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Tom Jacobs

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.  

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Anne Lentino
Anne Lentino

Anne, as a Product Owner, enjoys the opportunity to learn about her clients' diverse fields of expertise. She consistently advocates to make the best products to support each client's growing business, while keeping workflow efficiency and creativity top of mind.

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Laura Chaparro
Laura Chaparro

As Sandstorm's Senior Account Director, Laura helps clients grow their businesses. She has worked at both big and small agencies, with small local and global brands garnering extensive experience in B2B, B2C, and retail marketing.

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Amanda Heberg
Amanda Heberg

As the VP, Business Development, Amanda leads new business development, sales, partnerships and marketing strategy across Sandstorm. Amanda collaborates closely with new clients to build strong, long-lasting partnerships while aligning Sandstorm's capabilities to solve client business problems.

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Eric Savage
Eric Savage

Eric Savage is a JavaScript Developer with expert knowledge and extensive experience in front-end development.

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Jeff Umbricht
Jeff Umbricht

Jeff is an Illinois native with a passion for web development. Making code into great things drives him every day. He’s often busy building awesome experiences for Sandstorm clients, and there’s a high probability that he’s rocking out to metal while he codes.

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Nick Meshes
Nick Meshes

Nick is Sandstorm’s Director of Technology & Analytics. He’s boosting our quantitative focus. He’s busy increasing our capabilities in web analytics, website optimization testing, SEO, SEM, display advertising, business intelligence, and personalization.

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Emily Kodner
Emily Kodner

Emily is our Senior Director of Client Delivery. She consults with clients, leads projects and works alongside our team of creatives and developers to provide solutions to complex business challenges.

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Nathan Haas
Nathan Haas

Nathan is a User Interface Art Director at Sandstorm. He is a proud alum of The University of Tennessee. His main focus was print design, but he soon realized the potential of pixels. This combination of print and interactive gives him a unique view of design possibilities.

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Andy Cullen
Andy Cullen

Someday I'll need a real bio, but for now I'm busy creating awesomeness for our clients!

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Janna Fiester
Janna Fiester

Sandstorm's VP of UX & Brand Innovation, Janna, is a design-thinker. Showcased in several design publications and exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, she is talented in taking nuggets of good ideas and nurturing them into solutions that are always strategic, engaging and visually delightful.

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Alma Meshes
Alma Meshes

Alma likes to help get things done at Sandstorm. She's worn many hats in her many years here and knows a little bit about everything.

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Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO
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.

Recent Posts

Why you need content personalization now

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.

If you’d like to learn more about content personalization, contact us today. Or check out some of our work in Kentico.

This blog was posted by on September 25.
Karen Bartuch

About the Author

Karen Bartuch

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.

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Hermes Platinum Award

The Hermes Creative Awards has honored Sandstorm Design with a platinum award for the agency’s redesign of the CLR Brands® website. The 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 in June.

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.

This blog was posted by on June 19.
John Rausch

About the Author

John Rausch

Over his 25 years in the advertising industry, John has produced award-winning work for many B2C and B2B clients. He is a passionate believer in the power of the brand and brings a strategic approach to every piece of creative.

Sandstorm takes Hermes Gold for Accuity ad

Sandstorm Design was honored with a gold statuette at the 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.

Accuity Ad - Fintech

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.

This blog was posted by on June 19.
John Rausch

About the Author

John Rausch

Over his 25 years in the advertising industry, John has produced award-winning work for many B2C and B2B clients. He is a passionate believer in the power of the brand and brings a strategic approach to every piece of creative.

Jeff
Sandstorm developers Joe Ruel and Jeff Umbricht at DrupalCon 2018

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
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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.

This blog was posted by Jeff on May 2.
Jeff Umbricht

About the Author

Jeff Umbricht

Jeff is an Illinois native with a passion for web development. Making code into great things drives him every day. He’s often busy building awesome experiences for Sandstorm clients, and there’s a high probability that he’s rocking out to metal while he codes.

Website vulnerability to hacks

Whether it drizzles or pours, it’s good to be carrying an umbrella.

Back in 2014, Drupalgeddon rained cats and dogs.

Drupal released a critical security update on October 15, 2014 with express directions to address the vulnerability within seven hours of the release. Unfortunately, a large number of system administrators didn’t grab their umbrellas, and—to stretch this metaphor to its limit—they got soaked. It was a wake-up call, to say the least.

So four years later, when Drupal released a similarly critical security update that many people called Drupalgeddon 2.0, the admin community was prepared. At Sandstorm®, we started planning right after the announcement, and when the update was released, we secured more than 30 sites in a single afternoon.

But we’ve always understood the importance of taking security updates seriously, whether it’s 2014 or 2018. Because staying on top of these updates is just one easy way to keep your systems safe. And as recent hacks and data breaches like those from Saks and Lord & Taylor continue to show, your safety is under constant attack.

So what else can you do to keep your site as safe as possible?

1. Move your site to HTTPS

More than half of internet traffic is now encrypted, which is great news. Having your site use HTTPS (SSL/TLS) helps protect against session hijack attacks, because all traffic between your server and the client is encrypted.

This is such a boon to security that Google has been talking about penalizing sites that don't use HTTPS. Most notably, the Google Chrome browser will start indicating sites without HTTPS as insecure, starting in July 2018. Just one more reason to get a move on.

2. Take charge of your passwords and access

A major line of defense for any infrastructure is good management of credentials. As individuals and institutions, we now have a number of tools at our disposal, such as password managers, policies, etc.

But what is often forgotten is to consistently and comprehensively review who has access to your systems. As a result, old employees still have access to sites and accounts, creating vulnerabilities that are just waiting to happen.

3. Keep your server and applications up to date

When security updates are released, they represent known vulnerabilities. It’s imperative to apply the updates immediately, or risk leaving a door open for malicious activity.

Ensure that your server is applying updates on a regular basis and that your web applications are updating any relevant frameworks or libraries. An ounce of prevention is much more cost efficient than trying to recover from a compromised server or application.

4. Ensure you have frequent backups

If something ever does happen, you want to be able to roll back to a safe state. That’s why it’s so critical to make sure your servers and your application have automated backups.

Most hosts offer backup services for a small additional fee, and you’ll want to ensure that these are configured and working.

5. Proactive threat management

Be proactive. Start a conversation with your host provider about threat management, and ask about automated systems that look for irregular traffic. Ask your web vendor about how code is managed on the server, and spend the time to find a solution that’s right for your organization.

Still not sure how you can stay protected? Sandstorm can help! Feel free to drop us a line, so we can help ensure your site is secure.

This blog was posted by on April 12.
Sean Fuller

About the Author

Sean Fuller

As Technology Director, Sean is a hands-on developer and technical lead on projects. He works with design and strategist teams from kick off through launch to plan, design and execute technical solutions for client projects. 

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DCLI Site Launch Makes Waves in Transportation

Over the past several years, DCLI has transformed itself and the intermodal transportation industry. As the largest provider of chassis in the U.S., they’re renowned for their industry-leading technology and logistics expertise.

But DCLI’s web and marketing presence was hindering the company’s growth. That’s why they turned to Sandstorm®.

Engaging Tool Increases Revenue

DCLI first asked us to help them solve an interesting challenge: reduce the burden of high sales-call volume while increasing revenue among potential clients. We jumped at the opportunity.

Through intense collaboration, we were able to develop an automated quote tool that seamlessly integrated into DCLI’s website. The result? Within the first month of its launch, the quote tool generated 49% of all marketing-influenced revenue.

Confident in our ability to deliver proven results, DCLI shifted their focus to two even more ambitious initiatives:

  • Creating marketing campaigns where none had previously existed
  • Designing and developing a new website to showcase their revamped brand

Building Creative Campaigns From the Ground Up

DCLI came to us with aggressive marketing goals. To help them achieve their objectives, we held a marketing workshop with key members of the company. This allowed us to gain insights into their business, and collaborate on a value proposition and strategy statement that positioned DCLI as the most agile intermodal partner around.

Building on this strategic foundation, we created ad concepts, event collateral, infographic, and sell sheets that drove the DCLI brand forward. Most important for DCLI, we implemented tracking within creative so they can begin measuring return on ad spend.

But our most ambitious collaboration was completely redesigning and developing DCLI’s website.

Reimagining DCLI’s Digital Presence

Creating DCLI’s new website engaged nearly every aspect of our expertise. Our unique approach benefitted DCLI in several ways.

Better Targeting of Customer Verticals

DCLI needed their website to talk to five separate user groups—motor carriers, ocean carriers, non-vessel-owning common carriers, beneficial cargo owners, and domestic shippers. We designed every aspect of the new website with these users in mind, making it easy for them to self-identify and find the tools and information that matter most to them. We even traveled to one of the nation’s largest terminals so we could showcase the breadth and depth of DCLI’s expansive chassis fleet to potential customers.

Content Optimized for Search Engines

To enable DCLI to capture as much organic traffic as possible, we analyzed current traffic and performed competitive keyword analysis. This allowed us to optimize all content across the new website, which resulted in a 27% increase in organic traffic in the first two months of the launch.

Integrating Marketing Automation

To capture leads at key touch points, we needed to successfully integrate the Pardot CRM platform. That required setting up tracking codes, incorporating the Pardot plugin within the CMS, and styling a custom form template within the CRM. The solutions were a huge success for DCLI, and in the first day of launch, the integration resulted in 7 leads.

In the wake of the successful launch, we’re continuing to test and optimize, and collaborate with DCLI to identify new opportunities across sales and marketing that elevate their brand.

We’re thrilled to help DCLI spotlight all of the innovative ways they help their customers keep cargo moving. See the new DCLI website for yourself!

This blog was posted by on March 20.
Emma Thompson

About the Author

Emma Thompson

As an Associate Digital Strategist, Emma has a background in ad sales and a desire to create strong brand identities.

Nick
Data Visualization and Reporting, Data Science

Using your business goals, target metrics, and other drivers defined in the marketing workshop, we create data visualizations, dashboards, reports and analysis tailored to the needs of the marketing team, executives or other stakeholders.

Rows and rows of static data become charts, graphs, and other easily consumable graphics to help you find valuable information – such as trends and patterns – hiding within the data. Business and operational decisions are made easier, faster and more confidently with this evidence. 

Want to know more about your data? Reach out today and we can work with even a small data set to show you what's possible.

 
This blog was posted by Nick on March 12.
Nick Meshes

About the Author

Nick Meshes

Nick is Sandstorm’s Director of Technology & Analytics. He’s boosting our quantitative focus. He’s busy increasing our capabilities in web analytics, website optimization testing, SEO, SEM, display advertising, business intelligence, and personalization.

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Sandy
Kentico CMS Development

Sandstorm is recognized for enterprise-level Kentico web development services, maintenance and support

Sandstorm is a Kentico Gold Partner
 

Sandstorm is proud to be a Kentico Gold Partner! Kentico is an all-in-one content management system, e-commerce, and online marketing platform based in ASP.NET technology. With Kentico, organizations and businesses of all shapes and sizes can take advantage of marketing automation and content personalization using a platform that’s intuitive and simple. Kentico is used by large global organizations like Gibson, Mazda, Hunter Fans, Twinings, and Segway.

Kentico is easy to use
Managing workflows across your organization and integrating all of your marketing channels in one system may seem complicated, but Kentico makes it all really easy. No extra third-party plugins are required; there’s lots of well-designed functionality; and its dashboards are so simple your grandma could use them.

Kentico is versatile
If you want users to really start engaging with your site, then Kentico is hands down the best platform. You can create dynamic pages that change based on user information, provide users with unique content that reflects their behavior on your site, or run A/B tests to see what designs and copy they like best.

And that’s just the start of what Kentico has to offer. Here’s a bit more:

  • Multivariate testing
  • Marketing automation
  • Email marketing
  • Personas
  • Contact management
  • Lead scoring

Kentico is secure
Because Kentico is a licensed product—as compared to open-source platforms like Drupal and WordPress—Kentico can, and does, dedicate a lot of resources to ensuring its security, and maintains tight control over its core code and modules. That means less maintenance and updates for your team, and better protection for your website.

Additionally, the Kentico team has a guaranteed 7-day resolution on any bugs.

Not sure if you should build your next website using Kentico? Let’s talk about it.

 

This blog was posted by Sandy on January 27.
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
Just Launched: Kentico Website for Beloved Household Products, CLR® and Tarn-X®

Jelmar is most recognized for its broad range of cleaning products (CLR and Tarn-X) that have helped solve some of the toughest household cleaning problems... maybe you've seen their commercials to clean your showerhead?

The CLR Brands website was outdated and virtually unusable on a mobile device. There was also a great deal of confusion across the brands – parent company, Jelmar vs its flagship products (CLR and Tarn-X) and related products. The site did not provide a cohesive experience, nor was it intuitive for consumers visiting the site for more information or where to buy CLR or Tarn-X products. It also did not properly serve the needs of its distributors and retailers. Given the brand structure and Jelmar’s drastically different audiences, it was critical to have a modernized user experience that was cohesive while providing variations based on the two distinct user groups. Sandstorm was challenged with reinvigorating and personalizing the CLR brand experience integrating social, digital, marketing automation and the website; as well as utilizing technology to drive better business decisions – which is why the Kentico EMS content management system was ultimately selected.

Based on our in-depth user research, one of the primary goals for consumers was to identify where they could buy CLR products. Sandstorm completely overhauled the “Where to Buy” feature (formerly the Retailer Locator feature, which we renamed based on our usability study results). This tool incorporates a custom Product Search, including radius map in several key areas of the site to improve overall usability – check out the Where to Buy feature here. On the administrative side, Sandstorm developed a product management tool within Kentico, so Jelmar staff can easily manage updates to products in a single location, which propagates throughout the site. In addition, Sandstorm implemented Kentico’s Smart Search to drastically improve the findability of products, "How To" videos, FAQ spec sheets, blogs and news, etc.

Behind the scenes, Sandstorm utilized Kentico’s Staging and Synchronization features to manage development and testing in one environment, user acceptance and content editing in a second environment, and live production in a third, while ensuring that integration of code and content between the sites can always be easily managed and synchronized. From a content migration perspective, Sandstorm utilized Kentico’s import utility and custom scripts to map content into the new site, product details, images and related taxonomy. Sandstorm also leveraged Kentico’s features for tagging, categorization, Google sitemap generation, and other capabilities to improve SEO of the site.

The entire project included a complete redesign, in-depth user research, information architecture, usability testing, UX/UI development, Kentico install/configuration, Kentico web development, content migration, QA testing, analytics and launch. Additionally, upon launch, Sandstorm ran multiple email campaigns using Kentico’s Contact Management and Email Marketing features to deliver messages segmented for audiences interested in retail products separately from products for industrial/commercial uses.

End results? 380% increase in use with a 78% increase in site entrances directly to the new "Where to Buy" versus the previous "Retailer Locator". Overall 12% increase of pageviews, and an 11% reduction in bounce rate – within the first 30 days. Visit clrbrands.com.

This blog was posted by Sandy on January 23.
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
Brand Strategy Agency, Brand Experience Chicago

To gain the insights necessary for the development and reinvention of your brand experience, our user experience experts center the conversation around your user needs, desires, and behaviors. We conduct user experience research to understand user motivations, brand perceptions and engagement opportunities, and gather competitive intelligence to reveal trends and hidden whitespace opportunities.

Our proprietary agency tools and UX approach allow us to learn as much as we can about your brand, its values, and your users. With our Brand Strategy Workshop, we immerse ourselves in your brand and your business objectives, and speak with stakeholders to gain leadership alignment. And we're extremely collaborative, because knowing that great idea when you hear it, see it, and feel it is much more important than where it came from.

Unlike traditional branding agencies where the focus is business-centric, we extend our reach and perspective by integrating user insights into our analysis so the new brand experience is a reflection on the users and their rapidly changing environments, technologies, motivations, and behaviors. 

We develop, enhance, and reinvent brand experiences through: 

  • Brand Strategy
  • Brand Identity
  • Brand Positioning and Key Messaging
  • Brand Management
  • Internal Brand Development

Want to explore ways to improve your brand strategy? Contact us.

This blog was posted by Sandy on January 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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