047: Fairly Fearless: From Film to Flourishing in Marketing with Sicily Dickenson

C: Podcast

In this episode, we explore Sicily Dickenson’s unique journey from film to marketing, driven by fearless challenges and mentorships. Learn how she shapes careers, empowers customers, and tackles the intricacies of national brand marketing. Discover the importance of likability and responding to challenges in the make-or-break moments of branding. 

Key Points + Topics

  • [1:30] Sicily Dickenson got her degree in Radio, TV, and Film from the University of Texas at Austin. These days, she has a daughter in her second year of college and another daughter who is a junior in high school. She sees how different the college planning and application process is from when she was that age. She always loved to work on creative projects with teams and tell stories. She thoroughly enjoyed her time in the college program, but shortly after she graduated and found work in actual films, she learned that perhaps that career wasn’t her calling. While she was in school, she was one of the first classes of students to use digital film editing software (as opposed to slicing physical film with razor blades). She attributes her learning this complicated software to her eventual entry into the digital marketing world, as it helped familiarize her with computers in a unique way. 
  • [5:49] A mentor can be a lot of things. She believes it can be someone you learn from, but believes there’s a special bond in a mentor-ship when there’s close proximity. If someone simply gives you advice, that can be helpful. However, watching someone (and watching someone watch you) and receiving immediate feedback has a particular impact. 
  • [6:47] Fairly fearless – that’s the way Sicily tends to approach challenges. This had led to her getting in a bit over her head at times. Thankfully, there has always been someone around to lend a hand and help pull her above the surface.
    • Brad Fogel worked with Sicily when she was working for NRG (a regional-turned-national energy provider). She was particularly ambitious and wanted to be promoted. She was – to the role of VP of Marketing. She’d never held that role before, and the company had never really had that position before. Because it was so new, there were few people around who had done what needed doing in that role. She knew OF the man who ran the main ad agency for NRG, Brad Fogle, and it wasn’t the most flattering view. He reached out when she got the new position, and they began to work together and get to know each other better. He had a lot of experience, and they’ve worked together in various ways over the years. He mentored her in the ins and outs of marketing while she mentored him in the general “politics” and interpersonal relationships of career life. 
    • Eventually, at NRG, Sicily found herself working for the new CMO, Karen Jones. It was like getting a new job as she finally had someone in the organization with more experience from whom she could learn. She helped Sicily grow by sharing her experience and the mistakes she made – while letting Sicily make some mistakes of her own. When Karen moved on to her next role, she wrote a wonderful recommendation for Sicily to take her place as CMO. 
  • [12:08] Sicily has to really believe in someone to mentor them well. It’s a passion project, and she has to see that they have the raw ingredients for her to mold into a better career person. One of the principles of Montessori schools, where her children attended, is to show true mastery of a concept, you have to be able to teach it. As Sicily mentors others, they teach her things as well. Over her career, she’s mentored many people, and those mentorships have morphed how she thinks, works, and approaches things. 
  • [19:15] When she was at NRG, Sicily knew that empowering your customers was imperative to success. At Sun & Ski, with physical products, it’s a bit easier. For something intangible, like electricity, it’s much more difficult. At Sun & Ski, you have an interested audience from the start; you already have your foot in the door. With energy, they kind of have to “invent” the foot in the door. Now, in the sports equipment industry, the market is much more competitive and price-focused. Branding does play a part, but it’s a challenge to truly highlight it when the margins are so thin. 
  • [21:27] Likeability matters in marketing. A brand has to provide expertise that benefits the customer. At Sun & Ski, they need to provide experience and guidance. If someone is looking for a new pair of skis, they’ll need someone to learn what level of skier they are, when and where they intend to ski, and more to help prepare them for the complete adventure. Those kinds of people or online experiences make a brand more valuable than “just a retailer.” It also means you’ll have those moments of truth, or make-or-break moments, when how you respond to a challenge will win or lose you a customer for life. 
  • [23:57] The question of the day: How do you manage the different personas, needs, and marketing preferences of the different regions of a national brand? It’s something Sicily is still trying to figure out. Her first challenge to tackle when she started was e-commerce. It was underperforming. Now, it’s doing amazingly well. She is now looking into how to drive foot traffic in very diverse markets in unique areas. She is looking into their grassroots marketing programs, omnichannel presence, and localized marketing. 
  • [27:53] Sicily is a whiz at revitalizing stagnant sales. She’s learned it is ineffective to go into a struggling organization and talk about “brand” and how that’s going to fix it all. The members there cannot understand how it’s going to lead to their target outcome. You have to start with basic blocking and tackling and THEN go after the brand piece. A brand is just a block of clay. You may need to add tentacles, eyeballs, and feet to the structure, but it’s there. That’s the base you need to start from. 

Guest + Episode Links

Full Episode Transcript

Danny Gavin 00:05

Hello everyone, I’m Danny Gavin, founder of Optidge, marketing Professor, and the host of The Digital Marketing Mentor. Today’s guest is Sicily Dickenson, CMO at Sun & Ski Sports. She is a strategic, game-changing marketing executive with a distinguished record of driving brand awareness, lead generation and explosive business growth in diverse industries, ranging from startup enterprises to Fortune 200 corporations. She’s a whiz at getting business noticed in the best ways. She’s helped revitalize lagging sales, enter and dominate crowded markets and build amazing communities in and around those businesses. They were going to talk about, of course, mentorship, but as well as retail marketing and revitalizing lagging sales. How are you doing, Sicily?

Sicily Dickenson 01:04

Thank you, that was quite an introduction. I feel so lofty.

Danny Gavin 01:09

Well, you are lofty.

Sicily Dickenson 01:11

Thank you.

Danny Gavin 01:11

You’ve done some amazing things in your life and it’s so nice to have you on. You’ve definitely been on my top list to have you on the podcast. We’ve known each other now I feel like it’s six, seven years, but, yeah, it’s so nice that we’re able to sit down today and chat.

Sicily Dickenson 01:27

For sure, absolutely. I’m glad to be here.

Danny Gavin 01:29

Let’s start off. Where did you go to school and what did you study?

Sicily Dickenson 01:32

So I went to school at University of Texas at Austin. I was a longhorn. I’ve just I’ve got one daughter who is in her second year of college and one daughter who’s a junior in high school. So me getting into UT was a lot different back then than it is these days. But I was very lucky to go and enjoy my time at Austin very much.

I majored in a radio television film and that was a passion of mine and really loved to work on creative projects, loved to work with a team of people, loved to tell stories. I just loved every second of that degree for sure. But then shortly got out of UT and that environment and had to work on actual films and found out that maybe that wasn’t my calling and the work schedule, the getting you know a diet cope with two ice cubes instead of three and those kind of things were not as appealing as the really cool work we had done when I was in college. So but the pieces of that that have kind of stayed with me and really helped me build my career are that love of storytelling and also that group mentality of getting projects and things done and finding creative ways to do it and kind of getting ideas from across the board and having specialized people who do some things, but also just the general consensus working towards a goal, has been something that I think probably has helped me in my career more than anything I ever studied. So that was nice to kind of get that and also just to date myself.

I was the first generation of graduates to go through UT where we had actual digital editors, like we weren’t splicing film with razor blades. You know I bring this up because it actually is. Most of the reason I ended up in marketing is that I had to learn to use an Avid that’s what we were using at the time. It was a very complicated software program and then, you know, making of a film at that time was very technical, in that you had to understand codex and compressions and all kinds of video algorithms, and so I had to learn all that to make my films and projects, and so that led me into understanding computers, probably in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to at my age because I didn’t grow up with them. But I was so indoctrinated with that kind of project that it led me to be able to do all kinds of things online, which really paved the way for me to get opportunities in my career in digital marketing, as digital marketing started to sort of turn the tables from traditional marketing.

Danny Gavin 04:13

So yeah, that sounds really amazing. So did you make it to California or New York in the beginning, or was it like, did you stay in Texas?

Sicily Dickenson 04:21

So I worked on some films in Austin, I did work on a film in LA and I worked on a film kind of outside of LA in the California area.

So I tried a little bit of it all but it was just.

You know, it’s very long days and then you’re looking for a job every six months and I was like no, I like more consistency in my life and also I hated saying goodbye to everybody at the end of a project and you know, we had learned to work together so well and then you know, you kind of have to go find your next project.

So, yeah, and I also think it’s different now because I didn’t really know anybody in the industry and so without those connections you would literally have to work your way out from the very bottom, which is what I was doing, and that’s quite an arduous process. So you know, I think had and yeah, you know, had it been a little different, where I had a little more connection into the industry, I might have been able to find my way through that industry a bit better. But what kept coming up for me over and over again is this ability to take video and storytelling and putting it on the internet, which was just raging at that time and I just kind of kept getting pulled back to that and pulled back to that and it just made sense, and so that’s how I kind of started my career and more of that vein.

Danny Gavin 05:42

So, really, you started off in the right place, because it led you in the right direction.

Sicily Dickenson 05:46

Isn’t that life?

Danny Gavin 05:47

Yeah, let’s talk about mentorship. So, Sicily, how would you define a mentor?

Sicily Dickenson 05:51

I think a mentor can be lots of things Like. I think a mentor can be someone that you learn from. I think a mentor has to be in kind of close proximity, because I think having someone tell you things can be helpful, but watching a person do them and watching a person watch you do something and give feedback is a very different kind of relationship. And so I think my most successful mentorships have been those very close knit relationships where we’re really watching each other in our day to day and able to give guidance or feedback on that behavior and that’s kind of to me like you learn things from other people and you admire people and people can inspire you. But I think a true mentorship has to be more of a close proximity kind of relationship for it to work.

Danny Gavin 06:46

So let’s talk about some of your most influential mentors. I know in the past you’ve mentioned people like Brad Fogle and Karen Jones. Can you elaborate on why they were so influential in your life?

Sicily Dickenson 06:54

I usually walk into things fairly without fear, assuming that I’ll figure out how to do it. And so many times in my career when I’ve been in way over my head there’s been someone around that saw that a little bit and kind of lend, lend a hand to see if if I could get there. And I did. And so those people really became my mentor. So Brad Fogle, for an example I was a marketing director at NRG and I was ambitious and wanted to be promoted and kind of got myself promoted up to vice president of advertising there and I really had never done that before. And not only had I never done that, I don’t think the organization had ever really had anyone that did that role before but they were becoming a very different kind of company and a very customer facing company. It was important to their future that they began to develop this. But because it was sort of a new aspect of their company, there wasn’t a lot of people around who’d been there done that but in that role could share with me. And so as I kind of got into that role, there was an agency already in place and is an agency out of San Francisco, gray, san Francisco, and the guy who ran that office, of course, when I got promoted into the role wanted to make sure they kept their place in the mix. So he reaches out and he’s talking to me now.

I had known of him. I didn’t know him and I did not have a positive view of him from just other things people had said and things I had observed, and I had seen him yell at people and I was like, yeah, that’s not going to work for me. So but as I started to get to know him and he reached out, we became very close and we ended up working together for decades. He was someone who had definitely done a lot of advertising, had worked with all kinds of clients and all kinds of industries. It was a very positive thing for him to influence me, but also for me to influence him.

So we did have that kind of relationship where he was my mentor. He really helped me understand the advertising business and how to think about it, how to get projects done, how to sell things through an organization. He really took me under his wing and I think I followed him to three different agencies over the years and two or three different jobs. We just had a really good working relationship and he just he taught me so much about how to tell a story and how to get something done and how to make sure you were getting results out of it. I forever will be in his debt for that. He was a great mentor.

Danny Gavin 09:38

Yeah, I want to highlight the fact me being in an agency. That’s wonderful that even though an agency partner, it is a partner but could technically just be doing the work and not have the connection. It’s so nice that he actually reached out and created that relationship which went above and beyond what he had to do.

Sicily Dickenson 09:58

Yes, oh for sure.

Danny Gavin 10:00

So what about Karen Jones?

Sicily Dickenson 10:02

So Karen came along a little later in my role at Reliant originally, which became NRG. We went from being a very regional company to being a national company. So they went to find a CMO with National Experience. So they brought Karen Jones into the organization and so she was my boss. It was like getting a new job really. I got a new boss, we had a new company, we had a new name.

I finally had someone inside the organization that had a lot more experience in me that I could learn from, and so I had been hungry for that and was making do with what I had by having her there was amazing. So she really, from the inside out, helped me grow in that role and just shared all of her experience with me and her mistakes she had made and let me make some of my own, but also helped me to avoid the bigger ones. And yeah, she was a huge influence to me. And then when she decided to move on to her next role I had never been a CMO before, obviously, and she wrote this wonderful recommendation to the CEO at the time and just said you can go look for somebody, but I think you have the person right here and recommended me highly, and I don’t think without that I would have gotten the opportunity. And so not only did she help me to grow, but she paved the way for me on her way out, and that’s truly amazing.

I worked with her again in my career later on, just helping with a startup off of a bigger company that she was working for. She asked me to come on board and do that, so I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with her again, and it was. We were more like peers this time, but I realized how much of what I did was what she taught me. I really appreciated it, but she had a big, big impact and a very kind heart.

Danny Gavin 11:59

Wow, those are two very special people, yeah, and it explains a lot.

Sicily Dickenson 12:04

I’ve been so lucky, I mean yeah, wow.

Danny Gavin 12:07

So so now that you so obviously you, you have this amazing mentorship relationship. So now you, throughout your different gigs and where you are now, I’m sure you’re mentoring others. So what are your keys to mentoring success? When you’re mentoring, you know your colleagues and people around you.

Sicily Dickenson 12:22

I’m not a very good mentor unless I really believe in the person. Like, the worst thing that can happen is when a person comes to you and asks you if you’ll be their mentor and you’re like, hmm gosh, sure, yeah, I’ll help you. But, like, for me it is a passion project sometimes when you see someone that has all the raw ingredients and just needs a little finessing or could benefit from things that you know only because you’ve been there done that. Or I also enjoy working with people that have very different talents and skills, but also showing them how to build a team around them that will make them successful. So they don’t have to be like exactly like me, like, let me show you, but if I can see that they have pieces that are really unique and strong and I’m excited to work with them.

I certainly love to mentor people and I think it’s worth mentioning. It’s funny because my kids went to Montessori school their whole lives and if anybody knows what Montessori is, one of the principles of Montessori is that you have to really understand a concept. You have to be able to teach it to somebody, and so I think a lot of times when I’m in a mentoring situation, I find that I’m actually learning so much myself by teaching the system Because I’m rethinking it, I’m seeing it in a different light, I’m watching it in a different way and it adds more value to me and the way that my career has progressed. So I definitely think mentoring is not a one-way street for certain.

Danny Gavin 13:52

A thousand percent and I don’t know if you knew this, but in the Jewish Orthodox Yahshiva system so we actually learn in pairs, so you can imagine. So obviously there’s classes, but there’s a lot of time where you’re learning with a partner. You know, sometimes we were like, oh man, if I’m partnered up with a weaker person, it’s like, oh my gosh, do I have to teach, do I have to explain? But then what ends up happening is you know the material like 10 times better than anyone else because you have to be the teacher, and I agree with you like having the ability to teach or being in the situation of teaching, you actually gain much more sometimes.

So, much the person you’re teaching. Yeah.

Sicily Dickenson 14:27

It’s so true. I actually really like it very much, and another thing about it is that I just turned 53.

Danny Gavin 14:35

And Happy birthday.

Sicily Dickenson 14:37

Thank you and I have a new-ish job, so I’m six months into a new role and I find my mentoring so different now than maybe when I was in my 30s and I noted this most recently just in-. First of all, we’re doing this training thing next week. It’s more of a leadership training and I need to go through it because I don’t know all the vocabulary and I don’t know how this company really thinks about that stuff. So it’ll be good to indoctrinate me, but I have a bunch of people on my team going also who I want to be in a leadership program and so we had to do these disk assessments, those personality assessments. It’s always the same. Mine’s been the same since I took it when I was 18 years old or whatever but I did know there are some pieces that are morphing about that and I think it really does have to do with the way I mentor people and the way I see things.

So just that ability to, I think when you’re young and ambitious and you get very caught up in not that I never did want to help people, I did, but I really wanted to succeed.

I wanted to be successful at all costs, like the outcome to me was always the most important. It wasn’t even about recognition for me or whatever, but at the end of the day, the outcome to me was always the most important. And so as I’ve gotten older, though, I realized as I did my assessment that the outcome is still at the top of the list for me, but the thoughtfulness of the people around me and the way that I incorporate people into a team structure and those kind of things has definitely changed over the years, and I really think it’s because of the positive impact mentoring has had on me and that that ability to see that a team makes something better than one individual forcing something through the straw or whatever. So, yeah, I definitely think as time goes on, you start to become a mentor more naturally, I think, and really seek that out and find the value in that intrinsically.

Danny Gavin 16:53

Sicily, do you think it’s also kind of getting out of the rat race of the corporate world, like I know, like obviously you’ve been in some real corporate jobs, you’ve been in some that haven’t been. Do you feel like getting out of that world also helps kind of soften things a bit?

Sicily Dickenson 17:07

Absolutely it does.

It’s funny, though, because I think if I hadn’t been in those corporate jobs, I wouldn’t think what I think today, though, because I wouldn’t know what I did know right.

And it’s like the systems and tools and things you have access to in those corporate jobs are so valuable and they’re very expensive and they may not be something you have access to later. So all that you can absorb when you’re in those roles that you can then bring to a different environment, it’s so useful and it really can take a group, a team, and elevate them really quickly. If you’ve had that experience, that you can bring to it without having to rebuy all the tools and have access to all that, if that makes sense. So I think yes, I definitely think some of it is that, but it’s also, I think, just like seeing the big picture gets bigger. The big picture is like oh yeah, I did that and it worked. I could have just done this and it also would have worked and it might have worked better, and so having seen what comes to fruition in different circumstances, I think helps.

Danny Gavin 18:12

Oh, totally, and I think that’s why you’re such an amazing marketer. It’s because you have been in a lot of different situations and therefore you provide a lot more value than if you were at shell for 30 years. I know.

Sicily Dickenson 18:24

And isn’t it interesting? I think about this all the time. I have to say this all the time even in my current role, I never got pigeonholed into an industry. I popped around a lot and it really is all the same. But there is a definite layer of in-depth knowledge and, in a certain industry, that you can miss if you’re not careful. But again, I think this whole idea of the team and who you need to build around you. That just means I have to put those people who know that industry inside out around me and make sure they have a voice on the team, and then we’re all going to do better together. But yeah, so that’s been nice, not getting pigeonholed and being able to try different things in different industries.

Danny Gavin 19:10

Wow, that was such a great discussion. Now let’s move into your areas of expertise. So we’re first going to touch upon retail marketing. So you mentioned that you’re at NRG, which is one of the largest power providers in Texas. So while you were there, you wrote a piece about empowering your customers. It’s not an easy feat for something as a morphist to the customer as electricity right. However, it’s set in ski. Where you’re currently at, the products are much more tangible. How does this change your approach to this directive?

Sicily Dickenson 19:36

Trying to sell someone something invisible that if you touch it it will kill you is a very different thing than what I do at Sennedsky, and I think the biggest difference in the approach is that you have a much more interested audience from the get-go. There’s no one that doesn’t want to hear about outdoor adventure. I mean, you might be more into it than not, but everybody is open to hearing about it. You’ve got to start with your foot in the door to a conversation, whereas in the energy world, yep, we had to invent the foot in the door. Why would you even give a second to an advertisement, a blog, a video or whatever right that’s about this topic, and how do you relate that back to a person and their values or what’s important to them? So I think it was very hard to come up with what that looks like.

On the flip side, though, it’s such a highly competitive landscape for a retailer like Sennedsky, and there’s a lot of people offering these, and it becomes very much a price battle and brand plays a part, but brand is really hard to get in there and get at because margins are so thin and versus the energy level. We could spend some time on the brand and who we are and what we stood for, and making sure we had the communications to present that to a person. It was just more about making sure that they are paying attention to it at all, and so I think it has taught me. I guess now what I’m saying is conversion is harder and awareness is easier. And awareness was harder at NRG and conversion, once we got that awareness, became less of a challenge.

Danny Gavin 21:23

You’ve previously spoken about the importance of making your brand likeable by your customers. With a retail brand, what does that look like? Assuming your company doesn’t make any big splashes for going political or social, how do you make your brand more than just acceptable in the grand scheme of things?

Sicily Dickenson 21:42

I think you have to provide expertise that benefits the customer. I think they’re going to come in lots of ways, but I think it’s the most important ingredient in the brand. That could look like a lot of things, for example, a sudden ski. It can look like if I come in and I’m looking for a new pair of skis, I want to talk to somebody who can find out what level of ski I am, know my height and weight, know where I’m going to ski, know what I’m going to ski and help me find the right equipment and also then help find the right deal for me. What else will I need with these skis? What kind of services will I need? It’s really getting me prepared for my full adventure, not just the store transaction. I think when you have those people or online experiences that allow people to research and learn those things, you become more valuable than just a retailer. I think that builds likeability.

I also think you have, as all marketers talk about, these moments of truth when something bad happens, and the way you respond to a customer or a potential customer in light of that moment of truth can be your hero moment or it can be you will never have this customer again moment.

I think those moments of truth are really interesting. I’ve been reading recently a lot because, as we all know, marketing budgets are getting slash, slash, slash, slash, slash. You have to get more with less, more with less. I’ve been reading a lot about how people are we were trying to invest in the whole experience and how now CMOs need to think about what are their biggest pieces of experience and really sum their investment there, because they don’t have the money to do the whole thing. But if, at that moment of truth, everything goes well, they’ll have that customer for life. I think they use new terms, but it’s the same thing. It’s the moment of truth and it’s those moments where a customer is going to feel like you went above and beyond or you didn’t do what you were supposed to do, those being everything to people now, and those relationships last a very long time.

Danny Gavin 23:56

So Sun & Ski Sports has many locations nationwide, as well as stable online sales presence. Given the different locations, we’ll lend themselves to different sports. How do you customize your marketing strategy to the different regions while maintaining brand cohesion and personality?

Sicily Dickenson 24:10

Oh man, isn’t that the question of the day?

Danny Gavin 24:13

How do I do that, Danny. How do I do that?

Sicily Dickenson 24:17

I’m like no, it’s so funny, it’s true. So I’ll just tell you kind of where I am and my strategy with that. This role is, like I said, I’ve been there six months and the big sort of issue that needed solving immediately was that their e-com channel was not performing at the level that it needed to be and they wanted someone to come in and do that. So that’s something I’ve had experience doing before, and so that was great, and so I came in and that is going really really well now Wonderful. So we are doing amazingly well in that channel. We’ve got winter ahead of us, so we’ll see, because three quarters of the business happens in the winter, and so we’ll see. But we have set the foundation, we have seen the progress and I feel really good about that.

The part that I have not quite mastered yet is how to drive foot traffic in these very diverse locations, in these very diverse market with the size of this brand. So it’s not like I’m running national advertising. Everybody knows me, I really have to be very laser focused in these areas and each area is unique and different. So one of the things that I’m starting to lean pretty hard on and hopefully this will pay off for me is really looking at our grassroots marketing program, and so we have a small program in place, but it’s this one guy that was also doing customer service, and so now we’ve got that focused and we’ve got some horsepower behind him and we’ve got more of an organizational structure. But I think in a marketplace like creating this omnitale present, but where you have these markets that are unique not only by sport but just by media consumption, by geography, we are really going to have to tap into some of that localized marketing, and so we really are sort of learning. That.

I mean I’ll give you a good example of how different it can be is that I visited one of our stores in Dillon, colorado, a few weeks ago most beautiful time of year to be there, if you ask me. It was amazing. I can’t believe there’s a place in the world that looks like that just breathtaking. But I went there and right now before ski season starts it’s a lot of locals, it’s like the guys and girls that live in this town all year around, very different than what it looks like when the snow hits the ground, and we’re then marketing to tourists.

And so we were having a lot of conversations about how do we type into this local market what makes them want to come to us and not someone else? And then how does that change over Christmas time and where should we be? And that’s one example. And then you take a store like here in Houston, the store on Westheimer which is the OG, the original Sundin ski right, where if anyone in the area is going on any kind of snow trip, they’re going there to get their gear, figure out how to get their gear tuned up, get a wax, get whatever, and so that’s a different kind of activity and a different timeline and a different customer base than what we’re seeing in that Dylan store. And then we have mall stores and we have resort stores, and so we have these very different profiles of stores that draw these different customers. So that is probably my biggest challenge and I’m very interested to see how we can tap into grassroots to do more things that are right for that particular location.

Danny Gavin 27:51

So pivoting to revitalizing stagnant sales. So you’ve transitioned into different verticals a few times and you’ve managed to bring a vitality to the brands that you’ve marketed. So when entering a new business, how do you go about the delicate conversation surrounding sales that have plateaued?

Sicily Dickenson 28:07

I’ll tell you one lesson I’ve learned that I did wrong one time and I did it right this time. You cannot go into an organization that is suffering from a dip in sales in some channel or area of the business and talk about the brand, because they just can’t understand how that’s going to lead to this outcome, even if they say they understand. They don’t understand Even if they’ve read in a book or they saw it online that they really need as a brand. They had to stand for something. They need to differentiate themselves. They can’t understand that, and so one of the things I’ve learned is to make some headway with some of the real basic blocking and tackling that’s missing and then slowly begin to add those brand pieces in. And the reason that’s good is not only because of the sell-in to the organization, but also as a new person and organization.

You don’t quite have a handle on authentically what that brand is and, yeah, you may want to shape it based on what customers want and what you want to offer.

A lot, I’d say 75%, of a brand is what it is like, what it organically has become and turned into, and that is the clay that a marketer needs to use to turn something into something differentiated.

You may need to have tentacles and eyeballs and feet and whatever to the clay structure, but the basis is there, and so giving yourself some time to really become a part of that culture and see the pros and cons of it and really understand how it’s come to be will set you up for a much more successful brand strategy, and it will be like the icing on top once you get the building blocks in place. And so that to me this time was something I learned from having been a mattress firm. I really hired a mattress firm to go after the brand and I went hard and I was like what they really wanted, needed but did not ask for, was some of that blocking and tackling that was not in place yet, and I would have been better off had I slowed that brand piece down and really worked on that blocking and tackling first. So that is what I’ve done to Saniski and I feel very proud of it so far and I think we are heading in a great direction.

Danny Gavin 30:29

You know, it reminds me of that story where I was once hired as a consultant to an e-com company a couple of years ago. When you’re coming into an organization, you have to, you know, got to see who the different players are and you don’t really want to step on people’s toes, right? So, you know, maybe you don’t speak up as much. You kind of, you know, don’t push your agenda. And then you know it was a good gig and you know the CEO at that time was thinking should I, you know, keep you on for longer or not?

And so as he went through it and in the end he decided not to go with me and the reason he just said was not because you don’t know your stuff, not because you’re not good, but, danny, you just didn’t speak up enough, you know you didn’t. You know, if you know that something’s right, like you have to speak up, even if you’re going to step on people’s toes, you got to do it. So I’m not saying it’s exactly the same, but it’s similar to kind of like you might be hired for one thing and like that, yeah, that’s what they want. But if you don’t, like really push what you believe in and look around, right, then you kind of miss the boat.

Sicily Dickenson 31:28

Yeah, I feel that, I feel that very much.

Danny Gavin 31:31

One of the ways to obviously break out a stagnant sales is to try new channels. Or you could approach old ones in a new way, kind of like what you’re doing now with the grassroots, where they’ve had it, but let’s, you know, double down. Have there been any other instances where you’ve taken the approach of trying out new channels and you know, seeing success with that?

Sicily Dickenson 31:47

They were still doing a lot of more traditional marketing, and so I have moved over to a lot heavier digital marketing mix than what they’re used to having. Now I think I’ve probably gone from one extreme to the other and I may, and now what I’m doing is I’m learning about each of the markets and which ones may need more traditional in them to succeed, just because of who those markets are. So I’ve got like three or four different stores that just are not responding in the same way that the others are to the digital marketing which is much more efficient of a spend. We have much more control over it, we can be very reactive to the marketplace with it. So it has all these pros. But there are a couple of markets where this really isn’t getting us where we need to go and I think I’m going to have to come back and pick up some more traditional and local advertising in those markets.

Danny Gavin 32:45

So it’s time for our lightning round. I believe you are a book lover, Love to talk about you know, your top three or five books that you’d recommend or you’re reading now.

Sicily Dickenson 32:55

Okay, do they have to be business books?

Danny Gavin 32:57

Not at all. This is about mentorship and soul and not just business.

Sicily Dickenson 33:02

Okay, I’ll tell you my recent reads. Let’s see, I read this book called Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. Do you know this book? Have you seen?

Danny Gavin 33:10

this? No, it’s a new book.

Sicily Dickenson 33:11

It’s recent, this year and it’s about a video game designer. But it’s not really about designing video games, it’s really about their lives. But I found it fascinating. I really enjoyed it. The character is not really likable and yet you like him and I love when I find a story like that. I love when I find a person like that. Like, nobody likes this person, but there’s something about this person that is intriguing, right. So I really I really ended up liking that book very much.

And then I read this book called Hello Beautiful and it’s kind of like a modern day little women kind of book.

And you know, coming from three girls in my family and also having two girls, just the different personalities and watching them progress through their lives and also through their careers and kind of what ended up being meaningful in their career world, I found fascinating. So there’s that one. And then I read this really crazy book called Yellow Face about this girl who goes to Ivy League school with another woman and they are obviously both very smart and they both want to be writers and one of them ends up becoming more famous and successful than the other and yet they remain friends, but there’s kind of some frenemy situations going on and then there’s an accidental death of the successful one and the non-successful one takes her next book and makes it her own and publishes it, and it is the story of what happens after that. So that was just fun and like what? Like how did a person get to that place where they could do something? You know, like that and understanding those characters was really fun.

Danny Gavin 35:06

So it sounds like something that would turn into a movie one day.

Sicily Dickenson 35:09

Yeah, probably, so, probably so.

Danny Gavin 35:11

Cool. Well, Sicily, what would you say is your next big project? It could be both personal or business.

Sicily Dickenson 35:17

So a retailer like Sennheiske typically gets all of its content from the brand, from the vendors, and so you’re at their mercy of what they provide and how that works, and so which is a lot of the time just fine. But when you want to have your own unique point of view in your own brand and you want to be talking about things in certain ways that maybe those different brands are not privy to, you can’t always depend on them to make the content. You need to tell your story. So I’m very excited to start creating our own content.

So we have one of the things because Sun & Ski Sports was born sort of here in Houston, there’s a lot of people there who are very much into outdoor adventure and these sports, but there is a fair amount in the marketing team that we’re not, and so, as we’ve been kind of restructuring the team, I’ve been making sure to hire those people who have that passion and who are doing these things on a regular basis, and they’re all going to be making content for us.

So we have five or six new kind of content creators with the organization. They’ve all got their GoPros, they’re going out there, they’re making content all the time on their day-to-day lives so that we can see what real people looks like, and that’s what I’m excited about, for the Sun & Ski Sports brand is kind of making this territory a bit more accessible for everybody. I think a lot of our competitors create this high standard of like elite athletes, and I really want to bring that down and make that something accessible. So by having all these regular people who love and do this for I think we can communicate that better. So we’re going to have a lot more content coming out that we’re super excited about.

Danny Gavin 37:00

Sounds like you’ve hit the nail right on the head. I hope so. I’m excited to see that. So, Sicily, where can listeners learn more about you and Sun & Ski Sports?

Sicily Dickenson 37:08

Definitely visit my website, sunandski.com, and enjoy this season we’re going into, because it gets really exciting around this time of the year, but also you can follow us on Instagram, Sun & Ski, and you can find anything about me or get in touch with me on my LinkedIn profile, which I guess, Danny, we can leave for people.

Danny Gavin 37:28

Yeah, we will. We’ll put it into the show notes, for sure.

Sicily Dickenson 37:30


Danny Gavin 37:31

All right. Well, Sicily, thank you so much for being a guest on the Digital Marketing Mentor. Of course, some of the points you brought up you know you’re doing this. You know I’ve been doing this for 40-plus episodes, but you’ve brought some wonderful new ideas and, oh man, this was so enjoyable. So thanks for being here. Thanks, danny, yeah, and thanks, listeners, for tuning into the Digital Marketing Mentor. We’ll speak with you next time.

Sicily Dickenson 37:50

Thank you.

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