Tom, President, uses his keen strategic eye to help clients create groundbreaking creative campaigns. And he's been a thought leader appearing on Bloomberg, WGN, NBC, CMO.com, and Wall Street Journal.
Work relationships are often like family, you don’t really get to pick them. To have the opportunity to continue to work with people you gel with is a privilege and we’re lucky enough to have several of these engagements.
Part of the Team
One marketing partnership that I work closely with is MathWorks. Our relationship is a testament to their patience and willingness to take in an external agency and guide us along the in’s and out’s of their business. We have become a part of their team going on three years, supporting their internal creative team for successful global events, among many other responsibilities.
The amount of work we’ve done with them has grown exponentially. We’re now leading several projects within their internal organizational structure, providing creative support, and working in conjunction the MathWorks creative team to support global marketing events.
Your Presence is a Present
I’m grateful for the expansion of the business side of the relationship, but I’m particularly glad for the opportunity to personally deepen the partnership and grow relationships with their team. The highlight of the past year was when our team went to the MathWorks headquarters near Boston to meet their team in person (the East Coaster wannabee in me was thrilled).
At the end of the day, the work is very important, but it’s essential to remember the impact you have on the people you interact with day in and day out. I cannot say enough positive things about having the opportunity to meet them face to face. Being in the same room made us feel like true coworkers and partners.
So today, I wanted to share how thankful I am to have had the last year elevating a great brand and working with a great group of people. With clients like them, it’s easy to carry out our mission - to do good work for good people.
One project I particularly enjoyed being a part of is the marketing for Ellwood Associates. In case you didn’t know, Ellwood delivers thoughtful investment consulting for endowments, healthcare, high-net-worth individuals, and families.
This year Sandstorm reimagined their brand based on extensive user research we conducted in 2013. (I was involved in that part of the project, too.) As the creative team worked on logos and brand boards, I got the opportunity to work alongside Ellwood to revise all of their web content. Based in their positioning, we crafted a voice and tone for the brand that represent their extremely thoughtful approach.
Being active in the research portion of the process, I knew the audience’s needs and I knew how they spoke–literally, I heard how they talked about their businesses through the interview. It was rewarding to build website content after being involved with every step along the way. This has resulted in clear and thoughtful copy that meets Ellwood’s needs, user needs, and best practices, too.
As a thoughtful client, their attention to detail with marketing echos their attention to detail when consulting for their clients. I’m excited for the launch of this new brand and to see how their new marketing efforts impact both their business and the marketplace.
Doing competitive research is never an easy process. It’s like looking for buried treasure, only you have no map and you’re not sure what the treasure looks like or where you might find it. Experience has taught me that there’s always treasure, but sometimes it takes a lot of digging.
This summer, our team was in the middle of an expansive competitive set, looking at a very crowded space. We were repositioning a brand, so what we needed to find was something unique about our client that would set them apart from the many, many competitors they were up against. After weeks of research, we put all our findings together and there it was: an area in which our client excelled that all of their competitors were neglecting.
We got to work on the positioning and compiled a detailed presentation illustrating the research and strategy behind it. A few days before the due date, everything was set...
Then one of the competitors unveiled their new website. It was sleek, contemporary and focused. And it applied the same strategy we had just laid out for our client.
So what did we do? We hunkered down and dug some more. Three very busy days and a couple of take-out dinners later, and we had located another space, built another marketing strategy and hit the deadline.
The fact is, these things happen. Sometimes your perfect plan comes crumbling down. However, I’m proud that we have a team who doesn’t give up when that happens, but who stand up, dust themselves off, and give it another go.
The days of debating the merits of video marketing are over. With 100 million viewers watching at least one online video per day, it’s no wonder that 87% of content marketers are now integrating some form of video content into their campaigns.
However, while the majority of content marketers are actively employing video marketing, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about optimizing video content for the best results. These five tips will help you create video marketing content that’s worth your investment.
1. Establish a Goal Up Front
Video is a tool for a achieving a goal, not the goal itself. Before you begin, make a solid decision on what you’d like your video marketing content to achieve. Is it spreading the word about a promotion? Driving traffic to your website? Providing answers to viewer questions?
Once you’ve established a clear objective, it will be easier to make use of my next tip...
2. Trim Off the Fat
Because video marketing is viewed as a large expense, it’s common for marketers to try to use one video to send out multiple messages. Resist this urge.
Video audiences are impatient. They hit the play button with expectations and will not hesitate to click away if those expectations aren’t met. If you don’t get to the point, and get to it fast, you’ll be putting on a show for an empty house.
Ask yourself, “what’s the one central message we want viewers to come away with?” and cut everything else. No exceptions.
But wait! What if you have different audience segments, and you need a different message for each one? That brings me to my next tip...
3. One Size Doesn’t Have to Fit All
Contrary to popular belief, video is not an inflexible medium. It can easily be adjusted to meet the needs of different audiences.
The best way to tailor video marketing content is to produce multiple versions. People are often reluctant to do this because they think making more than one video won’t be cost effective. That assumption simply isn’t true. If you plan carefully, you can economize many aspects of production to turn your single video into a video series without draining the bank.
For instance, you may be able to record two voiceover tracks within the same session fee, or recycle footage from one video to the next.
Publish each video in the right place with the right keywords, and your video marketing content will yield much better results.
4. Embrace the Brand
If you want to build brand recognition, your logo can’t do all the work! Many marketers only brand their video content through graphics, but there are many opportunities to solidify your brand within your video marketing content.
- Start with the script. Don’t just proof for message. Take the time to put all dialogue or voiceover in the right voice and tone for your company.
- Think through your casting. The talent featured in your video should be a reflection of your brand personality.
- Consider location. Even if you can’t afford a set stylist, make sure to pull in your brand colors wherever possible. A red mug on the desk or orange curtains in the background can go a long way toward building brand recognition within your video content. Wardrobe offers further opportunities to solidify the brand identity in your audience’s mind.
- Make direction a priority. A good director will take your brand into account in everything from the style of camerawork to the lighting setup. A good editor will consider your brand in the pace and tone of the video, as well as soundtrack selection.
In short, if you want to increase brand recognition, the brand must be present throughout your video marketing content.
5. Don’t Settle
Video audiences have extremely high expectations. They’re used to Hollywood scale productions and are unforgiving of content that falls short of this bar.
No one expects you to have action movie special effects, but they do want to see a clear picture and hear crisp sound without interference (in video terms, this would be referred to as having “high production values”).
More importantly, they want to see content that lands. If your video is supposed to be funny, don’t accept a joke that doesn’t make you laugh. If it’s supposed to tug the heartstrings, don’t settle for a story you don’t care about.
At the end of the day, the extra effort will pay off in higher audience retention and better results.
Putting it All Together
While some of these points may seem intuitive, a vast majority of video marketing ignores these rules. Apply them to your next video and your content will be ahead of the game. With a stronger video component to your content marketing strategy, you are opening your brand to more user engagements and ultimately a higher return on your investment.
A heuristic evaluation is the review of your website or software by a usability expert to identify any usability problems. This typically involves scoring your site against commonly recognized usability best practices (the heuristics) and may also include running through a series of tasks or use cases. It is a more informal research method than usability testing with your end users.
Why should I use this approach?
Heuristic evaluations help:
- Identify usability issues when testing with real users is not possible or practical
- Benchmark your site against recognized usability standards
- Check your site for accessibility issues and Section 508 or WCAG 2.0 compliance
When should I conduct a heuristic evaluation?
You can conduct an evaluation to:
- Improve an existing system when you are unable to do a usability study
- Gauge the current user experience when you take over maintenance or management of an existing website or application
- Meet certain site compliance standards (such as 508 or WCAG 2.0)
A second option for usability testing
While we prefer testing with end users, a heuristic evaluation is a reasonable substitute for a usability study when a study with your site users is not possible or practical. There are some things to keep in mind when you decide to make this substitution:
- You will be missing the context and nuances of testing with real site users, particularly in uncovering issues with content and labeling
- A heuristic evaluation doesn’t necessarily prioritize the issues found
When clients come to us to test an existing site, it usually doesn’t make sense to do both a heuristic evaluation and a usability study. You get the most insight by testing with your users in a usability study, but if that’s not possible, a heuristic evaluation is a reasonable substitute.
How do I conduct a heuristic evaluation?
Here is an outline of a process to follow:
1. Define your heuristics. There are several good lists available online. Jakob Nielsen has developed a standard list of website heuristics that are commonly used. We’ve adapted several sources to create our own set of heuristics. From a high level you want to answer some basic questions like:
- Is the system intuitive to use?
- Is the user experience consistent?
- Does the user have a sense of control?
- Is it clear to the user what they should do?
- Is it clear to the user where they are in the system?
- Does the system provide feedback to the user about how to correct errors?
- Is help provided?
- Is the user interface aesthetically pleasing?
Some of the questions we use to get there include:
- Are navigation and page titles easy to find and use?
- Are links easy to identify?
- Are font sizes and spacing easily readable?
- Is the color contrast between design elements stark enough for easy legibility?
- Is it clear what each action does?
- Is it clear what path to take?
- Are error messages provided and are they clear and easy to understand?
- Does the site work well on multiple devices and smaller screens?
2. Conduct the analysis. We use a collaborative form on Google Drive to list the heuristics, score each one, and note our comments. When practical, we have more than one usability expert conduct the analysis and compare notes.
3. Analyze the results. Then you can make improvements to your site.
The end result of this evaluation is a research report with key findings and recommendations.
Putting all user research methods together
There is both an art and science to all of the research methods covered in this four part series. This is particularly true when it comes to interpreting results and finding solutions. What looks like a single usability issue might actually be a symptom of a larger problem.
Some answers will be clear while others may require a bit more digging. In any case, you will inevitably find ways to improve the user experience. With practice, the art of user research and testing will come.
The real key is to talk to your users and involve them in the design process. It’s important to talk with them about their needs for your site and your business. By listening to your users, you’ll be on your way to building valuable and intuitive experiences that will keep them coming back.
We’ve all been there. People talk about Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimization and we just nod and smile. We then wonder, “What is Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimization?” Well, here’s an overview and why you should care.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
When you have a website, or even just a page, you want to make sure people can find you. If you’re selling a product, a service, retail, wholesale, or soliciting nonprofit donations, Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, helps bring people to your website.
How does that work?
Search engines like Bing, Google, and Yahoo! (the “SE” in SEO) regularly index the Internet, crawling around and noting what kind of content is on websites across the web. Whenever someone searches for “socks” or “melamine,” search engines look for websites with those keywords and phrases and display them on their results pages. This is sometimes called organic optimization because the result order happens by way of natural or “organic” indexing of sites. These positions cannot be purchased, but can be influenced by optimization.
Okay, so how do I “optimize?”
Keywords and key phrases! If you’re selling melamine sock organizers, it helps to periodically research what words and phrases your potential customer uses in searches. Do they look for “melamine sock caddy” more often? Perhaps they’ve adopted slang or creative spellings such as “sox” or phrases like “getting my socks in a row.”
When you’ve identified the keywords and key phrases your customers and potential clients are searching for, you can start making sure they’re included in your website pages, blog posts, social media posts, and any company profiles you have on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, or other websites.
So, what is Search Engine Marketing?
Search Engine Marketing, or SEM, is the umbrella term for, well, all forms of search engine marketing. Whereas SEO focuses only on organic search results, SEM includes paid advertising on search engines. Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and others sell advertising space in the form of search results.
When someone searches for “socks” or “melamine,” they will find ads beside the organic results, organized by keyword bids and ranking in addition to relevance. These ads are typically at the top of search results, before the organic spots, or in a sidebar to the right.
So, how does that work?
There are a couple different services search engines offer. Perhaps the most commonly known service is Pay-Per-Click, or PPC. This displays ads alongside search results for a set period of time and within your budget.
You only pay when your ads are clicked on by users and you can set a budget that fits your business. (So, you don’t end up owing a search engine your first born.) If your budget is set at $20 per month, the search engine will offer up your ad until you reach your limit. When the $20 worth of clicks are achieved, the ad stops showing and you won’t be charged further.
You should care!
Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing are important foundational pieces in your marketing activities. Search engines are a pivotal driver of traffic to websites. More traffic means more opportunity for sales, donations, new clients, or readers.
If you don’t have an expert in-house you can easily find a partner to help get your SEO and SEM campaigns off the ground, or steer them in a more focused and effective direction. No matter what your target, business model, or traffic goals are, SEO and SEM can effectively scale your digital presence.
Lately there has been a significant uptick in clients approaching us to help them better differentiate themselves in a more crowded and complex marketplace. Many of these clients have been doing business as usual for years with several marketing tactics in place, but have noticed that they are not quite getting new customers like they had historically.
They are at a loss with how they can instigate growth without significantly increasing their marketing budgets.
A Way for Companies to Stand Out
The most effective tool that we use at Sandstorm to assist our clients stand out effectively is to define a positioning. Our process takes into account the cultural DNA of our clients’ organizations, disruptive aspects of their offerings and aligns what they offer with rational, emotional, and motivational drivers of their markets.
This information is distilled into one statement that represents what the organization means to their customers and future customers – a positioning statement.
What Does it Mean to Have Positioning?
Positioning in marketing does exactly what it’s name suggests. It positions a company strategically in an attainable aspirational direction. Although one sentence, it is a powerful discipline that forces the organization to focus on what it stands for and what that means for its customers and potential customers.
This focus is critical in the frenetic pace of a digital society. It gives clarity and purpose to every marketing decision that needs to be made and makes sure your target market easily and readily understands your brand and why they should care.
Arriving at a Positioning Statement
The best positioning statements are built from thorough primary and secondary user experience research. At Sandstorm we utilize UX practices to enhance the insights we get with our primary research. This means giving the respondent the opportunity to expound on what is important to them and less about what the protocol might assume is important. A more organic, conversational approach allows us to garner more insights with less respondents, saving time and money.
Our secondary research is also more fluid and organic. Instead of listing out the marketing tactics and individual messaging across a set of competitors, we look at overall trends inside and outside a specific industry. That way we can more clearly find white space opportunities for our clients. This actually takes a bit more time than traditional secondary research, but it pays off with greater differentiation for our clients and a stronger overall position.
The Value of a Positioning Statement
With cross-functional collaboration and a distributed workforce, it’s more and more difficult to align an organization on what they offer to customers. A positioning statement is a tool that can align an entire organization and create clear boundaries for decision-making. It also ensures that all marketing decisions on product changes or developments, pricing and distribution are aligned to portray a consistent and differentiated offering to the marketplace.
Ensuring Your Communication Provides Maximum ROI
Finally a good positioning in marketing, used correctly, guarantees all of your organization’s marketing communication is focused. Every time a potential customer encounters your brand online, in-person or in advertising they will receive the same message. This amplifies your difference and delivers a stronger ROI on your marketing communication.
If you think your company is ready for strategic repositioning, please email me directly. We would love to move you forward in the marketplace.
Last week was Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference. They are releasing a lot of new software and updates that I found particularly helpful. From some of the announced developments, it appears that Apple is continuing to make a great user experience through their products. Here are some highlights from the conference that are particularly beneficial to Apple users.
User Interface Design
Smartphones are a big deal, particularly for die-hard iPhone users. Apple realized that as much as people use a desktop operating system, the one that they spend the most time on is on their phone. The new desktop operating system, named Yosemite, will be streamlined to look more like the their mobile design and experience:
- OS fonts will go from the current Lucida Grande to Helvetica Neue
- Toolbars are refined to focused on clarity and utility and they’re adding translucent “materials”
- All icons are being updated (They finally have a great looking Trash Can!)
- The toolbar and dock have a “Dark Mode” option
One of the big talking points was: “Use the right device for the moment.” As users are using more tablets and smartphones, specifically iPhones and iPads, their experience going from device to device will be smoother.
- AirDrop - It now works between iOS and the Mac OS
- Handoff - Your devices will be aware of what you're working on. You’ll be able to pick up where you left off on another device.
- Instant Hotspot - If you're using a mac and you aren’t near a WiFi, but your phone is nearby, your computer will recognize it as a hotspot. We will see how seamless this is, there would be some setting up before you can use it automatically.
- Phone calls - When you receive a phone call, your computer presents the caller information in addition to your phone. You can even accept the phone call from your computer, even if your phone is across the room. You can make phone calls from the computer as well.
Since users are interacting primarily with their iOS devices, Apple is making advancements to make this experience easier. Users can now:
- Swipe down to interact with notifications:
- Respond to text messages
- Accept calendar invites
- Like or comment on Facebook posts
- Double click the home button to get a list of the people you communicate with the most
The announced upgrades will make typing on iPhones and iPads much easier (and hopefully reduce the number of mistaken autocorrects).
- Keyboard suggestions based on what you type (hello mistaken suggestions)
- Suggested options to reply to a message
- Language based on how you communicate with certain people (for example, you may say the “party was really nice” to your mom or say it was “epic” to a good buddy)
This might be my favorite addition to the iOS since “Do Not Disturb” in the iOS 7 release. Group messaging is now better than ever. I’m sure everyone has been on a message chain from hell. At the time it might have been useful, but 3 months later a new conversation gets started on an old chain and it blows up your phone. You now have the option to:
- Leave threads
- Turn particular threads to “Do Not Disturb”
- Add and remove people
- Name the thread
You can also sort to see all of the images used in that thread and shared locations. This will be great when you're with a large group message and would like to keep track of that one friend that barely comments.
There is also a new feature to send voice and video messages straight from the Messages App.
You can now share media with family members if all accounts share the same credit card. This setup keeps your kids from spending $2,500 on in-app add-ons. You can manage settings so that certain family members, such as your 6 year old on the iPad, have to ask you in order to purchase an app. You get the alert on your device to approve or deny their request.
I’m a designer and love taking pictures. The new Photos advancements are very cool. The new app has smart editing controls, such as levels for light and color.
For example, you can select a photo to edit and click the smart editing controller. You get a smart light editing feature. To achieve this, the app has an algorithm that simultaneously adjusts brightness, contrast, exposure, highlights and shadows at the same time. The same for color.
Also, photo storage is easier with iCloud pricing: the first 5GB are free, 20GB for $0.99 a month, and 200GB for $3.99 per month. They even have tiers up to 1TB (who wants 1TB of selfies?).
It’s good seeing Apple continue to innovate, especially when the updates are free to users. The whole conference was centered on upgrades and innovations. They didn’t sell, they only shared what was coming to everyone at no cost. I can’t wait to see what they will unveil next.
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.
A usability study is a great way to identify trouble spots with your website, application or prototype.
It involves watching your users complete a set of tasks on your site or application. This includes testing processes like purchasing, registration, forms and finding content. It’s also a great way to test the language and labels on your site to see if you are using menu labels that are intuitive for your users.
There’s no substitute for watching users actively use your site. You gain insights into why parts of your site aren’t performing and more importantly how to resolve them.
One day of testing with 6 to 8 users will uncover over 80% of the usability issues with your site. I call that a day well spent.
Why should I use this approach?
Usability testing is a good way to learn how to improve the user experience on any site. If you are asking any of these questions, conducting usability testing might be a great next move:
- How can we get more users to complete the checkout process?
- How can we get users to accurately complete each step of this form?
- How does our site perform on mobile devices?
- How can we help our users learn more about what we have to offer?
What does usability testing achieve?
Usability testing allows you to see the site experience from the user’s point of view. The benefits of this testing include identifying:
- Confusing or unclear language and navigation labels
- Confusing or broken processes, particularly useful for check-out and registration processes or any conversion points
- Inconsistencies between multi-device versions of your site (mobile, tablet, desktop)
- Issues with the “findability” of content
When should I start testing?
Early and often. At Sandstorm we start the testing process as soon as we have enough wireframes or a prototype to start getting feedback.
Usability testing early in the process can help identify issues before budget is spent developing something that’s not optimal.
It’s also the tool to use if parts of your site aren’t performing as expected. Even when your site is performing well, you’ll want to make sure your site is optimized for your users.
I’m in. How do I conduct usability testing?
It is an in-depth process. There aren’t many steps to conducting usability research, but care should be taken with each step. You can do rapid testing in 1 or 2 weeks time. Usability study projects at Sandstorm usually take 4 to 6 weeks to complete.
- Identify the goal of your study and the key tasks you want to test. Don’t try to test too much in one study. If you want to test a lot of areas, it’s better to do multiple studies.
- Identify your users and participant criteria; make sure you’re testing with people who would actually use your site.
- Write the testing protocol (the list of scenarios you want to test).
- Recruit users. We recommend offering a gratuity for participation. It’s a nice incentive.
- Conduct the study.
- Analyze the results.
- Make improvements to your site.
Here are some helpful hints for greater success:
- Focus on your conversion points.
- Allow room in the protocol for follow up questions and clarifications.
- Don’t interfere; observe and let your users do their thing.
- Test the mobile and desktop experiences.
Do I get results?
Yes, you do. Usability testing yields a research report with key findings. At Sandstorm, we always include actionable recommendations with our key findings. We also provide video and screen capture footage for stakeholders to review.
Most importantly, you’re getting rid of problems on your site and gaining a better experience for your users.
[Ed. - Check back for the last post of this series on user research with Heuristic Analyses. If you missed it, be sure to read his previous posts on In-Depth User Interviews and Card Sorting with Tree Testing.]