153: Build a Lead Gen FlyWheel with Tyler Sickmeyer

Tyler Sickmeyer is the marketing thought leader and Founder of Fidelitas, a full-service marketing and advertising agency that serves clients worldwide. He is also the owner of the San Diego Sharks Basketball Team. We discuss the easiest way to build a lead gen flywheel, the benefits of investing in a professional sports team, and how to maximize the ROI of your social media campaigns.

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Build a Lead Gen FlyWheel with Tyler Sickmeyer

Our guest is Tyler Sickmeyer, the owner and CEO of Fidelitas, a marketing, advertising and PR agency that helps clients build brand loyalty through intentional storytelling in the retail, direct-to-consumer e-commerce, luxury, and sporting goods industries. He also owns the San Diego Sharks professional basketball team. Welcome to the show, Tyler. 

Hi, thank you for having me, Steve. 

So that’s a unique opportunity here because I’ve never had anyone on the show who owns a professional sports team, so maybe we are going up in the world. So Tyler, tell me about your story. How did you become a business owner? How did you launch Fidelitas? And then maybe we’ll talk about the sports team later.

Absolutely. Well, to start off, I was born at a young age. No, I’m just kidding. You know, I got my start, Steve, when I was fresh into college, actually. As a freshman. I started in concert promotion and because of being in the right place at the right time, I was able to leverage Facebook marketing before anyone else because I was the only college student that the agents were selling these big arena shows to. And at the time, Facebook was only open to college students. So, by default, I was the first or one of the first to leverage Facebook marketing in the music promotion industry. Then at the same time, I met the right people at the right time when a new software came out called Moses that introduced text message marketing to the world.

So we were very early to the game in text message marketing again. This was over 15 years ago when this happened. Actually, it was almost 20 years ago when this happened. So a little bit of right place, right time. I was very blessed to get my start there. That led into consulting other promoters and other small and medium-sized businesses. And fast forward 15 years later, we have Fidelitas, a full-service marketing and ad agency that’s fully functioning in-house. We don’t really outsource anything, and we work with a variety of brands, as you mentioned, both large and small across a variety of industries, and we try to have fun with it.

Well, you certainly seem to have fun with it. Well, listen, this is an area which I think many listeners probably have some idea, but many like me are really not very well versed. You know, Facebook marketing, text message marketing, and other media that you use. And actually, there’s a great segue to the management blueprint I’d like to talk with you about. On your website and also in our pre-interview, we talked about the omni-channel flywheel that you developed, this concept, which you apply to your customers. So tell us a little bit about what this omni-channel flywheel is and how does it help your marketing. 

Absolutely, so the flywheel concept comes from Jim Collins in Good to Great, which I’m sure many of your listeners have read. I’m personally a fan of revisiting at least once a year. It’s such a solid foundation for any sort of business acumen or strategy. And with the flywheel concept, you know, the more energy it reciprocates, and thus you start to get some sustained momentum over time. What’s ironic is more often than not, if you were to look at marketing departments and both internal and external teams in any industry, Steve, you’ll see more silos than flywheels. You know, you may have a – you know, we’ll just call it ABC Corp, and they have a CMO internally, and then they have an outsourced PR freelancer, and then they have their IT team handling the website and some SEO when they have time. The CMO is trying to keep up with social media internally, and then they have a paid social agency, and then they might have another agency helping out with influencer marketing.

Rarely do any of these pieces, and we go on and on, regardless of the channels we’re talking about, regardless of the channels, the owners of those channels are not talking to each other. There’s no dots being connected from say PR to SEO or from paid media to retention, which is problematic, right? Because if you look at it, using the example of paid media and retention, if you have your lifetime value or annual revenue per email address dialed in, and you know what your net profit is per email, it gets to be really efficient for paid media teams to run ads acquiring set emails. For example, if you can acquire an email address at 50 cents and you know it’s going to bring a dollar of profit over the next 12 months, that’s what most entrepreneurs would call good business.

I have yet to meet a business that’s not willing to make that investment when they know their numbers. And that’s the key is you have to know their numbers. And that even brings in buy-in from the CFOs in a lot of cases. And so, the finance department has to buy in. The brand has to be really comfortable with their margins for that to work. But you could use any two channels, whether we’re talking about PR and influencers or SEO and paid media, they all work together at the end of the day. But the key is connecting those dots to create that flywheel-esque momentum.

But you could use any two channels, whether we're talking about PR and influencers or SEO and paid media, they all work together at the end of the day. But the key is connecting those dots to create that flywheel-esque momentum. Click To Tweet

Okay, well, there’s a lot to unpack there. So can you break it down? So what are the different cogs in your flywheel, and how do they link to each other? How do they help each other accelerate?

Sure, so we look at the flywheel in four components, and that’s the four different types of media a brand can use to acquire attention. Because at the end of the day, as Gary Vaynerchuk once said, we are all day traders in attention. And so sometimes you get that attention most cost-effectively through paid media. Sometimes it’s through earned media. Sometimes it’s through shared media channels, which would be, for example, social media. And sometimes it’s through owned media, which is in our opinion the most important set of media outlets. For example, this podcast is an owned media outlet for you. You can use it to promote whatever you want. You don’t have to pay rent or buy space or pay a CPM rate every time you want to promote something.

You can just do that because you own this channel and this audience. Conversely, for me, this channel is earned because we reached out and connected about doing an interview, and so you’re sharing this audience with me for a moment, but it’s earned because I didn’t pay for this appearance. I’m here because ideally we have knowledge to share with your listeners, and so it’s earned through the value that we give. So you have these four different quadrants of channels, paid, earned, shared, and owned. The big thing is to make sure that regardless of what channels your brand is investing in, that you have the left hand talking to the right hand internally, so that you can achieve a greater ROI on your overall investment into marketing rather than just any one particular channel.

The big thing is to make sure that regardless of what channels your brand is investing in, that you have the left hand talking to the right hand internally. Click To Tweet

Okay. That’s very clear. So can you illustrate this with an example? So it’s great that you brought up my YouTube channel. So let’s say that is my own media. So what other pieces do I need in order for this podcast to give me the best ROA, return on attention, or whatever metric you want to attach to it?

Sure. So, it ultimately depends on what your end goal is, but for the sake of this conversation, we’ll assume that it’s leads and that eyeballs equal leads, taking a more pragmatic business-to-business approach. And so if that’s the case and we want eyeballs, the quickest and easiest way to get there is to throw paid media at it. Because if you run paid media well, it’s like a light switch. You’ll get attention immediately, right? It’s very simple. You put a dollar into the Facebook or Google machine, you get a dollar back. Especially since this is native on YouTube, that would be where I would start is actually running YouTube ads where it’s the easiest and simplest ask of a potential listener or viewer is to click the link and immediately begin consuming your content, right?

And then ideally, once they consume your content, you convert them into a subscriber or you capture their email address with some offer, and now you own that relationship. And it’s yours to own until you no longer deliver value and they unsubscribe, right? So at that point, you own the relationship. So paid media is a great place to start. Shared media, again, so, for example, when this interview goes live, I’m sure that our team will promote it on my social channels as well as our agency’s social channels. And so that’s shared exposure. And then, again, like I said, earned exposure is the same thing.

So, for example, if you have a newsworthy guest on, maybe someone bigger than myself, and that garners additional media attention or someone says something controversial. If you have Elon Musk on the show and he declares that he’s going to sell Twitter, you’ll probably get a lot of media coverage from that. So that’s the other piece of the flywheel. They all have their place. It’s more about figuring out what’s most efficient with your resources. And that’s where marketing leaders, I think, Steve, need to be really pragmatic about the strengths that they have in-house and what they don’t.

Figure out what's most efficient with your resources. Click To Tweet

And then they need to find partners to complement that, depending on what is available within their budget to work with. Sometimes partners to accommodate that looks like freelancers, sometimes it’s an agency, sometimes it’s an additional in-house employee, and sometimes if the budget’s not there, it means waiting until you have the resources to execute. But I always tell people instead of spraying themselves too thin, it’s better to focus on a few channels and do them really, really well and extricate as much value as possible before moving on and trying to launch fifth or sixth or 10th channel just for the sake of doing it, because you saw someone else on LinkedIn doing it.

The sequence, what I’m hearing is, first stage is step on paid media, then paid media is going to propel own media, YouTube channel, podcast, for example, and then it’s going to get shared on social media, that’s going to give me the shared media. And then if there’s a great story coming out of it and picked up by the news media, it’s going to be earned media, right?

Absolutely. And for example, I mean, you can, this is where again, you can leverage them together. So for example, if you get a great news story about your channel or about a guest that you had on your channel, you could pay to amplify that story with paid media campaigns and drive more awareness to the third party coverage and thus amplify the third party endorsement of your, of your channel. So there are a lot of different levers that can be pulled there. The possibilities are really endless depending on where a brand’s resources sit at any given time.

I love it. I always look at the flywheel in a way that what can I do to amplify the impact of each card in the flywheel. If you look at your flywheel, the earned media is being amplified by paid media. I can maybe put some dollars into it, maybe that becomes paid. Maybe it’s amplification. Then the paid is maybe improving the quality of the ad, the conversion of the ad, making it more better copy or whatever, better visuals. Then the old media could be the quality of the shows. If the quality of the shows goes up, and then it’s going to be better, or maybe if I slice and dice it, I don’t know. And then the shared media could be, “What can someone do to amplify that?”

Yeah, exactly. So compelling listeners or viewers to share the content on their own social channels, partnering with influencers to amplify the content. There are several different levers that you can pull there. Again, the same thing you could even get into, for example, white listing influencers and running paid ads from influencer accounts, and thus amplifying the shared content with paid ad budget behind it. So the possibilities really are endless at the end of the day with an omni-channel flywheel approach.

That’s fantastic. So you talk about, and you mentioned on this conversation as well, the strategic partnership approach. So what does that look like? Is it strategic partnership with another brand, an influencer? What’s the process when someone thinks about strategic partnership? What kind of partnerships are there and how do I choose one? And what’s a good way to work with the one?

Sure. So I’ll use a restaurant analogy, Steve, to sort of paint a picture here. So imagine going into a McDonald’s and ordering a Big Mac and fries only to be told, no, sir, you do not need to have a Big Mac and fries. You need to have the chicken nuggets in a shake. That’d be pretty weird, right? If a cashier did that, because it’s McDonald’s. You go and you order what you want, you get what you want. And in theory, it’s going to be the exact same whether you get that Big Mac and fries in San Diego, in New York, in Florida, wherever. It’s going to be the same Big Mac and fries regardless of where you get it.

Conversely, now let’s say you’re on vacation somewhere, you go into a very high-end French restaurant, you can hardly pronounce half of the menu items, and the waiter comes out and he offers to recommend a fine selection of wine based on your preference of red or white and how many people you have at the table. He recommends certain appetizers or specials. In a fancy restaurant, you’re much more likely to go with the waiter’s recommendation, right? Like that we all are at the end of the day, because we trust our waiter, who’s an expert in the dishes, to know what’s fresh, what fish was brought in today, what steak his previous 20 tables have loved. We trust the waiter to know, because at that point, the waiter is a strategic partner.

With Fidelitas, and when you work with us, you’re getting a strategic partner. We’re not serving the same Big Mac and fries to every single customer out there. We’re customizing and tailoring our strategies and our approaches and our tactics for each particular brand. We can’t treat even brands in the same industry, right? So, we work with multiple professional sports teams, including our own. But how we move tickets for a San Diego Sharks game is not how we move tickets for a Wave FC game in the NWSL. They’re two different fan bases. The NWSL with the Wave FC is played in a 35,000 seat venue. We’re played in a 3,000 seat gymnasium. There are two completely different approaches with different budgets and different goals at the end of the day.

So, you can’t treat everything the same even if it is the same industry. And that’s where I caution brand leaders when they decide, “Oh, I’m going to work with such and such or so and so because they’ve worked with 20 other people in the industry like me.” Okay, perhaps, and that might be fine, but you’re probably going to get the exact same plan that those other 19 got before you, right? So I’d say instead, it’s more about finding someone that you sync with, someone that you can trust, someone that’s solved complex problems before and understands how to, not how to necessarily how to understand and solve your problem in the first five minutes, but has an understanding and a knack of how to solve complex problems in general and has a history of doing so, because there’s a good chance if they know how to solve complex problems, they’ll be able to solve yours.

It's more about finding someone that you sync with, someone that you can trust, someone that's solved complex problems before and understands how to solve your problem in the first five minutes. Click To Tweet

And that’s how we approach every client relationship is as a strategic partner. So we come in and we assess the needs and the problem and where their strengths are internally and where their budget is, where their competitors are, where their biggest opportunities are. Then we say, “Okay, based on where you’re at and the resources you have available, here’s how we’d attack this if we owned your company.” That’s being a good steward. Sometimes that means turning down an easy sale. Sometimes it’s easy to just sell someone SEL because they come to us demanding SEL. We could sign a contract for that tomorrow. But if we get under the hood and we look, you know, there may not be enough search volume in their category. They could be a completely new product.

And if customers don’t know that they want it, they’re certainly not searching for it. And so they need a paid media approach first. Even if that means more money into an ad budget and less money for us to manage it, we need to start with paid media because we have to generate awareness before there’s any sort of demand in the marketplace for the product, to use one example. Other times we need to start with a simple website audit and conversion rate optimization and work to get the brand’s house in order before we do a lick of external marketing. That’s the key is for us. If you work with Fidelitas or an agency like Fidelitas that emphasizes strategic partnerships, it’s not about what can we sell today, it’s about how can we get to where you’re trying to go tomorrow by the actions we take today and the strategy that we lay forth today. And so that’s where our approach is a little bit different.

So if someone comes to your company, to Fidelitas, do they have to sign up first and then you figure out what’s right for them? Or can they just buy maybe a research project first so that they see that you really have a unique approach and what you say makes sense? 


How does it work?

Absolutely. So we do, depending on what the brand needs, sometimes it’s a 30,000-foot view discovery process to put a plan together. And then they can either move forward with the plan or not. There’s no obligation. And other times, they need a much more thorough audit. So for example, we just did one for a $30 million a year direct-to-consumer meat company. And so for them, they needed a comprehensive audit of everything from their entire tech stack to what they needed to keep, to scrap, to their personnel, what they had in-house, to what they needed to let go of, to auditing each channel to what is and isn’t working. So it was complex. It was literally a three to four week project to put all that together.

And then they ended up with somewhere between 60 and 100 pages of data and reports from us on the back end of that. It’s a beefy deliverable. So, in that case, it was a project engagement to start. But then the other thing, Steve, we stand behind our work, so all of our clients are on month-to-month and can fire us at any time with 30 days written notice. I’m a big believer in not having people be stuck in a relationship that’s not working, because then no one wins at the end of the day. Those people are not going to be great to work with. They’re not going to enjoy working with us. How do you think they’re going to talk about Fidelitas to their friends? Like that’s not a win. I’d rather them say, you know what? It didn’t work for me, but they did everything that they said they’d do and we parted ways. At least then we can position ourselves as trustworthy and that we back up what we say we do with action. We don’t lock anyone into a long-term agreement for that reason.

Okay. I love that. I love that philosophy. So let me just switch gears here a little bit, as our time is coming close to the end. Before we wrap up, I’d like to ask you about the San Diego Sharks and how it figures into your strategy. Is it just a hobby or is it part of your business and you see it as a business investment, it brings you a business ROI?

Sure. So, and the answer is both. I’d advise people to not get into business with things that they’re not passionate about or have an unfair understanding of. Same with buying stocks, right? If you’re going to buy individual stocks, I like to buy e-commerce oriented stocks because I feel that I have a superior understanding of that market than the average person per se because I work in this space, much like I’m sure you do, Steve, when it comes to an understanding of how certain businesses work. With the Sharks in particular, I actually played minor league basketball for 14 years.

So I saw teams run well, I saw teams run poorly, and I had more than my fair share of game checks bounce when I went to catch them. So I understand what players go through and also understand what it’s like to build a successful program. I played for a really successful program back in Chicago 13 to 14 years ago, where we had a packed house every game and the players were treated well. And so, again, we’ve seen it done well and done poorly. We saw an opportunity to put an expansion team here in San Diego, and so it was a great opportunity for Fidelitas to sort of build in public and be able to show clients that we eat our own dog food with the same results. So we acquired the team. From a business standpoint, we have a unique model.

We do free tickets and free popcorn in every game. So you ask, “How does a team run sustainably with free tickets and free popcorn?” And the answer is basketball is not the product. Our fans are the product. So we are 100% sponsor driven, but because we can win on price, which is free, we command larger attendances than most other teams in the league. We just moved into a larger venue to accommodate them. Last year in our first year, we actually cut our marketing budget by 60% because we didn’t have anywhere to put people. We were packed out. So we moved into a bigger venue. This year, we’re excited for everything coming up. At the time of this recording, we’re about three weeks out from our home opener. But again, this is a business. It’s not a hobby.

It’s, you know, we’re running this with a 10-year plan in mind for what we’re building. And so, we’ve taken a lot of steps this year to sort of leapfrog down that path further than perhaps we even anticipated in year two. So, we’re excited. The fans are behind it. It’s funny. You see, I was coaching my son in basketball in a local kids league last weekend, and there was a parent on the opposing team sitting there in a shark shirt, had no idea who I was probably until after the game they said, “Hey, are you with?” It’s like, “Yup, yup.” So it’s interesting. So we’re actually building a fan base. We’ve created value for our sponsors. That’s one thing I’m proud of. All of our sponsors from last year came back at a higher investment level this year. So we delivered value for them.

We actually did what we said we’re going to do. And again, it’s a fun practice for us. You know, last year there were two teams in the market. We were the last team in. And so there was a team owned by another entrepreneur that has a nine figure real estate business. I won’t name names in public, but they outspent us 10 to 1 and we outdrew them in fans 9 to 1. So if anyone has a challenger brand, we’ve been there, we’ve done that, and we’ve lived with the challenges and we understand how to use guerrilla marketing tactics to close the gap strategically when we need to. So it’s a fun story to tell and it’s certainly helped us in more than our fair share of pitches.

That’s fantastic. Well, I love that story. And, you know, everyone wants to know a guerrilla tactic if there is one, you know, something different, people tune out or the, you know, me too, me too advertising. You have to find some creative ways. And that’s fantastic that you managed to do that. And I love the business model as well. So, Tyler, if our listeners, or I would rather say, when our listeners want to reach out to you, then where can they find you? Where can they find your team, your sports team, your business, yourself? What are the links?

Absolutely. So if you’re interested in the San Diego Sharks, you can check out sharksbasketball.com. If you’re interested in connecting with me personally, I’m on Twitter at tsickmeyer, and on LinkedIn. As you can imagine, Steve, there are not too many Sickmeyers on LinkedIn, so you’ve got a pretty good chance of finding me there. And then finally, if you want to learn more about Fidelitas and the work we’re doing there with our clients, you can visit Fidelitas.co, and that’s Fidelitas, F-I-D-E-L-I-T-A-S.co

Fantastic. Well, thank you Tyler for coming on the show. I really enjoyed the conversation. And for those of you listeners, stay tuned, because there will be another exciting entrepreneur coming on the show next week.

Hey, thank you so much for having me, Steve. 


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