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 mind reading fantasy
How great would it be if someone could read our minds and instantly reflect what we were thinking? Okay, it might be a bit creepy at first, but after we acclimated, it would be pretty fantastic. We would never have to order anything; we would just pay and collect our latte, salad, or sandwich. We would never argue with our spouse. We would always know what our boss wanted. It would be so productive, we would increase GDP by 200%.
Reality sets in
Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in today. So when clients want us to read their minds, we panic—and for good reason. We strive to embed ourselves into our clients’ organizations and businesses, but we are horrible mind readers. When budgets and timelines are tight (they always are), it’s best to align with a creative brief before jumping into creative execution: it saves time and money and prevents angst.
A tool that functions well in reality
Please plan for some time and money to invest in a well-written creative brief when you are planning on giving work to an agency or creative partner. Briefs give the agency time to process all of the information you have given them and think through any questions they may have. This distillation of information is an important step that allows for strategic thinking and alignment. The act of writing a brief is a discipline that requires prioritization and ensures the creative team has the right information before crafting a communication solution for you, the client.
Providing a way for effective creative evaluation across an organization
As a client, you should demand a brief when embarking on a creative project. It has a strong ROI and is the contract between you and the creative team in terms of what to expect when the agency presents creative to you. You should use this brief to evaluate the creative and ensure your internal stakeholders do the same thing. This ensures that your campaigns stay focused and on strategy. A brief also helps take personal preferences out of the equation and forces each evaluator to start to think in terms of your target market.
A simple solution, just add a pinch of discipline
I have worked in many places and with many clients that let the creative brief languish and even disappear. This results in many revisions, escalating budgets, and blown deadlines—not to mention awful creative executions. This is the epitome of the phrase “garbage in, garbage out.”
So if you want to ensure great creative that’s on budget and on schedule, you must invest the time and resources into developing a well-thought-out creative brief that has alignment from all stakeholders in the process. It’s a simple and classic tool that works.
As the newest addition to Sandstorm®, I’m excited to be a part of a development team that shares my passion for exploring and engaging with emerging technologies.
Although I grew up in North Carolina, I’m originally from the Chicago suburbs. I returned to the Chicagoland area before earning my Bachelor of Science at the University of Illinois and took my first post-college job at IKEA—where speaking Swedish wasn’t the advantage you’d think. After a brief stint as a paralegal—and the firm’s de facto IT guy—I discovered my passion for programming, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
I like to get a broad understanding at the start of new projects before diving into every facet; I want to explore the forest before I start planting (or chopping down) trees. And I love a good challenge: Whenever there’s a chance to solve a problem, you’ll find me there.
When I’m not taking on new challenges at Sandstorm, you can find me taking in a screening at the Music Box Theatre, enjoying a live show at one of Chicago’s amazing music venues, or at home expressing myself through writing and painting.
Sunday’s Super Bowl game was one for the ages—unless, that is, you had money on the Atlanta Falcons, who found a way to squander a 25-point lead.
The evening’s commercials featured a kaleidoscope of celebrity cameos, a split-second glimpse of the Budweiser Clydesdales, and the following winners and losers:
Avocados from Mexico’s “Avo Secrets” spot delivers a hysterical spoof of the Illuminati, poking fun at the secret society’s rituals and deflating its pomposity. The full-length version of the spot is literally laugh-out-loud funny.
“You don’t look like you’re from around here” is the line that opens Budweiser’s “Born the Hard Way” spot. The 60-second ad, which tracks Adolphus Busch’s long journey to America, served up one of the evening’s defter political statements on immigration.
Even more moving was “The Journey Begins” from 84 Lumber, which follows a mother and daughter making the daunting trek from Mexico to the United States. Broadcaster Fox had refused to air the original version of the spot, which ended with the pair arriving at a monolithic border wall. 84 Lumber ran a modified version of the spot during the game and invited viewers to visit its site to watch the full-length version, triggering so much traffic that the site crashed repeatedly throughout the evening.
“Go Further” charmingly demonstrated Ford’s commitment to innovation and its promise to help us “move through life faster, easier and better.” The spot provided the evening’s best soundtrack—Nina Simone’s civil rights anthem “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.”
Bai opens its spot with Christopher Walken solemnly intoning the lyrics to the ‘N Sync hit “Bye Bye Bye.” Justin Timberlake, clad in smoking jacket and ascot, delivers a silent but howlingly funny reaction. Perhaps the evening’s best use of a pop song to drive home the brand message.
John Malkovich is by turns furious, ingratiating and threatening as he seeks to wheedle the JohnMalkovich.com domain name from its owner in SquareSpace’s very funny spot that presents a memorable case for securing your domain name before it’s gone.
Packed with visual puns, TurboTax’s “Humpty Hospital” spot delivers an effective product demo amid the hilarity. When the yolk starts trickling, I dare you not to laugh.
Skittles’ “Romance” ad was the latest in a long line of inane “people will do anything to eat (insert product name here)” spots.
Kia’s “Hero’s Journey” ad, starring Melissa McCarthy, spent a glacier of money on special effects for a spot that, while aimed at the ecologically aware, actually belittled the efforts of environmentalists.
In a commercial for Sprite, basketball superstar LeBron James refuses to tell us to drink Sprite. Sorry, LBJ—not very funny.
Need help telling your brand’s story? Sandstorm helps clients build their brands and develop the strategies to effectively deliver their stories to their target audiences. Let us help you today.
For awhile there, in the land of web design, it seemed that sans serif fonts were taking over. Arial, Verdana, Geneva, and even san-serif itself. Google got in on the action too, ditching its long time faith in serif fonts for its new logo a few years back.
Serif fonts have come back into vogue. Errol Morris, filmmaker and author, ran an experiment in the New York Times in 2012. Readers thought they were merely reading an essay and deciding whether or not they agreed with a statement about security. This was, supposedly, to tell whether they were optimists or pessimists, however Morris was actually testing something else. He was testing fonts. He chose several serif and sans-serif fonts to see if readers showed a favoritism toward any type of font. Which font was more convincing? Baskerville, a serif font, won hands down.
I’m guessing one study from 4 years ago isn’t enough to get you back on the serif train. Well, just this year, another serif font Times New Roman, was voted “most trusted typeface” by UK company, solopress, following a survey of 1,000 people (Comic Sans came in second place, so no survey is perfect).
That’s not all, though. The US National Library of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control, as well as others in the crossroads between government and medicine recommend a serif font: “Serif fonts are usually easier to read than sans-serif fonts. This is because the serif makes the individual letters more distinctive and easier for our brains to recognize quickly” (PDF).
A few google searches will show you that serif fonts have a reputation for readability, but also for conveying nostalgia and authority.
One of our recent clients, Vibrant (Formerly DHCU) came to us with a rebrand. For this client, we needed a way to merge the fun and friendly atmosphere of their business, while not undermining the trust and reliability you’d expect from a financial institution. Our solution was a mix of exciting and engaging color for their brand married with a serif font for their logo to keep their brand grounded in the financial world.
If your website could use a new look, or you're looking to build trust and confidence with your brand, Sandstorm can help.
Now get your serif on (go ‘head, be gone with it).
Everyone makes predictions on the next big trend for 2017. This year, we ditched the crystal ball to give you actionable UX strategies that will drive growth and innovation in your organization.
1. Tap into your data and do something with it
Are you collecting tons of data but not using it? Are you looking at pages of reports with no actionable information? These are lost data mining opportunities that can help prioritize initiatives and allow your business to expand or pivot. When data is combined from multiple sources and analyzed properly, it can help you make more informed digital marketing decisions that can save marketing dollars or drive additional revenue. For 2017, commit to creating an analytics strategy to regularly uncover insights from your data.
2. Stop guessing and simply talk to your users
Take the subjectivity out of internal meetings and go straight to the source. It’s easier and cheaper than ever before to have quick and meaningful conversations with your users through social, one-to-one phone interviews, in-person at conferences and events, and usability studies. (Did you know you only need 5-6 users from a particular user group to identify 80% of the usability issues?)
3. Build a customer journey map
Brand engagements are moving off computer screens to cell phones, tablets, wearable tech, gaming consoles, and even smart devices like refrigerators. Understanding all the various touch points along your customer’s journey is critical to providing the consistent, personalized brand experience they expect.
4. Look outside your industry for inspiration
It’s easy to see what everyone else is doing within your industry. To identify white space opportunities for your organization, look up and out (e.g., if customer service is your differentiator, look at Southwest Airlines or Disney). Businesses in other industries may have already solved the problem you are looking to tackle—it just takes a little mindshift to find them.
Turning these 4 UX strategies into priorities in 2017 will give you quantitative and qualitative rationale to make better (and less subjective) digital marketing decisions.
The Sandstorm team keeps growing with the addition of Patrick Schreiber!
Patrick got into web and software design after building video games in college and has loved every minute of it. His work philosophy is inspired by the book “Rework,” and the passage about opening a hot dog stand. If you imagine you’re opening a hot dog stand, what do you need? You need a great hot dog. Everything else is peripheral, the condiments, decor, even the bun itself. If you can nail down the root of the product, then everything else will fall into place. So Patrick starts from the top (the blue-sky idea), validates the concept, pares down to the root of the problem before building out the idea.
Patrick is looking forward to applying his philosophy at Sandstorm by building customer-facing tech that directly impacts the user’s experience and their enjoyment of a product.
When off the clock, Patrick can be found playing pool and video games, curing homemade jerky, or making music in his home studio.
Hey there, I’m Joe, the new front end developer here at Sandstorm. I’m beyond happy to be working with such a fantastic team!
Although I didn’t start thinking about being a developer until the latter end of high school, I’ve been interested in using a computer to make things for as long as I can remember. In grade school, I spent hours directing and editing short movies with my friends and family. In college, I majored in interactive media with a concentration in game design, which was my main introduction to the world of development. In addition, I minored in graphic design and computer science, which served as a great foundation for transitioning more and more into web development.
I learned quite a bit during the past couple of years at my job right out of college. I was able to cut my teeth on a lot of different aspects of web development before settling on front end development as my primary passion. I’m excited to contribute to a team that is so passionate about their work, and am looking forward to learning as much as I can in the process.
In my spare time, I’m probably spending way too much time watching the Cubs (I wrote a Twitter bot last year that tweets out whenever the St. Louis Cardinals lose a game), catching some live music, relaxing with a video game, or working on a personal project (which usually never gets finished or sees the light of day, but still serves as a good way to teach myself new things).
With 2017 right around the corner, the Sandstorm team has been dreaming about what’s to come in the new year. Taking our core values as inspiration (Warrior Spirit, Learning and Sharing, and Have Fun!), we each set a New Year’s resolution. From running 5Ks to learning a new language to dancing more, our goals for 2017 ran the gamut (you can see all of them here).
Dreaming is never enough for us, so we activated 6 of our resolutions as GIFs to celebrate the season with all of you.
core value: warrior spirit
resolutions: compete in a 5K race
Many of our staff have the classic resolution to run a 5K, but our Copywriter Bill wants to compete in a race to raise money for Open Heart Magic. Bill is a magician for the nonprofit Open Heart Magic, which brings the surprise and excitement of magic to children in Chicago area hospitals.
core value: warrior spirit
resolution: plan a beautiful wedding
Lisa, one of our Digital Strategists, just got engaged! So who can blame her for having the big day on her mind? Her resolution is planning a beautiful wedding and fun reception while keeping her type A personality at bay.
core value: learning and sharing
resolution: learn a new language
Most of our staff have been bitten by the travel bug, but our Creative Director John and Production Designer Jason are taking it one step further by learning Italian and Japanese, respectively.
core value: learning and sharing
resolution: learn new tech skills
Staying on top of the latest tech developments is just part of being a Sandstormer. Andy, our Senior Engineer and Team Lead, is going to extend his knowledge by becoming a Drupal 8 expert and Joshua, our Marketing Manager, wants to master HTML so he can perfect our email newsletters.
core value: have fun!
resolution: dance like nobody’s watching
Our Front-End Developer Adam will be relieving some stress in 2017 by letting loose and not caring what anyone thinks.
core value: have fun!
resolution: I want to be the very best, like no one ever was.
Pokemon took over the world this summer, and our office was no different. Interaction Designer Jesse’s new life motto also happens to be lyrics from the Pokémon theme.
Sandstorm is happy to assist in dreaming up 2017 marketing resolutions with you and help activate them in the new year.
The Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) and Fortune has announced that Sandstorm has been selected for prestigious 2016 Inner City 100 list. This recognition places Sandstorm in an exemplary lineage of nearly 900 fast-growing and innovative inner city businesses.
ICIC’s Inner City 100 is an annually compiled and released list featuring high-power, high-potential businesses from around the country with headquarters in inner cities. Each company is selected by ICIC with help from a national network of nominating partners who seek to identify, spotlight, and further enable the named companies’ innovative urban entrepreneurship. Ranked by revenue growth, the esteemed recipients go on to have their names published in Fortune.
Sandstorm ranked 95 overall on the list of 100 and it is the third time we have been honored with this distinction. We reported 2015 revenues of 4.29 million and a five-year growth rate of 117% percent from 2011-2015. In the past year Sandstorm has added a number of new positions, including a Digital Strategist, Marketing Manager, Front-End Developer, Director of Analytics & Optimization and a Creative Director.
The full list can be viewed on the Fortune website here.
“We are extraordinarily proud of these pioneering entrepreneurs who lead the way in economic revitalization in America’s inner cities,” says Steve Grossman, CEO of ICIC, of the list of 100.
The Inner City 100 program recognizes and supports successful inner city business leaders, and celebrates their role in providing innovation and job creation in America’s cities. These companies strengthen local American economies, provide job opportunities for underrepresented communities, and drive forward economic and social development.
I can finally break my silence.
In July, I was lucky enough to be a part of the first ever screening for Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them. While sneak peek screenings seem like a nice movie treat, the studio did it to gather user research on the film. So, in exchange for my feedback, I got to see a highly anticipated holiday movie months before anyone else. I also signed my life away so that I wouldn’t leak any spoilers before the movie was released.
But now that Newt Scamander’s beasts have escaped I can share my viewing experience with you.
First off, the movie I saw wasn’t even finished. The Demiguise and other beasts were barely animated, and some scenes didn’t have CGI effects at all (we just saw captions about what was supposed to be going on). Also, they added a completely new supporting character and announced Johnny Depp’s cameo as Grindelwald; the movie has clearly changed.
The interesting thing is that the studio still wanted feedback on this uncompleted version of the movie. It was finished enough that it ran as a coherent story that could be critiqued, but it was also early enough in the process that changes could be made without costing a fortune.
Sandstorm® follows a similar path in project management: We test or get client feedback multiple times throughout a project to gather insights and make small changes along the way. This allows us to create informed designs, manage our resources better, and avoid redoing work because everyone was not on the same page.
To find the insights the studio was looking for they utilized 3 user research methods:
- Survey –Everyone in the theater was asked to fill out a 6-page survey. This included demographic info on the viewers, previous interest in the Harry Potter universe, and what we did and didn’t like about the human characters, beasts and the movie in general.
- Focus Group – A handful of people stayed behind to participate in a focus group and give more feedback on the movie.
- Observation–The studio had people stationed all over the theater ready to record the audience reaction (i.e., did a certain scene get the laugh they were expecting?).
This mix of research methods resulted in both qualitative and quantitative data that the studio used to tweak the movie and the marketing strategy for optimal appeal to no-majs and wizards alike.
Sandstorm is ready to apply these research methods, and many more, to help create a magical brand experience for your business.