Karen Bartuch is passionate about data and uncovering hidden insights to help her clients make better business decisions. She enjoys taking an innovative yet evidence-based approach to her work.
The Orthopaedic Trauma Association’s (OTA) mission is to promote excellence in care for the injured patient. So when they came to us with a struggling website, we made sure they got the best treatment possible.
OTA’s website exhibited a lot of the traditional symptoms of an aging online presence: disorganized content, a lack of information architecture (IA), outdated design and functionality. After quickly diagnosing the issues, we got to work.
Based on OTA’s goals and needs, we determined that Drupal 8 would be the best CMS in which to build the new site, as it would provide added longevity. Once we identified the CMS, we got to work on their IA, and designed with user experience (UX) best practices while creating consistent branding throughout the site—expanding the color palette, identifying new and beautiful fonts, and using custom imagery.
Part of improving UX included implementing single sign-on (SSO) through OTA’s association member platform—ACGI. And by utilizing Apache Solr Search, we were able to make the search more robust throughout the site.
Altogether, this made content easier to find for users and easier to update for the association. And, as they say, the proof is in the pudding.
Within the first month after launch, OTA’s new website experienced unprecedented performance:
- 986% increase in traffic from Google
- 497% increase in organic search traffic
- 54% increase in new users
- 65% increase in pageviews
- 22% decrease in bounce rate
“Planning and implementing a website redesign can be a momentous undertaking, especially for a small staff association. Sandstorm could not have made the process easier for our team.
Their exceptional technical and creative talent, along with the high level of customer service provided throughout the project, made the process as seamless as a website redesign can be. And our new (and very much improved) website has been well received by the Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA) membership!”
– Kathleen Caswell, CAE, Executive Director
What an extraordinary adventure it’s been! Twenty years ago, You’ve Got Mail starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks had just come out. Modem speed had to be considered when we were designing websites. And it was easy to get a .com URL.
Reflecting on the past two decades, It’s the Sandstormers (past and present) who have made this company what it is today. Together, we’ve taken risks, competed for the best Halloween costumes, traded playlists, compiled crazy travel stories, sent a lot of memes, devoured a lot of guacamole, and created long-standing Sandstorm traditions.
So in honor of 20 years, here are 20 fun memories we’ve created together:
Sandstorm launches our first website in Flash.
We relaunch our website in HTML and get our first web lead, Careerbuilder.com — thank you for working with us for over a decade!
We partner with ReVive Center for Housing & Healing (formally Cathedral Shelter) and donate our time to create their annual report (which we continue to do today).
Sandstorm moves into our first official office space of 1,000 sq. ft.
We celebrate the holidays by sharing tapas at Cafe Ba-Ba-Rebba!, which has now become a Sandstorm tradition.
We ate so many bacon wrapped dates we lost count!
First Guac Off (Janna Fiester wins with her fancy roasted peppers!)
Sandstorm launches our UX practice and wins our first Fortune 500 client.
Sandstorm expands to a new office right off the ‘L’ line. It was so loud Mike had to put up plexiglass over our windows to help mute the train.
Who remembers us saying, “Hold on a second the train is going by… Okay, you can talk again.”?
We build our own usability lab and within days conduct a study for American Academy of Pediatrics.
We expand office space again and add new huddle rooms.
Our first Super Secret Event: All the Sandstormers go to see Harry Potter.
We expand. Again! This time, Sandstorm moves back into our first building and into Sandy’s dream office space in suite 300.
Our first time on the Inc. 500/5000.
We win Fortune’s Top 100 Fastest Growing Inner City Companies in America Award for the first time.
Featured on CNBC with Marcus Lemonis.
Our office space expands, and we reclaim the original office we had in 2005.
Sandstorm launches our data practice.
We finally redesigned our logo (thank you for your unwavering patience Janna and Nathan!)
We build a new chef’s kitchen, our Hogwarts library, and the Idea Lab as part of our continued expansion.
Today, Sandstorm celebrates 20 years by paying it forward with the Night Ministry, bagging lunches, and donating hundreds of pajamas for homeless youth.
How does one even begin to say thank you to everyone that has made celebrating 20 years in business possible? We have an amazing team, some of the smartest people I have ever met, solving some really interesting problems with technologies that didn’t even exist when we started. Thank you hardly seems enough.
To our clients: Thank you for your collaboration and partnership to create better digital brand experiences together. Because of you, we’ve gotten the chance to grow individually and as a company. I could never thank you enough. And I’m honored that so many of these relationships grew into long-lasting friendships.
To everyone at Sandstorm: Thank you for making Sandstorm yours. From moving furniture and leading social events, to bringing the warrior spirit to your work every day, your drive and passion and fearlessness to create is inspiring, and so much fun to be a part of. It’s an honor to work with you. And a special thank you to Mike Marsico, Alma and Nick Meshes, and Janna and Tim Fiester for believing in our vision to build a different kind of agency from the beginning.
To my advisory and peer advisory boards: Thank you for providing me with the direction and confidence to lead, sharing your pride in our growth, and for your encouragement through the challenges.
To my family and friends: I couldn’t have started this journey, or continued this growth, without you believing in me.
I’m super excited for what comes next,
It’s an honor to be on Fortune’s list of the 100 Fastest Growing Inner City Companies for the fifth time. But it also gives us pause. Because while we’re extremely lucky to continue experiencing growth, large parts of Chicago—the city we call home—are struggling.
So instead of taking this moment to pat ourselves on the back, we’re rolling up our sleeves.
We’re partnering with our neighbors at The Night Ministry, who support Chicago’s homeless population. On November 9th, we’re hosting a lunch-and-learn event for our team members, where they’ll gain knowledge about this amazing charity, then create care packages using items we donate. And we’re encouraging you to #ShareYourGoodFortune with The Night Ministry and with us on social media. Together, we’ll make an even greater impact on those who need our help!
How great is it when you walk into your local coffee shop and the barista already knows your order? That personal attention makes you feel special, and it’s the type of experience that keeps you coming back every morning.
What if your website could deliver that same personalized experience for your customers? With the right data and tools, it can. Which is why content personalization has quickly become the norm, not the exception.
Why’s Personalization All the Rage?
Consumers want and expect that coffee-shop experience everywhere they go. According to a study from the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 76% of consumers said they would like to receive personalized content. And research from Janrain, a leader in customer identity, found that 74% of online consumers get frustrated when a website’s content is irrelevant to their interests.
If you can deliver on these desires, you’ll be rewarded. Gartner estimates that by 2020, smart personalization engines used to recognize customer intent will enable digital businesses to increase their profits by up to 15%.
So How Does Personalizing Content Work?
As visitors navigate your site, their actions, demographic information and other personal data informs the content they interact with. For instance, if you’re a big box retailer and your 18-year-old female fashionista customer from Arizona visits the shoe section, it makes sense to show her Steve Madden sandals the next time she visits your site, instead of snow shoes and a parka.
One of the most effective ways to personalize content is through rule-based personalization. With this method, the first step is segmenting your audience. That means separating your users into smaller groups based on common attributes, which can be broad (age, income) or narrow (website visitors who’ve returned from a retargeting ad to purchase a specific product). Then you can set up if/then scenarios and rules that take each segment through their own journey.
At Sandstorm, we often deploy Kentico Content Management System (CMS) for our clients due to its native personalization functionality. In the scenario above, Kentico makes it easy to personalize the content displayed. Rules are created so that visitors meeting certain qualifications (e.g., geographic location, age, viewing history, etc.) are delivered specific content stored in the CMS. Given the vast amount of information available online and the decreasing amount of time people have, customers appreciate a tailored experience and are more likely to visit a site that delivers content specific to their interests and needs.
Making sure your customers are delighted and have a great experience is at the heart of what we do at Sandstorm. That’s why we continually conduct user research to better understand what consumers are seeking from a brand and its website. With over 3,000 hours of in-depth user interviews and usability tests under our belts, we take the subjectivity out of the process and use the research to inform our work, including content decisions related to personalization.
Meet Andrea. She's our new rock star global agency exec focused on driving the effectiveness of our clients' strategic and digital efforts, and on increasing operational excellence and efficiency.
We are so excited to announce Andrea Wood has become a part of the Sandstorm® team! Andrea has an impressive track record of leading teams to help grow global brands. In her new role, Andrea will be doing the same for us: inspiring our clients with her thoughtful perspective, delivering innovative thinking and leveraging her extensive strategic, social and digital expertise. She will play a critical role in supporting our national and global clients, and our high-performing teams.
Before joining Sandstorm, Andrea was Senior Client Partner and member of the Executive Leadership Team at Critical Mass, a global digital experience design agency. Previously, she was Managing Director of Omnicom social media firm Zócalo Group where she oversaw agency operations and staff management, in addition to serving as senior partner to clients in industries ranging from auto to energy and telecom. At Zócalo, she also led efforts to create Social Media Week Chicago, which included assembling an Advisory Board of Chicago’s marketing leaders to create 100+ sponsored events around the city.
Andrea also served as Managing Director of the Chicago office of Clear!Blue Communications and spent more than twelve years at Golin, where she led the firm's corporate brand building work with Sprint and Kmart as well as an agency-of-record engagement with Chrysler and then DaimlerChrysler.
Andrea and her teams have earned many industry awards including Shorty, Mashie, WOMMY, PR Week, Content Marketing, PR Daily, Anvil, EX, SABRE and others. And, while Andrea was leading Zócalo, it was named a Top Place to Work for Gen Y Talent.
She's a proud graduate of the University of Kentucky as well as Northwestern University, where she earned her masters in marketing communication. She loves travelling, but with its great lakefront, restaurants, theater and sports teams, she loves calling Chicago home. All of which makes her the perfect fit for our team.
Karen brings data strategy, predictive analytics, data visualization and statistical modeling to extract meaningful and actionable insights for our clients.
We’re thrilled to announce that Karen Bartuch has joined our team as Director, Research and Strategy! In her new role, Karen will grow our data science practice by devising new data service offerings, personalization offerings based on data-driven insights, and technology partnerships—including artificial intelligence—to expand the research capabilities we currently offer.
Karen comes to Sandstorm® from PwC, where she developed and executed the go-to-market strategy for the Global Intelligence practice within the Advisory (management consulting) business. Previous to her work at PwC, Karen led the Solutions & Services communications team at Motorola Solutions, and spearheaded the first data-science project to analyze police officer deployment in a Chicago suburb.
Karen received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Northwestern University, and during her tenure as a Chicago police officer, she earned her master’s degree in communications from DePaul University. Karen recently completed DePaul’s Doctorate in Business Administration program, where she focused on big data, data visualization and statistical analysis, and researched innovation, gender, and humor.
"I’m thrilled to join Sandstorm, an agency that enables their clients’ success by bridging the gap between science and business,” said Karen. “I look forward to advancing Sandstorm’s ability to tackle the complex issues through an evidence-based approach that delivers results.”
The Hermes Creative Awards has honored Sandstorm Design with a platinum award for the agency’s redesign of the CLR Brands® website. The 2018 award winners were announced by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals (AMCP), which administers the annual Hermes Creative Awards international competition.
Sandstorm’s reconstruction of the CLR Brands® website—which showcases CLR® and Tarn-X®, two of America’s favorite household cleaning products—delivered a clean, intuitive design and a significantly upgraded user experience. The site was built on the Kentico EMS platform, which enables enhanced integrated marketing automation, site searchability and personalization.
Kentico named the CLR Brands® website one of its top 10 sites for June 2018.
The Hermes Creative Awards recognize the messengers and creators of traditional and emerging media. The annual competition is judged by the AMCP, an international organization consisting of thousands of creative professionals. Entries are received from corporate marketing and communication departments, advertising agencies, PR firms, graphic design shops, production companies, and web and digital creators.
For over a decade, Janna Fiester has been a critical part of Sandstorm’s explosive growth. Her exceptional skills elevated her from senior designer to executive creative director. And they enabled us to become a multi-million dollar company that delivers award-winning, innovative work which seamlessly marries art and science.
So it’s my great pleasure to announce Janna’s new position as vice president of UX and brand innovation! In this role, Janna will oversee an interdisciplinary team of writers, designers, and researchers, which will further empower us to create transformative brand experiences through strategic intelligence and informed design.
Congratulations, Janna! The whole team is looking forward to taking our innovation, and especially our clients, to new heights!
Sandstorm Design was honored with a gold statuette at the 2018 Hermes Creative Awards. The award was presented to Sandstorm for its impactful print ad for Accuity’s payments data products. This year’s award winners were announced by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals (AMCP), which hosts the annual Hermes Creative Awards competition.
Sandstorm’s breakthrough ad was targeted at professionals at financial technology companies who develop products for the payments industry. The ad dramatizes the catastrophic consequences of choosing the wrong provider of payments data, and created an industry stir when introduced at the annual global Money 20/20 conference.
The Hermes Creative Awards are an annual international competition recognizing and celebrating the messengers and creators of traditional and emerging media. Entries are judged by the AMCP, an international organization consisting of thousands of creative professionals. Marketing materials across a wide range of categories are submitted by corporate marketing and communication departments, advertising agencies, PR firms, graphic design shops, production companies, and web and digital creators.
Every year since 2005, the Drupal community has flocked to DrupalCon to learn, explore and share. This year, the Sandstorm® team headed to Nashville, Tennessee–site of DrupalCon 2018–to get the latest updates on one of our favorite CMSs, find inspiration, and get our hot-chicken fix. Here are a few of the things we took away from this year’s conference.
1. “Clients buy solutions not code.”
Software wizard Vladimir Roudakov reminded us that no matter how impeccable and innovative our code looks, what’s most important to our clients is that our code solves the problems they’re facing. It was a great message to ground us throughout our time in Nashville.
2. By 2020, there will be more than 50 billion connected devices
3. Most traffic on the internet is non-human
Developer advocate Emily Rose made a pretty compelling case for why we’ll be developing for humanoids in the not-so-far future. With 61% of the internet made up of bot traffic and connected devices estimated to outnumber people 6:1 in two years, that’s a concept that’s hard to argue with.
4. Increasing page speed by one second can increase conversion by 27%
Google announced that by July 2018, pagespeed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches. For businesses to reach that coveted first position in the search engine, they’ll need to make sure their site loads lightning fast. And the reward—a big bump in conversion rate—will be worth it.
5. Drupal makes big dreams a reality
To celebrate the total solar eclipse, Miles McLean and Ken Fang used Drupal to create a once-in-a-lifetime viewing experience, integrating more than 20 video feeds and real-time tracker. Forty million people used the tool to see the solar eclipse.
If you’re looking to do big things with your website, drop us a line.