight days to get paid by the US company that I worked for Debutify, but with, you know, Bitcoin on the lightening network, it can take 10 minutes. Do you have any ideas around like your company stock group accepting crypto? And how maybe that will change things just with that speed element and maybe other elements as well.

John Horn: Yeah. In terms of StubGroup as a company, accepting it from our clients, it's not a road gone down through yet, primarily related to just the volatility, obviously that goes with those payment methods in terms of our clients. I have not yet seen any of our clients really strongly explore accepting crypto. They definitely are always looking for ways to make it as easy as possible for people to purchase through their websites.

And you know, figuring out the payment processes or options, or having as many options as possible for people to work with. But frankly, I haven't, I just haven't really seen a strong push yet from our clients even asking us about it or, or digging into accepting crypto at this point, I think adoption across the board is still a way.

Connor: I think you're right. Yeah. The volatility is it's kind of insane. 

John Horn: Yeah. It's interesting to watch the rollercoaster up and down, but it's a little scary if you counting on that free money. 

Connor: Yeah. It was a little scary, not counting on it, but definitely counting on it and all the same.

Connor Curlewis
Connor Curlewis

Former Content Producer

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