James Wynne is Director of User Experience for Sandstorm and has been in digital product development since 1996. He has worked as a UX designer for a myriad of clients including large eCommerce brands, mobile device manufacturers and integrated marketing agencies.
There seems to be a holiday for everything now, including user experience. And Sandstorm couldn’t help but celebrate it.
The theme for World Usability Day 2016—Sustainable User Experience (UX)—unites UX and sustainability through the shared objective of creating unparalleled experiences. At Sandstorm, we understand the impact UX research and design can have on projects and, most importantly, people.
So we got excited to capitalize on our UX expertise while cleaning up our office recycling habits.
We assembled a team of eco-warriors—aka UX architects and marketing specialists—to investigate our team’s recycling habits. By utilizing user interviews—one of many types of user research—for this project, we were able to better understand current behaviors in the office and identify opportunities for improvement.
We asked our team members questions about their basic recycling knowledge, why they recycle, and what keeps them from recycling at the office. We uncovered two key findings from our research and, as a result, devised four ways to improve recycling.
- The majority of Sandstormers want to, and do, recycle
- The most significant barrier to recycling is Sandstormers’ uncertainty as to whether an item can be recycled or not
Ways to Improve Recycling at Sandstorm
- Ensure bins are present by every desk and in every conference room
- Clearly communicate what can and cannot be recycled
- Reduce plasticware/food waste
- Explore purchasing a dishwasher
Usability is about tweaking what you currently have to create a more effective experience; our user research showed that—with Sandstormers already in the habit of recycling—we need only to implement a few minor changes to encourage greener behaviors.
And just because we have action items now doesn’t mean our process is over. We will continue to track office recycling, and do follow up user research, to ensure office recycling is optimized for a greener tomorrow.
Here at Sandstorm we don’t simply “refresh” a website, we help businesses evolve their brand. Which is exactly what we did for Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) when they wanted their website to project a more modern feel with digital prowess.
Our first move was a content audit to get our arms around the site and understand the complex mission of AAM (empowering media professionals with trusted verification and data). From there we created a set of information architecture (IA) guidelines that informed the responsive website design. Through our thoughtful research and strict IA guidelines we were able to deliver a new website, with approachable messaging, that spoke to their various audiences.
As more brands tap into the power of stories to transform their identities and elevate their market presence, content marketing strategies become ever more essential.
Smart companies make their brand story the cornerstone of their content marketing strategy, ensuring the content they create across all media is aligned to the right platforms and consistent with the brand narrative.
“Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make,” Seth Godin reminds us, “but about the stories you tell.”
And for good reason—stories are a powerful tool in human communication. From the tales of the hunt shared by our primitive forbears as they crouched around the fire, to the well-worn narratives we tell children at bedtime, stories provide an integral means of connecting.
But what is it about stories that makes them so powerful?
Research indicates that the human brain responds to the descriptive power of stories in deeply affecting ways, influencing both the sensory and motor cortex. To read a story—or have one told to us—is to feel an experience and synchronize our minds with the subject of the story.
In a recent Princeton study, researchers call this synchronization neural coupling.
Through neural coupling, a speaker and a listener share a story that allows their brains to interact dynamically. During the process of storytelling, similar brain activity occurs in both people simultaneously, affecting the same areas of the brain.
If the story is effectively told, the listener’s brain activity mirrors the speaker’s activity. Successful neural coupling produces greater comprehension, understanding, anticipation and receptivity.
The net effect of these qualities is trust. A storyteller can literally generate trust in the audience.
But how do you achieve this?
Here are a few characteristics of a compelling story:
- It's true. Make truth the foundation of everything you create. Your marketing content should feature real people, real situations, genuine emotions and facts. It should explain, in terms people can relate to, how your brand adds value to the lives of your customers.
- It's human. Even if your company sells to other companies, focus on how your products or services touch the lives of actual people. Empathy for the target is essential. When writing about people, be specific enough to be believable and universal enough to be relevant.
- It's original. Your story should offer a fresh perspective: What's interesting about your brand? Why should people care?
- It serves the customer. If your brand story comes off feeling corporate-centric, you’ve lost the target and may never get them back. People want to read about themselves—so make sure that’s what your brand story is all about.
A great story, expertly told, builds a strong bond with your audience. Incorporating storytelling into your content marketing strategy helps you make a powerful connection and deliver your message in a profoundly personal way.
Sandstorm helps clients develop content marketing strategies and write brand stories that resonate with target audiences and build the key elements that produce trust. Let us help you write yours.
While it would have been easy to take a don’t-mess-with-success approach, our warrior spirit drove us to collaborate with a large insurance company's federal employee program to further optimize their existing responsive web application (which we built a year earlier) to continue to increase online enrollment.
We started with a thoughtful review of their Google Analytics and conducted a heuristic analysis of the app. This allowed us to dig into the data analytics and find new opportunities to improve the application. Combine that with our existing expertise in the FEP program, and we were able to make some adjustments and update the overall interface to provide their users with an even more intuitive tool to help them find a benefit plan that fits their needs.
Sandstorm® is ready to help you develop a web app to convert your users.
In the spirit of our 3rd core value, Have Fun, each year Sandstorm has a Super Secret Event! Our Co-Captains of Fun, Alicia Newland & Nathan Hass, plan everything with our CEO Sandy Marsico. In past years we have gone to a Cubs game, an arcade & bowling.
This year we grabbed lunch at Emerald Loop, to ensure everyone was maxed out on energy for the main event: a scavenger hunt. The staff broke up into 5 teams for a digital scavenger hunt taking us all over the loop. The riddle clues led us to familiar landmarks like the Chicago Theater & the Chicago Cultural Center, and some interesting new places like Harlan J. Berk Ltd., coin dealer, looking for trivia answers. Some of the clues were a little more active and we had to snap a picture of the team doing ballet outside of the Joffery Ballet, posing on 1 leg with Calder’s Flamingo statue in Federal Plaza and double-checking the time with the famous Marshal Fields Great Clock.
Our core values help us accomplish our mission: to create a place for like-minded people to have fun & do things in a way that hasn’t been done before. We understand that some of the best ideas come from giving our inner-selves a place to explore & play. Beyond our Super Secret Event, we keep the fun rolling with a Guac Off, Halloween Costume Contest, Holiday Pajama Day and other pop up events throughout the year.
If “Have Fun” is one of your core values, check out our join the team page for open positions and to submit your resume.
There is an insane amount of content being produced today, and it’s only going to accelerate. Content Marketing Institute reports 69% of marketers are creating more content now vs. just 1 year ago, and 48% of marketers say they publish content either daily or multiple times per week. In addition, highly-funded, rapidly growing online education startups (Khan Academy, edX, Coursera) are potentially putting your association’s educational content at risk and adding to the content storm.
To help cut through the noise, a content strategy—or a “content framework”—can be your association’s filter as you plan, develop and manage your content. How nice would it be to have the confidence to say “yes” or “no” to a content topic based on your content strategy, not to mention leadership support?
To start crafting your content strategy, follow these 5 steps:
Step 1 - Know the problem you are trying to solve
Have you defined the goals your association is trying to reach via content (increase member engagement, attract new members, increase event registrations, etc.)? Knowing from the beginning what your goals are, and getting alignment from your team, will create a more focused content strategy. It sounds basic, but I can’t tell you how many times goals are misaligned, not written down and not agreed to.
It’s also important to get to know your members’ goals. People are afraid they are not relevant anymore because they can’t keep up. Meet people where they are at—keep people relevant. If you did nothing today, but used relevancy as your filter, how much content would you have left? How useful is some of your existing content from just a few years ago?
Step 2 - Really get to know who you are trying to reach
Understanding whom you are writing for is key to content strategy, but you should not assume anything. Do your research to confirm who your members are and uncover new insights. You can conduct 1-1 user research interviews with your members and non-members to learn what type of content they want from you, identify content needs during a usability study, or even send out a survey if your association doesn’t already do that too often. For the best results, speak with members, instead of just your board and volunteers.
Step 3 - Establish your association’s voice & tone
All of your content needs to sound like it is coming from 1 voice, even though you probably have several people writing for you. You may even have volunteers, sponsors, and members writing too! Will you speak in the first person or third person? Conversational, formal, or business casual? Defining this as part of your content strategy will help create a unified voice and tone across channels, and give you guidance as you write, edit and govern your content.
Step 4 - Align your stakeholders and focus your communication
Build a content strategy statement, that can be used as a dual-filter, to omit what content you don’t need and to produce new content in line with your goals. Just like a garden, you need to weed out underperforming content to allow other content to thrive.
Step 5 - Develop a content plan
A content plan helps you define your channels, audience, purpose, topics and goals. Understanding where to deliver your content can be just as important as what content you create. Don’t feel like you need to use every channel, and reuse or edit content to fit the platform and audience (a presentation can be a webinar, video, slideshare or a blog). It’s also really great to have a plan so you know where to put that last video that was just created, or photos from your annual meeting. Many associations blast the same content to every channel, even though they know they shouldn’t, simply because there was no strategy or plan.
Without a content strategy, your association may be wasting a lot of time, money and resources. Relevant content comes from the intersection of what you think is important and what interests your members. I’m confident that your association can create stellar, focused and insightful content by taking a little time upfront to develop your content strategy.
Prefer some help?
Sandstorm® has been helping associations conduct member research, identify content requirements, and craft their narratives through content marketing for almost 20 years. And our in-house team of UX strategists and website engineers build beautiful, data-driven websites that make content easy to find, easy to consume, and easy to share. Reach out if you want to talk through how we can help!
As healthcare costs continue to rise, value-based care has emerged as a way to improve patient care and reduce costs. Value-based care departs from the traditional fee-for-service model where physicians and facilities are paid for the tests and procedures they supply, and instead institutes a patient-centered system that pays doctors and hospitals based on the quality of care they provide.
Prominent employers, private health plans, and the federal government have embraced the shift from fee-for-service to value-based payment models—including accountable care organizations, bundled payments, and patient centered medical homes—but widespread adoption has been slower than expected.
A study from Quest Diagnostics and Inovalon (PDF) implies that the adoption rate has been hindered by a lack of tools for professionals to succeed in a value-based care system. Nearly two-thirds of physicians and health plan executives said that they do not have the tools needed to succeed in a value-based care system.
It’s unlikely that this will remain an issue for long, as solutions that advance value-based care initiatives, such as health apps, are a primary focus among innovators in medtech, according to PwC’s Health Research Institute. Half of the top ten medical device companies are offering customized solutions independent of any product offerings, while 70 percent are shifting toward services-based offerings.
Many of the top healthcare technology advances to watch for 2016, as identified by the ECRI Institute, point the way toward value-based care. Mobile stroke units, wireless wearable sensors, and miniature leadless pacemakers will have significant effects on patient care and allow medical professionals to provide a holistic service inside and outside of a healthcare facility.
Sandstorm is currently working on several projects that incorporate analytics into medical and health applications and offer tools for healthcare professionals to succeed in a value-based care system. One of these innovative projects is an iPhone app for physicians and medical coders that allows them to:
- Track the number of patients moving through a facility
- Identify trends in diagnosis within facilities and across regions
- Assess physician performance
- Ensure the quality of care provided
This application can increase efficiency by enabling reassignment of patients and doctors to facilities based on need, and allowing hospital administrators to identify trends in patient care and illness to offer more effective treatment.
For medical professionals, the app will address one of the most common barriers to mobile technology in healthcare: a lack of internet connectivity in hospitals. The app will offer an offline mode, which will allow doctors to continue tracking their work as they make their rounds. Once their device reestablishes a Wi-Fi connection, the app will immediately upload data back to the server.
At Sandstorm, we’re looking forward to providing more innovative tools to providers and organizations throughout the healthcare industry that enable the implementation of a value-based care system.
Analytics are now a standard piece to any project. Our society has evolved into a data-rich environment, allowing for greater consumer insights and in turn smarter analytics strategies. However, some businesses are approaching analytics as an afterthought and as a "nice to have" option. They put a great deal of work into setting up sites, landing pages, campaigns, etc, but are then only looking at analytics as simple measurements of success/failure and not the dynamic journey it should be.
Often times when setting up reporting tools, people take a “set it and forget it” approach. They establish an idea of what data they need, set up a dashboard and some notifications and then it is managed as time allows by someone whose main responsibilities are elsewhere in IT or Marketing. Worse, they don’t even configure the reporting tools and just go with the default settings. They essentially put it on autopilot, and it fails to take into account feedback and doesn’t allow room for shifting strategy due to changing goals.
An effective analytics strategy is a dynamic journey built around the analytical data where the strategy is adjusted accordingly to drive goals and conversions. It is a very agile process of frequent measurement, discovery, strategy, and course adjustment.
Recently, we worked with a client in their higher education industry who ran frequent email, SEM, display, and offline campaigns. As part of the project to help them redefine marketing strategy, we reviewed their analytics for clickstream (Google Analytics), search engine (AdWords), and member data (their CRM system). They were very concerned with increasing new leads, as well as monitoring the established leads down the funnel to drive sales conversions. They had a small marketing team with a wide variety of responsibilities and were looking for ways to measure success without requiring too much time from their team.
We did two things for them: provided analytics training and automated as much of the process as possible. In the training we gave them tools to eliminate unneeded information from their data stream and to track goals accordingly. With automatization we set up message reporting around goals and added attribution and valuation to maximize the mix of offline and online channels. Both of these tactics streamline the process allowing the team to spend less time pulling reports and more time to strategize around the results.
We acknowledge that people will be at different comfort levels with their analytics and data stream, but analytics will only work as hard as you do. Like other parts of business, you need to build an analytics strategy that not only defines goals but continually informs them. Once you have the strategy it is easy to set up a process to track, monitor and adjust your analytics strategy.
If you need help turning your analytics strategy into a dynamic journey, contact Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org
I recently had the incredible opportunity to travel to Dubai. It’s a city of extremes: intense 120° F heat, malls with skiing and diving—with tiger sharks—and architectural feats beyond my wildest imagination. Out of all these wonders, what impressed me the most was the ever-evolving infrastructure of this bustling, technologically advanced city.
In Dubai, the roads change constantly to account for all of the new construction. In fact, they change so frequently that residents and taxi drivers say they often run into a dead end or end up trapped on a road that has changed overnight. GPS isn’t just used for convenience in Dubai, it’s used for survival.
A website’s information architecture is a lot like a city’s infrastructure: as you add new information, you need to create new navigation. If you’re constantly changing where you place information and how customers navigate your website, your users will be just as lost as drivers in Dubai.
A common method to improve the user experience (or UX) of a digital space is to mimic a real world pattern. For example, e-commerce mimics a grocery store: you typically have a shopping cart, you add to the shopping cart, and then you go through the checkout process.
The challenge comes when you start building and adding on to the original experience. While Dubai’s original city center is pretty easy to navigate, as the city grew at a rapid pace the new roads ignored the original conventions. Often—to accommodate new construction—roads had to be shifted and changed, causing friction and confusion among drivers. When designing your website, it’s imperative that you account for how it may evolve in the future and avoid foreseeable challenges as your company grows.
Sandstorm has a dedicated team of UX design specialists—including designers, architects and researchers—who help clients build websites that utilize information architecture best practices and provide cutting-edge user experiences.
Everyone loves a good storyteller, and as Ira Glass once said, "Great stories happen to those who can tell them." Due to their resources, brands are uniquely positioned to tell great stories across a variety of channels.
If you’re not writing your brand’s autobiography, there’s someone out there ready to tell the unauthorized story—whether that’s a competitor, publishers, reviewers, consumers or search engines. Whoever has the best story wins, but you don’t need a seven-figure budget to tell compelling tales across your marketing channels.
Know Your Audience—and Speak to Them
If you think you can make a connection with everyone, you’ll end up appealing to no one. We’re being inundated with thousands of pieces of content every day, and our attention span has diminished to eight seconds. Your message needs to grab attention quickly or it will get buried in the white noise of continuous content.
It pays to know your audience, because you can deliver targeted communications with precision. Sandstorm’s award-winning work with Holden is a perfect example of the impact a brand can have when they know their audience. Holden’s customers saw sales training as ineffective and inefficient. By making the disruptive statement “sales training is over,” Holden communicated how they could relieve this major pain point. The success of this messaging can be measured by the company achieving 106 percent of their annual lead generation goal in the first half of the year.
Step 2: Position Your Brand for Success
It’s exceptionally difficult to tell a compelling narrative about your brand if your brand isn’t compelling. That doesn’t mean you have to become something you’re not, but it does mean that you should be able to easily identify and communicate your value proposition in a way that engages your customer. If your current brand can’t do that, it might be time for a rebrand.
The world’s most valuable brands have well-defined personalities: Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Disney, and GE all have a very clear identity that allows them a shorthand with their customers. And over the years those companies have allowed their brands to evolve and change with their audience.
Step 3: Develop a Content Strategy—and Document It
Content marketing has become ubiquitous in the industry. 93 percent of B2B marketers report that they used content marketing as part of their brand strategy in 2014. Almost every brand is utilizing blogs, videos, e-newsletters, whitepapers, infographics, listicles, or some form of content to meet the needs of their prospects.
Documentation is essential to getting support from executives and communicating tactics with content writers and creatives. Instead of existing as a nebulous set of ideas, a documented content strategy provides reference material for the organization that can be continually revised and improved, and helps track failed and successful initiatives.
Part of your brand strategy should involve determining what types of content and which channels are right for you. If your audience are predominantly consumers between the ages of 18 and 24, then video content on Snapchat. If your target audience are business people over the age of 35, then you may want to promote white papers and industry blogs on LinkedIn.
Step 4: Optimize For Search
In 1999, Google handled roughly three million searches per day. In 2012, Google stated that they handled over three billion searches per day, accounting for 65 percent of total searches in the United States. Bing and Yahoo make up the majority of the rest with 20.3 percent and 12.7 percent, respectively.
Brands understand that search engines are contributors to their story and reputation, and so are the consumers and writers whose reviews and articles appear at the top of SERPs.
SEO is constantly evolving, so if your content isn’t optimized to meet today’s best practices, you’ll miss out on a massive opportunity for your story to be heard. And search engines can help you identify and develop the right content as well: Google’s Keyword Planner is a great way to find the stories customers want to hear using search queries and long-tail keyword phrases.
Step 5: Work Within Your Means
Over the past several years, content marketing has evolved into brand publishing, with large corporations curating targeted lifestyles via a stream of content that rivals the New York Times in quantity. Red Bull, for example, has dedicated their website to music, fitness, sports and adventure, with only a small ad for their new Red Bull Summer Edition near the footer signifying their existence as a beverage company. And Red Bull’s not alone: Intel’s iQ, Adobe’s CMO.com, and American Express’s Open Forum are just a few examples of brands acting as publishers.
Most companies don’t have the capital to spend on brand publishing and experiential marketing, and that’s okay. You don’t need to keep up with the quantity of content these brands offer, but you do need to compete against their creativity. All it takes is one great video, one indispensable article, one engaging social media post to capture consumer mindshare.
Sandstorm® has been helping brands craft their narrative through content marketing for almost 20 years. From B2B to B2C, SEO to PPC, we can develop the right content marketing strategy that ensures you’re the one telling the story of your brand.