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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

2017 Super Bowl Ads

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:

Touchdowns

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. 

Fumbles

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.

 

This blog was posted by on February 7.
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.

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Sandy
Information Architecture Design and Wireframe Development with Web Usability Standards: Chicago

Intuitive navigation is one of the secrets to an easy-to-use website. Our approach is to establish data and information architecture based on personas, usability test results, user research insights, and web usability standards to intuitively organize and connect your audience to the content they need. In order to quickly convey the organization of information, we develop clickable wireframe prototypes to visually demonstrate information priorities, basic layout, and navigational structure.

wireframe development with web usability standards

Wireframes are similar to a blueprint for building a house. A wireframe is generally black and white, contains very little graphic design, and identifies the general placement of web site elements and information including your main nav, user interaction points, news section, image area, content area, shopping cart, etc. This forces you to consider the site's functionality, instead of focusing on a graphical treatment.

Information architecture design and wireframe development is part of the responsive web design and web development process reducing your costs and saving time. Making changes to the wireframe is much faster than making creative and development changes.

This blog was posted by Sandy on February 5.
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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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).

This blog was posted by on January 27.
Jason Dabrowski

About the Author

Jason Dabrowski

Jason is one of Sandstorm’s designers and also helps keep the office running smoothly. As a veteran of the theatre—from acting to directing, lighting to set design—he knows the value of hard work and a positive attitude. Look for his unique voice on the blog.

ux, ux strategy, strategy, usability, 2017, trends

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.  

 
This blog was posted by on January 18.
joshua sovell

About the Author

Joshua Sovell

As the Marketing Manager Joshua is in charge of crafting the Sandstorm narrative via compelling blog content and community engagement.

Janna
Here are 3 ways to improve your corporate blog

Let's face it, some blogs are just boring. Blogs aren't white papers. They are stories written by people. Opinions, levity, original ideas, relevant humor, these are things that all humans have, and corporate blogs should be no different. That doesn't mean that it can't be “professional.” None of those attributes disqualify anyone from being seen as an expert; it just means that it should have some life! But how?

Tune Your Tone

Tone is tricky, and corporate blogs have a history of tonal shortcomings. Finding your tone will come from your culture:

  • the attitudes of your employees
  • the environment of your office
  • the creativity of your work

Don't stifle these things. Each of them goes into what makes your company unique and can drive your content strategy. One of the best ways to share that uniqueness is with a company blog.

Craft Your Conversation

In The Corporate Blogging Book, Debbie Weil says there are three Cs of blogging, "be conversational, cogent, and compelling." Blogs should start dialogues with your audience, not force rhetoric down their throats. Caterpillar regularly uses their blog to engage in relevant discussions with their audience. Maintaining a conversational tone is key to avoiding a boring blog. Have some fun — you can have an expert voice and still have a heart. It can be a fancy three-piece suit with a silly tie. Also, don't forget to follow up with audience comments to keep the conversation going. Check out web app company 37 Signals blog.

Be, Befriend, or Buy a Blogger

You have established a tone and crafted the conversation you want to have with your audience, but there is still one more big hurdle. You may be the foremost thinker in the area of international toothpaste distribution, but that doesn't necessarily make you a blogger. If you look to your innerself and don't find a blogger, chances are there is someone capable within your office. It is easier, and smarter, to dictate your ideas to someone who already has a grasp on tone, than to try to "discover" it yourself. If all else fails, hire someone. Finding someone who can succinctly capture the voice of your company, while still being entertaining and conversational is essential to beating the boredom! Are you ready to breathe life into your corporate blog?

This blog was posted by Janna on January 15.
Janna Fiester

About the Author

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.

Nick
Analytics and Optimization

Data is prolific. Not all of it is meaningful or easily understandable.

How do you make data work for you and your business? By turning white noise into actionable intelligence. Whether your goal is to attract more customers, sell more products, educate more consumers, keep your team members engaged, raise awareness for your cause, or just understand who visits your website, we offer services such as data strategy, visualization and analysis. If you are looking to predict what will happen next, such as who will purchase my product in the future, we can also help with our data science offerings.

Whether your target conversions are increasing visitor count, newsletter subscriptions, contact form submissions, purchases through your e-commerce site, hits through organic search, engagement through social media, or general public awareness, we use data from a variety of sources, expert strategy, and analytical processes and tools to deliver quantifiable results.

Our services are designed to help you become a data-driven, and predictive, organization:

Data Strategy
Let's work together to collect the right data in the right way for easier reporting and analysis. We'll help identify what type of data you have access to, in what format, what can you do with it, and identify a long-term plan to leverage your data for intelligent, real-time decision-making.

Data Visualization & Reporting
Make sense of your data quickly through visualization. Rows and rows of static data become interactive real-time charts, graphs, maps, or customized reports for any end user.

Statistical Analysis
Understand critical factors, trends and relationships affecting your business and how to effectively pivot in order to achieve your business goals.

Predictive Analytics
Looking to learn what will happen in your business? We can work with you on building custom machine learning models to help you forecast and predict your business.

Web Analytics, SEO/SEM & Insights
Provides your people the data that they need to know how they are performing on their goals and the key indicators that drive your business. Brings you our expert opinions on how to improve your existing analytics implementation, data management, and ability to derive insights. Increases awareness and convenience by bringing your website, online tools, or other web presence to the top of search results. Drives qualified traffic and conversions through targeted advertisements based on the search requests that people make.

A/B and Optimization Testing
Makes your website, mobile application, or other user interface more efficient and effective by giving visitors multiple versions of pages, content, and layout, and measuring what gets the most response.

Ready to use data to improve your business? Contact us.
 

Sandstorm proudly works with:

Qualtrics
Tableau
 
 
 

This blog was posted by Nick on January 10.
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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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.

This blog was posted by on December 14.
joshua sovell

About the Author

Joshua Sovell

As the Marketing Manager Joshua is in charge of crafting the Sandstorm narrative via compelling blog content and community engagement.

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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. 

This blog was posted by on December 7.
joshua sovell

About the Author

Joshua Sovell

As the Marketing Manager Joshua is in charge of crafting the Sandstorm narrative via compelling blog content and community engagement.

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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.

This blog was posted by on November 22.
joshua sovell

About the Author

Joshua Sovell

As the Marketing Manager Joshua is in charge of crafting the Sandstorm narrative via compelling blog content and community engagement.

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user research, UX, usability, World Usability Day, UX research

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.  

Key Findings

  1. The majority of Sandstormers want to, and do, recycle
  2. 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

  1. Ensure bins are present by every desk and in every conference room
  2. Clearly communicate what can and cannot be recycled
  3. Reduce plasticware/food waste
  4. 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.

This blog was posted by on November 10.
joshua sovell

About the Author

Joshua Sovell

As the Marketing Manager Joshua is in charge of crafting the Sandstorm narrative via compelling blog content and community engagement.

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