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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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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

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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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Emily Kodner
NICB Drupal 8 E-Commerce Site

At Sandstorm®, we take security seriously. For the not-for-profit National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), that means preventing insurance fraud and theft across the United States. NICB turned to Sandstorm to design and develop a brand-new website that could better help them advance their mission.

The launch of this site represents a significant shift for NICB. The previous website addressed two audiences: the general public and current members. By focusing on non-member audiences, NICB can more clearly convey their message and raise awareness with common consumers.

With an iterative, user-centered approach that utilized usability testing to refine navigation items and page layouts, we designed an intuitive user experience that we developed in Drupal 8. By building in the newest version of Drupal’s content management system, we were able to give NICB a robust e-commerce platform with an intuitive administrative interface.

We are honored to help NICB raise awareness of their mission and help combat insurance fraud and theft. Check out the new NICB website for yourself.

This blog was posted by Emily Kodner on November 21.
Emily Kodner

About the Author

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.

Sandy
Sandstorm winner of Inner City 100 for fourth year.

With a five-year growth rate of 120% and 2016 revenue exceeding $5 million, Sandstorm® once again made the list of the Top 100 Fastest Growing Inner City Companies in America recognized by Fortune and the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC).

ICIC’s Inner City 100 list seeks to celebrate and enable urban entrepreneurship. Over the course of nearly 20 years, ICIC has awarded 928 companies whose success illuminates the innovation and business growth happening in our inner cities.

The list of 2017 Inner City 100 companies was revealed at the 19th Annual Awards and Conference in Boston. Sandstorm rocketed up the list more than 30 places from 2016, coming in hot at #66. The full list can be viewed on the Fortune website.

“We are extraordinarily proud of these pioneering entrepreneurs who lead the way in innovation, job creation and the economic revitalization of America’s inner cities,” said Steve Grossman, CEO of ICIC. “In addition to excellence in business, they have also demonstrated a deep commitment to and passion for their communities, which plays a huge role in the wellbeing of their local economies,” he said.

At Sandstorm, we couldn’t be more honored and excited to be among these amazing winners, and we can’t wait for 2018.

This blog was posted by Sandy on October 24, 2017.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

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

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Sandy
Sandy Marsico at Solutions Day

Recently I had the honor of speaking at .orgCommunity’s Solutions Day 2017. Usability testing is a big part of how Sandstorm eliminates subjectivity from the creative process, so I wanted to show attendees how usability testing can help drive significantly improved user experiences.

With as few as 5–6 users, usability testing can identify 80% of user issues on a website or mobile app. Our Sandstormers have learned many lessons while performing more than 3,000 usability studies. These are just a few of the findings that can help you.

1. Members want to see real images of their peers.

We performed usability testing for the American Planning Association as part of a redesign of their website. During testing, we learned that their members found the stock photography used on their existing site inauthentic and unengaging.

APA before test

This simple finding led us to use professional photos of real APA members that improved engagement on key pages, including the homepage, Events page, and About Us page.

APA after test

2. Don’t put too many events on the homepage.

The Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) holds 1,200 events for 58 chapters across the globe each year, and they were struggling to find a way to highlight events.

Before we tested, ACG was including 25 events on their homepage, which was harming the user experience.

ACG before test

We needed to make it easy for members to find the events that were of interest, in their location, etc. So we created a featured event section on the homepage that links to an events page allowing users to filter by keyword, chapter, date, and event type.

ACG after test

3. Navigation items that require user action need an active verb in the title.

We made a surprising discovery while testing wireframe designs for a large non-profit organization: users thought the navigation items were too unclear and passive.

By adding active verbs to these items—for example, changing “Theft & Fraud Awareness” to “Prevent Theft and Fraud”—we were able to make the navigation clearer to users and let them know what they would be able to accomplish when visiting the page.

4. People miss content when there’s no visual cue.

Weber was redesigning the website for their grills and accessories and wanted to test several UX changes on a development environment before going live.

One of the issues we uncovered was that users didn’t know that the navigation items in the main menu expanded.

To solve this, we added carets next to the menu titles to indicate action. After making this simple fix, users clearly understood that they would find additional pages in the menu.

Weber after test

5. Using a search icon without an input field confuses users.

While redesigning the website for NOW Foods, we found that users were confused by a small change: we removed the input field for the search bar.

NOW Foods before test

By merely adding the field back to the search area, users could search the site with ease.

NOW Foods after test

Usability testing is a quick, simple way to improve the user experience, whether you’re creating a new site or app or redesigning what you have now. Contact us to learn more about how to execute your own usability test today.

This blog was posted by Sandy on September 29.
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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