Sandstorm Blog

Laura
Creative user interface design inspiration from PopTech

Laura recently attended the PopTech conference in Camden, Maine. We’ll hear more about her experience in the coming weeks, but here’s a sneak peek of all the inspiration that abounded that weekend, much of which Laura brought back with her.

Need a bit of magic for your workday?

Artichoke is a creative company that works with artists to invade our public spaces and put on extraordinary and ambitious events that live in the memory forever…

This was one of the most inspirational talks of my PopTech experience. Artichoke creates magic and inspires individuals, who don’t usually have creating magic in their job description, to embrace magic without hesitation. The people at Artichoke remove the debate about risk and reward with their government and community partners, and replace it with a camaraderie and shared belief in the power of something bigger.

As a creative professional, I found the construct shift not only inspiring but immensely valuable to assisting my clients on their journeys to rethink the possibilities of their businesses, and in embracing the sheer power of a creative idea.

Hope you are as inspired as I was, and that this gives you the much-needed energy boost to continue moving your creativity forward.

This blog was posted by Laura on November 20, 2013.
Laura Luckman Kelber

About the Author

Laura Luckman Kelber

Chief Strategy Officer, Laura Luckman Kelber leads Sandstorm's team of strategists with wisdom from her 20 years of marketing experience. Combining seemingly disparate ideas to solve a problem, Laura unearths unexpected insights to help clients’ fuel their success.

Derek
No more stock photography, please!

Is that person famous? Did they go to my high school? Do I see them on the bus? Yes, you saw them on the bus… in the ads over your head.

These images are the worst. They serve a purpose for their businesses, but at what cost? I can think of 5 big reasons why I’m sick of stock photography (and really respect businesses that use custom images).

1. It looks cheap (because it is).

Stock photography looks nice but is not memorable. It comes at a fraction of the cost of a photo-shoot, and it shows. No photographers, creative direction, or editing, just the picture. Let’s compare it to a big box retailer. You can walk up, find what you want, and use it immediately.

2. It’s off brand, and I don’t trust it.

Stock imagery doesn’t look like your company. Your customers find it hard to identify with the images. Your clients and partners know your company and the people that they work with at your company. Whether or not they’ve ever been to your office, they’ve seen pictures on social media or LinkedIn. You don’t want them to ask, “Is this the right site?”

3. It’s generic and cliché.

You see these pictures everywhere. Certain faces can be found on billboards, bus stop ads, magazines, spam emails, and the list goes on. Do you want to make your company blend in or stand out? With stock imagery you run the risk of triggering subliminal thoughts of other companies. Your brand is unique and provides a unique service, don’t accidentally align yourself with another entity that has no connection at all.

4. It looks dated.

Times change. Pictures don’t. Take a trip searching for stock photography you’ll take a trip back through time: hairstyles, clothing and technology. (That 13” monitor really seals the deal.) You’ll see the 80s, 90s, and things that look dated by just a few years. Your business is constantly evolving. You don’t want to display a masthead that looks like you’re stuck in the past.

5. It doesn’t reflect your culture.

Diversity is important. There is no denying that, but it should be more important in your company than in the pictures you choose. If you’re showing the world that you have a more diverse workplace than you have, well, that’s dishonest.

Many companies and individuals make decisions based on diversity. You don’t want a new client to be surprised when your staff looks nothing like the staged image on your “About Us” page. Post a real image of your team. They (and I) will be impressed when you have a diverse and vibrant workforce. Until then…

Be yourself

Photos of your business, your people, doing your work, is an investment in your future. By using photos of your office, you’re showing who you are, your culture, how you work, what you do.

It’s like if someone has a Facebook profile picture of a quote or a famous person or a turtle. What are they hiding? Probably nothing. So, don’t hide. It costs more, but it’s worth it to use yourself and your staff as the face of your company. Act natural, don’t look at the camera, and take credit for your good work.

This blog was posted by Derek on October 24, 2013.
Derek Vanderlaan

About the Author

Derek Vanderlaan

Derek Vander Laan is Sandstorm's Senior Design Architect. With 20 years of experience, he designs web sites, infographics, and interactive digital experiences. His creative skills are always at work either at his desk or plotting a prank for someone else's.

Will
Brand strategy - voice and tone

What sets authors apart? Subject matter? Historical context? It really boils down to their words. Read these three literary excerpts.

  1. The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper.
  2. When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits.
  3. It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.

These are clearly from different authors. One is a British master (Charles Dickens), an American man’s man (Ernest Hemingway), and an Edinburgh single mother with a love of magic (J.K. Rowling). Without knowing who was who, you could tell simply from the test that every passage was at least from a different person (yet alone a different time period).

How does your business communication relate to this? Is your company’s voice recognizable?

Could you look at 4 different company whitepapers or pages of your website and feel like they are written by different people?

It’s often overlooked, but the voice and tone of a company is as important as color palette, iconography, and photographic style. Below are four reasons why you need to put more emphasis on your company’s voice and tone.

 1. Consistency

It adds to the consistency of your brand. What kinds of words you use, sentence length/complexity, use of descriptors are all things to consider. It’s just like visual brand consistency. Consistent voice and tone makes it easy for new team members to integrate and start communicating for the company. It creates a regular expected voice for your company that is almost as recognizable as your logo and tagline.

2. Identity and Culture

Who you are as a business and as a brand is important. You know how MailChimp, Chase, McDonald’s, UPS, and many well known brands sound. Hospitals speak differently than banks. Mountain Dew speaks differently than Diet Coke. Your brand has a personality and you should be reflecting that in your words on the web, in print and in all communications.

 3. Customer Relationship

Are you talking in their vernacular? Are you talking up to them? Down at them? Are you trying to educate them? Do you just want to sell to them? Your content and how you deliver it engages your customer is different ways.

  • Come to the zoo.
  • You really should go to the zoo.
  • Go to the zoo!
  • The zoo is great. It would be a shame if you missed out.
  • You’re fun (so is the zoo).

These all say the same thing, but all sound very different. Do you want to be more imperative? Do you want to have a sense of humor about your brand? Do you want to be seen as a trusted friend?

This post is full of questions that are meant to help you and your organization create a voice and tone that conveys your brand across every communication vehicle. Voice and tone are part of who you are as a company and who you are as a group of people working toward a goal.

The old aphorism remains true: “It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it.”

How do YOU want to say it?

This blog was posted by Will on August 30, 2013.
Will Biby

About the Author

Will Biby

Will wears many hats at Sandstorm. From writing web content to executing social media strategies, he is quick to act and insistent on a job done right. Will enjoys writing, so expect to hear from him often on the blog.

Laura
Brand strategy - empathy

The importance of empathy in business cannot be denied. It will create efficiencies across the board. It provides a construct from which to accelerate the speed of solving business problems. Multi-functional collaborative teams are a given for today’s economy, and leveraging these teams to their full potential requires each individual to think about the other. How do they think? What is their situation? Why? These questions help to create an empathic solution.

This is more than active listening. This is tapping into imagination and fully embracing the challenge through another person’s point of view. Once this is accomplished, solutions can be more quickly implemented with less friction within an organization. This cuts down on rework and shortens timelines by leaping forward from the beginning.

For example, we currently have a global client who is outsourcing much of their tradeshow support to Sandstorm. This organization has been successful by embracing sophisticated processes for developing high-end mathematical software. They have a meticulous process for everything and trusting Sandstorm with this process will be critical to their continued business growth.

Sandstorm is filled with passionate, non-linear thinkers who are always looking for a better way. Sandstorm’s creative process and culture generally produces unorthodox solutions. This is why we are enlisted by our clients to assist them in building their businesses.

Bridging the above mentioned cultures and processes to create something larger and more effective for our client requires active empathy. I challenge our teams to actively empathize with this particular client in order to solve their problems more quickly. This quickly innovates in small and big ways to move their business forward.

Honing your empathy takes practice, particularly if you are driven. Reacting and pushing our agenda and/or ideas forward is the more reflexive mode for most successful business people. It will be scary at first, believe me, I am a control freak; but in the end, better results will abound with a more empathetic worldview.

This blog was posted by Laura on August 22, 2013.
Laura Luckman Kelber

About the Author

Laura Luckman Kelber

Chief Strategy Officer, Laura Luckman Kelber leads Sandstorm's team of strategists with wisdom from her 20 years of marketing experience. Combining seemingly disparate ideas to solve a problem, Laura unearths unexpected insights to help clients’ fuel their success.

Laura
Thinking in action at Sandstorm

I think the reason we are all so busy planning is that we are scared to think. If we think, that takes a leap of faith in ourselves that we will actually think of something worthwhile. Thinking is murky and unstructured, there is a possibility that you may spend a long time thinking and still not have the answer to your problem at hand. Thinking does not necessarily guarantee anything, but it does give you valuable perspective.

Crowd with lightbulb sign demonstrating the thinking behind marketing strategy.

A plan on the other hand has structure—deadlines, action items, concrete goals and budget numbers. It is impersonal. A plan is about the metrics established by the organization and structured by the budget and timing parameters given to the team by someone else.

The problem is that I have personally seen so many well-organized and structured plans go awry because no one in the organization has paused to think. A goal is handed down with a budget and timeline; and then, with a heavy dose of organizational cognitive dissonance, a plan is created within a construct that may or may not make any sense. No one has asked why; just how, what and when have been addressed.

I know the caveat you will throw at me, "but Laura, we have no time to think." You are not going to like my response to this one: I think that’s a socially acceptable excuse to not think. I almost never leave a marketing presentation without someone quoting Steve Jobs in admiration. Do you think he was too busy to think?

Something else that is impacted by lack of thinking, your bottom line. I am always amazed by the good money thrown after bad, because Clients do not want to invest the time and money needed to create a thoughtful positioning or marketing strategy before diving right into a web site execution or social media promotion. Effective marketing tactics require thinking.

Do me a favor, start integrating a minute of thinking into your day. One minute. Ask "why?" at least once a day and let me know what happens.

This blog was posted by Laura on May 14, 2013.
Laura Luckman Kelber

About the Author

Laura Luckman Kelber

Chief Strategy Officer, Laura Luckman Kelber leads Sandstorm's team of strategists with wisdom from her 20 years of marketing experience. Combining seemingly disparate ideas to solve a problem, Laura unearths unexpected insights to help clients’ fuel their success.

this file was posted under: 
Amanda
Sandstorm Design Named Top Interactive Agency in B to B

Digital marketing and UX agency, Sandstorm Design is honored to be named one of the Top Interactive Agencies of 2013 by BtoB Magazine. Receiving this recognition for the third year in a row, Sandstorm is continuing to grow by nurturing talent and building creative solutions and intuitive user experiences for new and existing clients.

BtoB's Top Agencies List is a comprehensive compilation of the top 150 agencies in the United States. BtoB Magazine's Kate Maddox said, “Many of the top b-to-b agencies registered double-digit growth last year though new clients and organic growth.” Sandstorm is poised to continue the momentum built in 2012 by partnering with clients such as CIC Plus, MathWorks, and CareerBuilder for a successful 2013.

BtoB Magazine is a Crain's Communications Inc. publication and is a trusted source and platform for top marketing professionals to grow and learn in the b-to-b space.

This blog was posted by Amanda on May 7, 2013.
Amanda Elliott

About the Author

Amanda Elliott

Amanda Elliott is the Marketing Coordinator at Sandstorm Design. She absorbs the creative energy from our leadership team and facilitates the team so they can focus entirely on solving client challenges. She is passionate about anticipating needs, solving problems, and making projects fun.

Matt
Bernard, Duke and Freddy mascots

A great novel has a cohesive plot, strong characters, and a reliable narrator. A great business model is no different. Your mission statement is the plot. Your employees are the characters that make the plot a reality. Then there’s the narrator, a voice that guides the reader through the material, someone reliable that relates to a specific audience segment...a mascot.

At this point, a lot of B2B companies may be saying to themselves, “Decent analogy, but how does any of this apply to me?  Mascots are a B2C tool, right?”  While it’s true that the most top-of-mind mascots are usually selling high-fructose corn syrup to children, B2B mascots are on the rise, especially in technology companies.

Those in the tech field are in a constant struggle between the creative and the professional. It makes sense to want to appear as a leader in your industry. But the need to be seen as professional by prospective clients can sometimes overshadow the need to effectively guide customers through the decision-making process. A brand mascot can be that guide.

The email marketing software provider MailChimp, is a perfect example of a B2B tech company overcoming the mascot struggle. Their mascot is a chimp named Freddy that delivers all the humanizing and brand awareness one could ask for, and in no way does he hurt the credibility of the company. Finding the balance between a silly character and an effective business tool can be tricky. MailChimp’s graphic designer wrote a very interesting blog post about how their mascot has evolved over time to become the narrator the company needed.

So what makes a mascot effective? Any good mascot does two things. It humanizes a company by creating a personal relationship with its customers, while also increasing brand awareness. In order to accomplish these tasks, the mascot must be an engaging, memorable character with an emotional design and a functional use.

This is Duke. He is the mascot for the software platform Java. According to their website, Duke was designed to represent a "software agent" that performed tasks for the user. He provides an interactive experience that goes well beyond what one would expect from a B2B business. As Duke’s popularity grew so did Java’s. He can now be found at every conference that Java attends, and since becoming “open-sourced” in 2006, anyone can design their own Duke. The current incarnation includes a jetpack and blue wings.

That personal touch and connectivity with a customer is what makes mascots a unique UX tool. In the world of B2B tech companies there isn’t a lot of levity. Giving your customer a real face to interact with (especially if that face is furry) can go a long way to improving their experience.

LogMyCalls.com (now Convirza) is a call tracking platform. They specialize in analyzing and tracking phone calls for businesses. But take one look at their website and you’ll soon find that those calls aren’t being analyzed and tracked by people or even by computers, but by a beaver named Bernard.  He adds a personal touch to the user’s experience. Sometimes all that a customer needs is a helping hand, or paw, or flipper.

Mascots like Bernard, Duke and Freddy provide brand recall that goes well beyond a logo or tagline. Because they are an active narrator of a brand, mascots can be continuously weaved into the brand’s story. As more and more B2B tech companies start effectively using new faces to relate to their customers, it begs the question...Who do you want to tell your story?


At Sandstorm Design, we create powerful brand experiences.... Learn more about Sandstorm Design's marketing services.

This blog was posted by Matt on December 18, 2012.
Matt Chiaromonte

About the Author

Matt Chiaromonte

Matt is a copywriter and social media guru in Sandstorm’s Internship Program. With a background in marketing, journalism, and improv comedy, Matt brings equal parts knowledge and entertainment to our little corner of the Internet. When he isn’t generating social media content, Matt can be found enjoying pizza, podcasts, and many other things that begin with the letter “p”.

Karen

Not too long ago we explained why your logo is not your brand. However, sometimes there is a brand so strong the only thing missing is a logo. Consider human rights. It is a cause that touches every part of the world yet lacks a single symbol to represent it. Until now, of course. The human rights logo design competition has come to a close and the winning logo is beautiful. It brilliantly blends two universal symbols for humanity and peace: a hand and a dove. The new identity is reminiscent of the peace symbol, which does not belong to any company or organization, but rather stands as the symbol for all things peaceful. Only time will tell if the world adopts the human rights logo with the same enthusiasm. Learn more about the Human Rights Logo Design Competition and download the logo.

This blog was posted by Karen on September 27, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Karen

Google has been rolling out changes one after another, with a new (but not that different) homepage design, the +1 button, and a social network in the trial phase. Here’s a quick, easy-to-digest breakdown of what these search engine and social media updates are all about: +1 Button This little button is yet another factor in search engine optimization, bringing more recommended sites higher in the search results. If someone you are connected to in your Google account recommends a site with the +1 button, you’ll see that they did. This is simply a tool to tally recommendations, and that’s it. The social aspect is just that you can see which of your friends have recommended a site. You should definitely be leveraging the +1 button in your search engine optimization and online marketing strategy. Google+ In plain English, Google+ is Google’s new social network (although they're not saying that). It’s in a trial phase right now, and isn’t open to everyone just yet. Here are its key features:

  • Circles: Similar to Facebook Groups, Circles let you put different people in different circles, allowing you to interact and share with each circle separately.
  • Sparks: This is a feed of content based on specific interests you have selected. From Sparks, it's easy to share with Circles, and create a thread of conversation around a piece of content.
  • Hangouts: Video chat with multiple friends at a time.
  • Mobile: There are a couple features that will be available for what Google calls a “pocket computer,” or mobile. Instant uploads let you instantly upload photos from your phone, and Huddles creates a chat-room style text conversation with friends.

What people are saying They’re saying a lot...Facebook already meets these needs...If Buzz didn’t have great success, why would Google+?...And while it’s nice to have our world tailored to our interests, don’t we need something to balance us? Something to remind us that there are alternative viewpoints we should consider, and our world isn’t the only world that matters? Eli Pariser raised some of these concerns this past February in a talk about The Filter Bubble. The gates through which we enter the Internet are changing. It will be exciting to see what happens in the not so far off future. And of course, we'll keep you up-to-date on how it will effect your search engine optimization and social media strategy.

This blog was posted by Karen on July 1, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Karen
Aaron Equipment's creative marketing

Some people like to put their brand identity on business cards and letterhead, others prefer choppers. That’s right—choppers. One of our partners, Aaron Equipment, got a custom branded bike from Orange County Choppers and appeared on their TLC show American Choppers. The bike now sits proudly at their Bensenville headquarters. Of course, after visiting their office and seeing the bike, we had to take pictures. And who wouldn’t? This is really a great example of creative marketing—getting your brand out there by connecting with your audience on their interests. Now that summer is in full swing in Chicago and the festivals have taken over the weekends, it’s a perfect time to get creative with your marketing. And “creative” could be anything from a custom chopper to a clever sidewalk chalk stencil. If you need a little help brainstorming some creative marketing ideas, let Sandstorm Design give you hand!

This blog was posted by Karen on June 9, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Pages