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Sandy Marsico on Boostrapping in America

I just got back from a fun conversation with Kristi Ross and Tony Battista at Tastytrade for their show Bootstrapping in America. It was an honor to be asked to share my experience as an entrepreneur with a CEO I admire.

Sandy Marsico with Kristi Ross, CEO of Tastytrade
Sandy Marsico with Kristi Ross, CEO of Tastytrade

During our conversation, we talked a lot about the early days of Sandstorm® and how we built our culture. I even got to tell the story of how I picked our company name (spoiler alert: It was my nickname in college).

Our core values are the heart of our culture, and our core value of learning and sharing has been essential to Sandstorm’s growth. When I started the company, I didn’t know how to write a proposal or pitch to a client or even how to build a website. I relied on two things: books and mentorship. This helped us open our first office, break a million dollars in revenue, and become the multi-million dollar company we are now.

And it’s that passion for new ideas and perspectives that’s helped us find inspiration in the unexpected for our clients. Just one example that came to mind during my talk with Kristi and Tony was how we found inspiration for a community bank in 1871, the Chicago incubator.

Hear more about Sandstorm’s beginnings, how our culture helped differentiate us, and how we differentiate our clients. Check out our episode of Bootstrapping in America.

This blog was posted by Sandy on June 29, 2017.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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Sandy
Sandy Marsico: .orgCommunity Advisory Board Memeber

I really enjoyed attending .orgCommunity’s Disruption + Innovation conference this month! The .orgCommunity is an amazing resource for senior executives to lead their associations through innovation, and the event certainly delivered on that mission. Speakers and facilitators from across a wide variety of industries shared their insights on redefining digital publishing, generating new streams of revenue, and much more. These were my biggest takeaways:

  • Adopt a disruption mindset. Act like a digital disrupter.
  • Rethink the entire business, not just the technology.
  • Get inspired outside your industry. Did you know: Ugg boots were created by surfers.
  • Your goal is to create value—for every association.
  • The membership subscription model is over. You need to think about other ways to earn revenue.
  • Collaborate more, collaborate differently. Consider strategic partnerships and mergers.

So it’s with great pleasure that I can finally announce my position as a part of .orgCommunity’s advisory board! With almost two decades of experience working with associations of all sizes—including the National Association of REALTORS, American Medical Association, Rotary, and more—it’s an honor to share my experience with executives and help them utilize emerging technologies and techniques.

I look forward to sharing my expertise with the .orgCommunity while continuing to help our many association clients prepare for their future success.

This blog was posted by Sandy on 05/25/2017.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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Sandy

What Your Employees Want (And How Company Culture Can Give it To Them)

Culture has a huge impact on your brand. It’s something I recently talked about with Forbes, and I’ll shout it from the roof of our office if it helps other leaders avoid learning the hard way like I did.

In Sandstorm’s early days, I discovered just how important creating a positive culture really is. By not focusing on our culture, I ended up not looking forward to working at my own company. But after we took the steps to transform our culture, we added more than 30 Sandstormers to our roster and grew business by 425%. Best of all, I’m absolutely sure that Sandstormers love coming to work every day.

Creating a great culture is as much an art as a science, but it starts by knowing what employees want. A study from PwC shows that these are the four things people want most from their job, and this is how we address them through our unique culture.

1. Job Flexibility

It’s not just Millennials who want flexibility at work; everyone wants a healthy work-life balance. The world’s full of tools that let us work anywhere at any time, so why should we miss our daughter’s first soccer goal or be at the office early after a late-night code deployment?

One of our core values is warrior spirit. To us, warrior spirit means being on an endless crusade to make great ideas a reality and bring out the best in each other. We’re problem solvers, champions, and collaborators who architect client success. And that’s something we do whether we’re in the office or working remote, at work and at play.

2. Professional Development

Career growth is essential to Millennials, and it’s why learning and sharing is another of our core values. If we want to be the best, we need the tools and time to learn how. That’s why we spend thousands of hours every year attending conferences, taking classes, exploring new technologies and trends, and sharing what we learn with each other.

Our senior staff has decades of experience, and they use it to mentor younger members of our team. They’re also active members of the community, sharing their expertise at events and boot camps and speaking at conferences, which helps us discover the next member of our team.

3. To Do Good While Being Great

Reputation matters to clients and employees, and what a brand says and does needs to align. Our mission is to do good work for good people, and we don’t work with organizations we don’t believe in.

We do good outside of work, too. Sandstormers get paid time off each year to volunteer, and we organize volunteer opportunities where we work together at a food pantry or collect for a clothing drive.

4. Have Fun

We’re people, not drones. And nothing builds stronger bonds than having fun together. It’s extremely rare for a week to go by at Sandstorm without there being a birthday lunch or a happy hour. That’s not even counting our super secret events to Cubs games, scavenger hunts, or other outings organized by our Co-Captains of Fun.

And this year I was finally able to give everyone the last week of the year off to go on vacation or spend some much-deserved time with friends and family. I was so happy!

Changing our culture really transformed our business. We can keep growing while making sure our lives are rich, meaningful, and full of fun. And that’s the real reward of focusing on your culture.

This blog was posted by Sandy on March 16, 2017.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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Sandy
Content strategy for Associations

 

There is an insane amount of content being produced today, and it’s only going to accelerate. Content Marketing Institute reports 69% of marketers are creating more content now vs. just 1 year ago, and 48% of marketers say they publish content either daily or multiple times per week. In addition, highly-funded, rapidly growing online education startups (Khan Academy, edX, Coursera) are potentially putting your association’s educational content at risk and adding to the content storm.

To help cut through the noise, a content strategy—or a “content framework”—can be your association’s filter as you plan, develop and manage your content. How nice would it be to have the confidence to say “yes” or “no” to a content topic based on your content strategy, not to mention leadership support? 

To start crafting your content strategy, follow these 5 steps:

Step 1 - Know the problem you are trying to solve
Have you defined the goals your association is trying to reach via content (increase member engagement, attract new members, increase event registrations, etc.)? Knowing from the beginning what your goals are, and getting alignment from your team, will create a more focused content strategy. It sounds basic, but I can’t tell you how many times goals are misaligned, not written down and not agreed to.

It’s also important to get to know your members’ goals. People are afraid they are not relevant anymore because they can’t keep up. Meet people where they are at—keep people relevant. If you did nothing today, but used relevancy as your filter, how much content would you have left? How useful is some of your existing content from just a few years ago?

Step 2 - Really get to know who you are trying to reach
Understanding whom you are writing for is key to content strategy, but you should not assume anything. Do your research to confirm who your members are and uncover new insights. You can conduct 1-1 user research interviews with your members and non-members to learn what type of content they want from you, identify content needs during a usability study, or even send out a survey if your association doesn’t already do that too often. For the best results, speak with members, instead of just your board and volunteers.

Step 3 - Establish your association’s voice & tone
All of your content needs to sound like it is coming from 1 voice, even though you probably have several people writing for you. You may even have volunteers, sponsors, and members writing too! Will you speak in the first person or third person? Conversational, formal, or business casual? Defining this as part of your content strategy will help create a unified voice and tone across channels, and give you guidance as you write, edit and govern your content.

Step 4 - Align your stakeholders and focus your communication
Build a content strategy statement, that can be used as a dual-filter, to omit what content you don’t need and to produce new content in line with your goals. Just like a garden, you need to weed out underperforming content to allow other content to thrive.

Step 5 - Develop a content plan
A content plan helps you define your channels, audience, purpose, topics and goals. Understanding where to deliver your content can be just as important as what content you create. Don’t feel like you need to use every channel, and reuse or edit content to fit the platform and audience (a presentation can be a webinar, video, slideshare or a blog). It’s also really great to have a plan so you know where to put that last video that was just created, or photos from your annual meeting. Many associations blast the same content to every channel, even though they know they shouldn’t, simply because there was no strategy or plan.

Wrapping Up
Without a content strategy, your association may be wasting a lot of time, money and resources. Relevant content comes from the intersection of what you think is important and what interests your members. I’m confident that your association can create stellar, focused and insightful content by taking a little time upfront to develop your content strategy.

Prefer some help?
Sandstorm® has been helping associations conduct member research, identify content requirements, and craft their narratives through content marketing for almost 20 years. And our in-house team of UX strategists and website engineers build beautiful, data-driven websites that make content easy to find, easy to consume, and easy to share. Reach out if you want to talk through how we can help!

This blog was posted by Sandy on October 6, 2016.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

Sandy
Sandstormers at Super Secret Event
This blog was posted by Sandy on .
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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Sandy
Sandstorm featured in Crain's Chicago Business

We’re thrilled and honored to be featured by Crain's Chicago Business! In addition to the fun, theatrical and unique half-day photo shoot (a quick shout out to John Boehm for the awesome photos), we were able to share some secrets of hiring success alongside some fellow Chicago business owners. Now, if only we could have brought in our New York office for the shoot. Miss you, guys!

If you like the article, Smart Bosses Reveal their Secrets to Hiring, keep in mind, we’re currently hiring!

This blog was posted by Sandy on October 8, 2015.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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Digital Marketing Agency, Sandstorm Design's Holiday Party 2014

We have quite a few traditions at Sandstorm, and one of my favorites is our Holiday Party (and the 24 hours that follow it). After many years of battling calendars, I’ve discovered a human truth – just about everyone is free on Sunday night. I’ve also come to realize that the greatest gift I can give my amazing and hardworking team is the gift of… sleeping in.

So, we merged those ideas and another Sandstorm tradition was made! Every December we pick a Sunday night for our big bash at Chicago favorite, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba (a group then goes out for an after party), and the following Monday we don’t open until 1pm. And when we do, it’s a comfy and casual pajama day – complete with pjs and slippers. With a cup of hot tea, sparkling lights and cookies galore, it’s the most wonderful (work) day of the year.

As we wrap up our “advent”ures for 2014, thank you for an awesome year of creativity, fun, growth, and collaboration! (And a special thanks to the Sandstorm team who worked together and managed to get everyone to write a blog post this year... anyone in digital marketing knows what a victory this is!)

It's been a great year. Thanks for being a part of it!

Happy Holidays from all of us at Sandstorm :)

 

 

This blog was posted by Sandy on December 24, 2014.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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Sandy
Sandstorm is making another major breakthrough

We’ve grown over 30% this year, and today is our first day in our newly expanded office space!

The smell of fresh paint combined with vapors from the newly installed charcoal carpet normally would cause me to evacuate, but now they elicit a mix of excitement, awe, anxiety, gratitude and nostalgia. This is the fourth time we’ve been under construction to propel our growth, but this one is different.

The office we took over isn’t any ordinary office space – It’s the original “Suite 301” I leased for Sandstorm before I had any staff. I remember having one desk in that space, and purchasing a second so I would be encouraged to fill it. With this expansion, we’ve added a second conference room, six 3-foot dandelion lights hanging from our 15-foot ceilings, and many more desks for us to fill in 2015.

We have come full circle from humble beginnings. Looking back, I am in awe of the inspiring and amazingly talented people I get to work with.

As we head into the Holiday Season, I invite you to follow us these next 24 days as we share our “advent”ures and memories from 2014.

Interested in reminiscing with us?

February 21, 2008
NEW YEAR, NEW SPACE

January 4, 2010
Top Chicago marketing agency, Sandstorm Design, featured in the Chicago Tribune for their significant growth and new expansion

October 17, 2011
Sandstorm Design Moves to Accommodate Company Growth 

This blog was posted by Sandy on December 1, 2014.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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Sandy
What does "Yes, and" mean? Why is it important at Sandstorm?

Since our founding, Sandstorm has followed a “yes, and” approach. What does that mean?

Yes

For us, it’s a matter of how we think in regards to how we solve problems. With our user-centered design approach, we want our clients to know that we hear them. This yields a concept that reflects the needs and requirements from the business and the user. This results in the “yes” concept.

And

We then go a little farther. We’re a bunch of thinkers and dreamers. We explore fresh concepts and see where it takes us. This result is something that meets the users' needs but in a form that goes beyond their expectation. This concept is Sandstorm pushing ourselves creatively and in effect pushing our clients, too. This is the “and.”

This is a creative marketing term now, but where did it come from?

The terminology for “yes and” came from the theater. Actually, just a few miles from our Chicago office. Starting with the Compass Players and Second City then later at iO, this concept is used to create improvised stories. For the improviser “yes and” means “yes, I hear you and understand the information you’re presenting, and I’m going to add something to heighten our interaction.” 

An illustrative example

Consider this scenario, Person 1 steps on stage and says “This paper is despicable. I’m going to have to give you an F.” Person 2 in her head thinks: Yes, I am a student and you’re the teacher. We’re in a classroom. I’m failing, and I think it’s because I wrote about a subject you don’t approve, and responds “Well, it’s probably because you don’t respect the intricacies of the writing of Stephenie Meyer.”

From there the scene goes forward because of “yes, and”-ing. It can go into a conversation about how the teacher and student have different ideas of high art, or can go on to show that the teacher really loves “Twilight” and the student is just a bad writer.

But this could have only developed because of the “yes, and.” Had she only “Yes”-ed it would have played out like this:

Person 1 says “This paper is despicable. I’m going to have to give you an F.” Person 2 in her head: Yes, I am a student and you’re the teacher. We’re in a classroom. I’m failing, and she responds “I’m a terrible student.”

That adds no information, and it doesn’t make anything more interesting. In effect, it ends any progression by cutting off the potential of what could happen.

“Yes, and” implications for storytelling in marketing

As this concept creates scenarios on stage for improvisers, this can also be directly applied to how a business’ or an overall creative concept’s story is told. This can cover overarching campaigns, visual creative executions, and content marketing. Keeping an open mind while editing and writing, enables the writer to fully take on the role as a storyteller. This involves removing parameters and preconceptions to open opportunities to craft a story. The end result is interesting and involving instead of dry content that is primarily facts, figures, and business-talk.

Yes, of course, you need data within your words, but the reader needs more than just that to keep reading. By making each content interaction a storytelling opportunity, you’re engaging the reader actively and driving them to want more.

Back at Sandstorm

By “yes, and”-ing at Sandstorm we listen to what our clients want, what they expect, and then add to it to make something greater. We could only “yes,” but that would keep our project in neutral. It’s the “and” that helps move concepts forward and gets everyone to think and imagine in a whole new way.

Following a “yes, and” philosophy enhances our collaboration both internally and with our clients. We open the doors to all possibilities and sometimes surprise ourselves, too. By coming to a project of any kind with an open mind, we can see truly what is possible. This heightened thinking allows us to produce results that help clients exceed their goals and move their business forward.

This blog was posted by Sandy on August 16.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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Sandstorm is a SAVO Partner

We are excited to announce that Sandstorm has been selected as an Emerald Partner with the SAVO Group as their go-to marketing agency for SAVO clients who require brand positioning, content marketing, messaging and creative marketing execution to better leverage the SAVO platform and improve sales productivity and effectiveness.

SAVO is a leader in sales enablement. They create software as a service (SaaS) that bring together sales tools, automation, analytics, and content management to support companies’ sales processes.

Sandstorm is honored to be recognized for our marketing expertise to improve sales enablement and looks forward to helping SAVO clients meet their goals with targeted, relevant messages that support their brand and drive sales.

This blog was posted by Sandy on June 4, 2014.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

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