James Wynne is Director of User Experience for Sandstorm and has been in digital product development since 1996. He has worked as a UX designer for a myriad of clients including large eCommerce brands, mobile device manufacturers and integrated marketing agencies.
What started in 1982 as smiley-face punctuation :-) has transformed into a new, ubiquitous pictographic language. The “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji was even named Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries in 2015. There's no escaping emojis, and more businesses are catching onto this new language.
However, there are pitfalls with any new development. Emojis are seen as emotional punctuations, coloring whatever text adjoins them. Utilizing a personal form of communication within business conversations can be tricky, but not impossible. So we compiled this list of things to consider before you slap a smiley face in your marketing materials.
1. Who is viewing the communication? Emojis are a personal iconography that evokes emotions, making them a great tool for relationship and loyalty building. Using them for inter-office communications or within the B2B space can make sense, but less so with a potential new client.
2. What emojis are you using? Finding the right emoji is harder than it sounds. Emojis look different on different platforms and are open to interpretation: an emoji may look surprised to you yet scared to your user. Utilize this chart to see how emojis look across platforms and reduce the chances of miscommunication.
3. When do you decide to use an emoji? Conveying context and tone in written communications have always been a challenge. Emojis illuminate context in a fun way. Just like the original emoticon was used to connote humor, you can use emojis to clarify your intention or to activate your text.
4. Where should you use an emoji? Emojis are an online language, so including them in print materials is difficult, as USA Today learned. While emojis are being utilized more often as design elements, like on clothing or book covers, it is still best practice within the business world to limit emojis to online communications (like social media).
5. Why use an emoji at all? Emojis can help reach business goals. More and more companies are utilizing emojis in their email subject lines, which draws attention in a field of mostly text and can improve open rates, among other metrics.
Like most marketing tools, emojis can be beneficial when used in the right circumstances and with the right audience. Their main purpose is to create emotional reactions, which works when building relationships and loyalty. However, there is a risk of looking gimmicky if they're not used properly. Unlike texting with your friends, you need to think through the entire process before adding that smiley face.
The Paris runways are not a normal inspiration source for home decorating projects. But that is exactly what inspired Sandstorm® when Hydrology came to us for a new website. Hydrology, a high-end purveyor of kitchen and bath furnishings in Chicago, wanted an online user experience that mimicked their sleek & luxurious products. To capture that opulence, Sandstorm® tapped into the ambition and extravagance of the fashion world.
The home furnishing industry standard is nearly the opposite of runway glamour. It features flat and transactional product images that focus on product details while ignoring the bigger task of a completed room. This limited industry representation was an opportunity to set Hydrology apart. Pulling inspiration from fashion designers like Burberry, Sandstorm® crafted the new online experience to feel less like a product website and more like an editorial spread of your dream house.
Check out the new Hydrology site here
Enter the Clickstream
- Where are visitors entering and exiting your site?
- How many people visit specific pages? What content is drawing the most attention?
- How many people immediately leave? Which content is failing to retain them?
- How many people are first-time or return visitors?
- How long do people stay on your site?
- Where are your visitors geographically located?
- What browsers, operating systems, devices, and screen sizes are they using?
- What keywords are driving people to your site through search? What pages are delivering search traffic?
- How do visitors flow through your site? Are they efficient and inefficient paths? Do they see your intended message or offering?
- How much response does each call to action get?
- What referrers are directing visitors to your site? From which search engines (organic results or marketing campaign), social networks, blogs, web pages, etc? What content are they being directed to?
- How fast do your pages load? When and where are the peaks and lows?
- How are the specific goals you’ve defined in the analytics tools being met?
- How are your pay-per-click campaigns working?
- What additional demographic data is available for each of the questions above?
That's great - But What Do I Do with It?
The answer to each of these questions can help you optimize the user experience, raise your search engines rankings, tailor your message expand your audience or focus on a specific segment, and build data-driven personalized relationships online.
The answers to these questions are often quite valuable to your business. Some are immediately apparent, such as the answer to “How much response does each call to action get?” Others, however, may seem to have less business value, at least at face value. For example, “why do I care where my web visitors are geographically located?”
To use an example, one of our clients has offices in three states. After reviewing their traffic sources, we identified a great deal of traffic from two states where they did not have offices. The visitors from these two states matched their target demographic too. So, analytics helped our client identify potential locations to expand their business.
Building a Better Business
When it comes to data analytics, clickstream sources are often the most available to business owners. You can use these 15 questions to adjust your business strategy in an informed and insightful manner.
For a more comprehensive view of how you can use analytics, data-driven website optimization, and search engine, Sandstorm offers full consulting and implementation services that support and improve your marketing strategy.
By all accounts, Sunday’s Super Bowl game was a defensive masterpiece. On the offensive side of the ledger, the broadcast included commercials for toenail fungus and toilet envy, topped by a walking, talking intestine.
These shudder-inducing moments aside, the commercials of the 2016 Super Bowl offered tremendous range, from Colgate urging us to conserve water to Helen Mirren excoriating drunk drivers. Some of the evening’s highlights:
Best celebrity performance
T-Mobile’s “Restricted Bling” had Drake happily and self-deprecatingly agreeing to comic revisions of “Hotline Bling” offered up by attorneys representing a rival carrier. Every ad person was nodding in appreciation.
Honorable mention: Hyundai’s “Ryanville” spot, which transported us to a small town in which every person is a distractingly attractive Ryan Reynolds. “Can you give me a warning?” “Sure. Warning—here comes your ticket!”
Best use of a pop song
Heinz Ketchup’s “Stampede,” which had dozens of dachshunds dressed as hot dogs loping through a field to Harry Nilsson’s “Without You.” I dare you not to smile.
Honorable mention: a flock of sheep surreptitiously harmonizing Queen’s “Somebody to Love” in the Honda Ridgeline “A New Truck to Love” spot. Until this spot, no one had even heard of a truck-bed audio system.
Best use of a soft voice amid all the shouting
Jeep’s “Portraits” acknowledged the many people and moments that have shaped the brand’s 75-year history. The spot helps make Jeep’s story the story of America.
Honorable mention: “Text Talk,” aired by NO MORE and the NFL, which aims to educate viewers of the warning signs of domestic violence and sexual assault. Quietly chilling.
Best use of a cultural icon
Snickers’ “Marilyn” spot, in which an irascible Willem Dafoe morphs into Marilyn Monroe on a movie set. Nice legs, Willem.
Honorable mention: The Hulk battling it out with Ant-Man for a can of Coke in the epic, city-shattering “A Mini Marvel.” Glad you two could finally get along.
I’ll spare you a review of the worst spots, which have to include the Steven Tyler Skittles sculpture and Liam Neeson scaring people into buying an LG OLED TV.
Sandy has a featured post on Executive Street, the Vistage blog. “3 tips to designing a holiday party that your employees will love” is all about Sandy’s (and Sandstorm’s) unique approach to celebrating the season successfully.
Happy Holidays (and have a great holiday party)!
Stay Sane with a Strong Central Brand Experience Strategy
With the complexity that modern marketers are faced with, it is no surprise that many feel overwhelmed. In actuality, this feeling that you are drowning in your own marketing can be avoided with a strong central strategy. In this post we will show you how to get ahead of your marketing instead of reacting to problems on an individual case-by-case basis - or what we call marketing Whack-a-Mole.
How Do I Start?
To start building your brand experience strategy, establish your goals and the measurement of those goals. From there you should delve deep into your organization and document all of the things the organization is doing well, what it could do better and where the gaps are to achieving consistent excellence. Many times this can take the form of a journey map. This helps the organization visualize the challenges and prioritize the work needed to produce great marketing.
Talk to Your Users
Once you have done a thorough analysis from the inside, garner feedback from the outside with 1x1 interviews across your user groups. This will illuminate those things you can’t see due to organizational blindness and will ensure the experience the organization creates exceeds the needs of your user groups.
Look At Possibilities
There are a few other pieces of data that are needed to create a truly inspired brand experience strategy that builds momentum for your organization and, ultimately, your brand. Look at 3-5 competitors in your category. This will give you a sense of where there are opportunities in your category. Don’t stop here. Think about some inspirational brands, approximately three, to see how your brand experience can truly stand out in your category.
Hypothesize, Analyze, Iterate, Plan
After collecting all of this data, take some time to analyze it. Formulate some hypotheses about where you could take your organization. Distill the data into a brand experience strategy that can, at its best, be a guidebook across your organization to define expectations from hiring policies to product development priorities, as well as your marketing communication.
This process will ensure that you can successfully manage your reputation and cultivate the brand experience that you aspire to be. Your brand will clearly, consistently, and quickly convey the story and the reputation you have built.
Here Is How to Make it Healthy Again.
So, I recently heard Michael Fertik speak at SMASH Chicago 2015 and he started his talk with an incendiary statement for a room full of marketing people: “Brand is dead.” I understand why he said this, he was trying to make a point about the depth and breadth of an online reputation and overall footprint of an organization in contrast to a traditionally managed brand.
Reputation Management Is Important
I agree with him on the importance of online reputation management. I also agree with him that managing a reputation is about more than just the marketing materials that are carefully crafted and displayed to the public. I agree with him that business practices, hiring practices, sourcing practices, distribution decisions, operational structures and many other factors that were never supposed to see the light of day are now easily unearthed and actively criticized by the public.
Brand Is Not Dead, It’s Bigger
The one fundamental disagreement I have is that brand is not dead, but more important than ever in this cluttered age of information everywhere, anytime, all of the time. Brand is bigger than it once was, exactly due to the challenges of reputation management.
For example, REI has made an operation decision to close on Black Friday and encourage the public to get outside. This is a tangible representation of their campaign and has fueled their social media. It is fundamentally who they are as an organization and what the REI brand means. Another example is Zappo’s outsize customer service. They made a choice to build service on one metric, making the customer surprised and delighted. This built the Zappo’s brand to what it is today.
Branding is about your entire business, not just your logo. In order to be relevant, your brand must seep through the pores of your organization. It must be lived in how one hires, prices, serves, produces, distributes and communicates. It is the connective tissue of your organization.
Brand Experience Strategy: A Framework
The comprehensiveness of modern marketing has many marketers throwing up their hands and resorting to a scattered Whack-A-Mole approach. The antidote to this frenzied situation is brand experience strategy and planning. Creating a framework that looks at the fundamentals of an organization - like pricing, distribution, the product/service and the overall industry landscape - through the lens of a user gives you a compass to unify your marketing efforts. These users can be anyone who engages with your organization on any level, and there are usually many: employees, investors, customers and potential customers. Getting to know your users, their actions, beliefs, wants and fears, will enable you to cater to them at every touchpoint, building a brand that is big enough to cover everything modern marketing demands of you.
Brand is not dead, it is more relevant than ever. A well-researched brand experience strategy will take your brand off of life support and make it healthy again.
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!
[This is second post of a series on choosing a CMS. Check out Part 1, and learn about the importance of your goals and requirements in the process]
Now that you have a solid set of requirements for your content management system (CMS), you can start to explore some different options. To narrow the conversation, it's sometimes helpful to consider them as a balance between simplicity versus flexibility.
5 approaches from simple to flexible
1: No development needed
Starting on one side, you'll find the most simple subscription-based solutions that require no development and minimal setup. As an example, think of a blogging site for which you just need to create an account. The options are limited. It doesn't give you much more than a running list of posts that you can create and edit. Google Blogger and Tumblr are examples. While some border on being social media more than CMS, they are in fact services that allow you to manage your content.
2: Simple and customizable
Moving up from there, you have simple frameworks that provide a medium amount of customization. This can be anything from services like SquareSpace to platforms like Ghost and Wordpress. These are designed to get you up and running quickly, but also allow you to heavily customize your site.
At this level, you can sometimes add basic online stores. You can create a unique look and feel. With something like Wordpress, you can even add some custom functionality. Eventually when dealing with options in this category you'll find that you're trying to do things for which the framework just wasn't built, so you'll move closer to flexibility.
3: Scalable and flexible solutions
The next level up are the more scalable and flexible solutions. Options like Drupal, SiteCore or AdobeCQ are in this category. While they are very different frameworks, they all have some basic preconceived notions about how content should be managed and structured. These are solutions that get you quickly up and going, but they are also intended for heavy customization. Advanced custom functionality can be added on top of them. Some can even be extended to the point where they are more than just a website and terms like "web application" start to emerge.
They are meant to be fast to deploy because much of the structure of how to manage your content has already been determined. However, this ease of deployment and development can sometimes come with the penalty of rigidity. Once you start to stray outside of their assumptions about how content should be managed, things can start to get messy. It's like strapping a howitzer on a sports car. Sure, we can get it to mostly work, but it just wasn't designed to do that.
4: Frameworks for fully custom sites
At the far extreme you find frameworks for custom-built applications that allow for advanced integrations, workflows, relationships and functionality. These are true development frameworks that allow you to build your own CMS or web application. Laravel and Django are two examples that fit in this category. They make sense when basic management of content is a secondary requirement, trumped by custom functionality. Or perhaps the structure of the content is unique enough that trying to get it to fit into some of the options in the previous category would not be ideal.
The primary benefit is that your application is faster because it was built to do exactly what you want. The primary downside is that it may cost more to build because you have more custom code and less community-tested extensions that effortlessly drop into your new site.
5: From the ground up
Of course out at the furthest edge you'll find the "from the ground up" option. This would be to pick a language and build a completely custom solution, without taking advantage of any frameworks. There are reasons that you'd do this, but if you're looking for a CMS, you're probably better off considering one of the many frameworks that exist today.
Proprietary versus Open Source
One of the key decisions is to consider when choosing a CMS whether you want to go with one that is proprietary software versus one that is open-source.
Proprietary software brings licensing fees and/or ongoing hosting fees. These fees are often in addition to the work required to design, configure, customize and host your site. Solutions like SquareSpace, SiteCore, AdobeCQ and others are businesses that provide a service in order to make money.
For some of these, the costs can get quite high (the average AdobeCQ license can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars). This can be fine if the CMS fits your needs. After all, part of what you're theoretically purchasing is the peace-of mind that if something goes wrong, that vendor will be there to help.
In contrast, open-source software is free to download and use. Solutions like Wordpress, Drupal, Django and Laravel are all built by a community of developers and released under open licenses. Generally you want to look for a knowledgeable partner who you feel confident can properly build your CMS solution using one of these frameworks.
A final step is to consider your budget. You can make strategic decisions to create a CMS-based site with a small budget or invest heavily in some items to ensure your site covers the full extent of your needs.
Maintaining your site after launch
A final cost consideration is ongoing maintenance and support. If you are considering a proprietary solution, be sure to budget for the ongoing licensing fees. You should also double check that these fees cover ongoing upgrades and security fixes.
If you are considering an open source solution, be sure to set aside some of your budget to have your developer perform security updates and proactive maintenance. In either case, consider also setting aside some budget for support requests – minor feature requests and other changes to how the site functions. Properly considering your ongoing maintenance and support costs will help you to finalize the amount you have to build your CMS.
Making your final CMS decision
With the term CMS covering such a wide range of digital platforms, it's no wonder that many feel overwhelmed when choosing one. Defining your goals and requirements can help you to navigate your options. We've found that walking through these steps is a great way to reduce apprehension, provide clarity and deliver a solid final product. We hope you find them useful also.
[If you enjoyed this post, read Part 1: Goals and Requirements]
Deciding which Content Management System (CMS) to use can be a daunting task. It can be difficult to sort through the plethora of irrelevant recommendations and confusing information to find the best solution. Many of our clients come to us with a rough sense of what they want, but need help making the final recommendation.
How to compare CMS?
Comparing Content Management Systems is challenging because it means different things to different people. The phrase has evolved to cover a range of web frameworks and applications. It is a broad term that covers any program which facilitates content creation and updates (usually on the web). On top of that, many popular CMS options are highly customizable – two sites built on the same framework can look very different.
Going beyond the simple editing of an organization's "About Us" page, modern websites demand a great flexibility in how they handle content. They often need different types of content, each one requiring specific workflows or relationships aimed at solving various goals. For example, consider the differences between a blog post, an event listing, and a product detail page. Each one has unique data associated with it. Each one is organized in different ways. Being able to handle unique types of content while still providing a consistent interface is an important part of any CMS.
A CMS often has other advanced functionality. They pull content in from other systems. Some integrate with different authentication systems. Some have an online stores. Others allow a community of users to login and participate in some way. Still others might pull in raw data from one source to display it to users in a completely new way. These are all managing different kinds of content at some level.
Not every site needs every possible option. So, what does it your site need? It's good to get back to your goals and requirements. Your website has needs that are just as unique as your organization. A needs-based assessment can help to focus your requirements and narrow down the search.
Start by defining your goals. Create a list of what you want to achieve with this new CMS. Starting with your goals will help to focus your efforts.
- What problems are you looking to solve?
- Are you looking to increase your brand perception as part of this project?
- Is increased membership or sales a primary goal?
- If you have a current website, what is it not doing well?
- How will your CMS need to support your organization?
Identify and prioritize your requirements
Once you have a good list, start writing a list of requirements. Some will just require a quick rephrase of a stated goal. Others will lead to a whole new list of items. For example, if your goal is to publish your events calendar online, but your events are currently managed in a different system, integration with that system is a potential requirement.
Next start to prioritize these requirements. Rank your requirements from must-haves to nice-to-haves. This exercise helps you make the most informed decisions as you start to build your budget. Some items might need to come in a second phase after the first version of the site launches.
Eliminate some options from the start
Understanding your organization's technical requirements can also help to eliminate some options. For example, if your IT infrastructure requires you to use .Net, then a Ruby, Python or PHP-based solution (like Drupal) may not be possible. More and more these restrictions are no longer a problem with modern hosting options, but it's one of the first questions to ask.
[Continue to Part 2: Consider Your Options]