Sandstorm Blog

Fairy Tale Castle brand story, content strategy, storytelling, writing

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.

Surprisingly, while the majority of marketers claim to have a content marketing strategy in place, very few have actually documented it—only 37 percent among B2C and 32 percent among B2B.

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.

This blog was posted by on August 15.
Bill Kurland, Copywriter

About the Author

Bill Kurland

Copywriter Extraordinaire

Ensono, branding, tech, mainframe, brand strategy, content strategy, marketing strategy, web development

Machines possessing hopes and dreams is a classic theme explored in science fiction. Sandstorm® explored this theme when Acxiom IT restructured their organization and needed a rebrand to reflect their new position as a tech company that dreams of the future.

Acxiom IT recently became a standalone infrastructure management services business, which required a new name and brand strategy to set them apart from their former parent company. Sandstorm® was hired to guide the 46-year-old business as they developed a new corporate identity. The result: the Ensono brand and a vision for the future.

Sandstorm®'s first step was diligent research. We examined the client's history, needs, behaviors and desires to understand where they've been and devised a marketing strategy to help them reach where they wanted to go. In speaking with their senior leadership, it became clear that they wanted to position themselves as a solution that meets the needs of the present and the future. Although they offered industry-leading mainframe solutions, Ensono needed help representing themselves as a company that develops and innovates for the future.

With renewed focus on addressing current client needs while engineering solutions for the demands of tomorrow, we turned to creating a new name. Sandstorm® went international while exploring the concepts of progress and dreaming: "enso" is a Zen concept that refers to strength and creativity, and "in sogno" is an Italian expression meaning "in dreams." By merging these words and concepts together, Ensono, or the company that dreams, was created. This idea of inventive and adaptable thinking followed through the positioning statement, key messages, content marketing tactics, and digital marketing strategies.

Sandstorm® assisted Ensono with their brand launch and website development and has continued to partner with them on many projects including: collateral materials, promotional video, product campaigns, corporate signage, and assisting with the interior design of their new office space.

If you are dreaming of a new marketing strategy, Sandstorm can make it a reality.  

 

This blog was posted by on August 4.
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.

Digital Marketing Personalization, remarketing, retargeting, digital marketing stragety

I’d been browsing through Stephen King books on a popular e-commerce website. When I clicked over to a news article, an ad for The Gunslinger followed. I barely gave it a second thought when the same ad appeared in my Facebook feed. Then the emails started. For days after, the same ad haunted me everywhere I turned: no social network, email service provider or website was safe. Leave me alone, I shouted at my monitor, the room spiraling out of control. Leave me alone!

I’m being dramatic, but when marketing personalization goes wrong, the user experience gets creepy. When done right, personalized ads and emails provide a near one-to-one conversation between brand and customer. But get it wrong and “personalization” feels intrusive, alienating and leaves customers wondering who’s watching them.  

Relevance, not omnipresence

Consumers overwhelmingly desire—and expect—personalized ads.

  • More than 70 percent of consumers prefer ads tailored to shopping habits and their interests, according to an Adlucent study.
  • The same study found that three-quarters of consumers want more relevant ads that align with their needs and wants.
  • Marketers see 20 percent increases in sales on average when utilizing personalized ad journeys.
  • Conversions increase by 10 percent with personalized email messages, based on research conducted by Aberdeen.

The same studies show that consumers are willing to provide their private information, but expect relevant content in return. Unfortunately, digital marketers are doing a poor job of delivering on their side of the bargain. A Yahoo survey showed that only 37 percent of respondents found desktop ads relevant. Those numbers were even smaller for mobile and in-app advertising—30 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

Consumers also want a voice in the conversation: over 65 percent want the option of privacy controls, and almost 60 percent want ads based on information they proactively provide.

So, how do you develop unique, actionable messaging without crossing the line? Use these tips to create engaging conversations and avoid the creep factor.

1. Respect your audience

You want to show consumers that you understand their desires—not that you’re following them at every turn. Be implicit instead of explicit: imagery or copy that confirms a customer’s DMA is great, while creative that confirms you have their address information is too much.  

2. Know your channel

A personalized salutation is almost expected in email these days, but a digital ad is probably the wrong place to address your customers by name. Only 29 percent of consumers who completed a recent study said they would engage with ads containing personal information like their name. Go where your customers are engaging and give them the power to start a conversation.

3. Humanize your brand

Whether you’re B2B or B2C, there’s room for some personality in your brand communications. The goal of personalized marketing is to have a one-to-one conversation, and who wants to talk to someone without a personality? Whether you’re a Joker, a Dreamer, a Rebel or a Hero, let customers feel your personality.

4. Test and optimize

Even if you start with strong creative, its effectiveness will diminish as time goes on. A study conducted by ReTargeter found that clickthrough rates decrease by nearly 50 percent after five months. An A/B test can be a simple way to find the most effective creative and power optimization. Dynamic optimization can help achieve significant uplifts in conversions.

Sandstorm® is ready to help you develop a digital marketing personalization strategy that engages your customers, without creeping them out.

This blog was posted by on July 11.
Bill Kurland, Copywriter

About the Author

Bill Kurland

Copywriter Extraordinaire

smile emoji, frown emoji, business emoji

What started in 1982 as smiley-face punctuation :-) has transformed into a new, ubiquitous pictographic language. The “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji was even named Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries in 2015. There's no escaping emojis, and more businesses are catching onto this new language.

However, there are pitfalls with any new development. Emojis are seen as emotional punctuations, coloring whatever text adjoins them. Utilizing a personal form of communication within business conversations can be tricky, but not impossible. So we compiled this list of things to consider before you slap a smiley face in your marketing materials.

1. Who is viewing the communication? Emojis are a personal iconography that evokes emotions, making them a great tool for relationship and loyalty building. Using them for inter-office communications or within the B2B space can make sense, but less so with a potential new client.

2. What emojis are you using? Finding the right emoji is harder than it sounds. Emojis look different on different platforms and are open to interpretation: an emoji may look surprised to you yet scared to your user. Utilize this chart to see how emojis look across platforms and reduce the chances of miscommunication.

3. When do you decide to use an emoji? Conveying context and tone in written communications have always been a challenge. Emojis illuminate context in a fun way. Just like the original emoticon was used to connote humor, you can use emojis to clarify your intention or to activate your text.

4. Where should you use an emoji? Emojis are an online language, so including them in print materials is difficult, as USA Today learned. While emojis are being utilized more often as design elements, like on clothing or book covers, it is still best practice within the business world to limit emojis to online communications (like social media).

5. Why use an emoji at all? Emojis can help reach business goals. More and more companies are utilizing emojis in their email subject lines, which draws attention in a field of mostly text and can improve open rates, among other metrics.

Like most marketing tools, emojis can be beneficial when used in the right circumstances and with the right audience. Their main purpose is to create emotional reactions, which works when building relationships and loyalty. However, there is a risk of looking gimmicky if they're not used properly. Unlike texting with your friends, you need to think through the entire process before adding that smiley face. 

This blog was posted by on June 20.
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.

Sandy
b2b Content Marketing Agency Chicago

B2B content marketing is the cornerstone of a successful digital marketing strategy, and it involves the continuous creation of relevant content (be it blogs, white papers, video, etc.) intended to convert visitors into leads, build thought leadership, improve brand engagement, and drive awareness. It makes a huge impact on search engine optimization, and with the "right" (we mean strategic, researched, and thoughtful) content marketing plan, you can multiply your marketing effectiveness, improve the overall impact of your web design strategy, and build a platform to market your company that lasts for years. 

Lucky for you, we’re crazy about B2B content and are armed with a team of gurus at our agency who love creating quality content in just about any form you can think of. Best of all, it’s the kind of content that people love coming back to and sharing with their peers. 

How did you find us? Through our own B2B content marketingsocial media marketing, and/or SEO efforts? We'd love to know.

This blog was posted by Sandy on April 22.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

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

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Emily Kodner
Neurosurgeons Designing Websites?

Looking back at 2014, one of my favorite website projects was cns.org, the responsive website for the Congress of Neurological Surgeons built in Drupal.

Why was it my favorite? Because they were strategic and truly embraced user-centered design.

A focus on user needs

User-centered design takes the subjectivity out of the decision-making process. We didn’t have to define user needs because we had talked to users firsthand. And, as it turns out, neurosurgeons are some of the most direct and decisive users that we’ve ever interviewed.

Because we interviewed stakeholders, we knew the organization’s priorities and were able to strike the right balance between business needs and user needs (hint: you can’t meet the first without meeting the second).

Navigation designed by users

Who better to organize the navigation than the users themselves? We asked CNS members to sort cards (each corresponding to a page on the site) into groups and create labels for the groups they made. Those labels became our navigation. Best practices can tell us how many menu items to have or how flat or deep to make the navigational structure, but only users can really tell us how to intuitively group and label pages and sections.

User tested designs

A neurosurgeon’s time is particularly hard to come by. To ensure we had adequate participation in our usability study, we took our wireframe prototype to the CNS Annual Meeting where we had a captive audience. This was a great opportunity to identify potential stumbling blocks and to allow users to weigh in on areas where there had been internal debate.

We love making great user experiences, and we are able to make the best experiences when we talk to users early and often. That’s why this was one of my favorite projects of 2014.

This blog was posted by Emily Kodner on December 11.
Emily Kodner

About the Author

Emily Kodner

Emily is our Senior Director of Client Delivery. She consults with clients, leads projects and works alongside our team of creatives and developers to provide solutions to complex business challenges.

The Axelrod's Clockman!

Earlier this year, a few of us had the fortunate opportunity to work with Dick and Emily Axelrod, of The Axelrod Group, offering marketing strategy around their latest book, Let’s Stop Meeting Like This. (If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a workplace productivity book that doesn’t feel like a stale, dusty textbook that you’ll be quizzed on later).

This project was special because we were able to truly have a good time with the client, felt the impact of our marketing plan and content strategy, and watched them succeed to great heights.

Keeping Time with Clockman

The Axelrods also introduced us to Clockman. Their timesaving superhero. I won’t spoil the book, but Clockman always finds a way to step in a give you the most important bits of information you need to know. He’s stuck with me since. I always find myself picturing the little guy when I start to get too verbose and ramble during a meeting.

One of the things I am most grateful for in 2014 is getting the chance to work with this dynamic duo and learning about ways we can all save in our workday by getting down to what is most important. As if all of that wasn’t cool enough - Clockman’s also a rockstar (see above).

This blog was posted by on December 8, 2014.
Megan Culligan

About the Author

Megan Culligan

Megan knows the importance of picking a winner. With a background in politics and PR, she knows that a successful marketing campaign requires coordination of many moving pieces and a team focused on achieving a great goal. You’ll see her analytical point of view on the blog, providing insight and tactics for success.

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An “Investment” in Rebranding: A Little Collaboration Goes a Long Way

One project I particularly enjoyed being a part of is the marketing for Ellwood Associates. In case you didn’t know, Ellwood delivers thoughtful investment consulting for endowments, healthcare, high-net-worth individuals, and families.

This year Sandstorm reimagined their brand based on extensive user research we conducted in 2013. (I was involved in that part of the project, too.) As the creative team worked on logos and brand boards, I got the opportunity to work alongside Ellwood to revise all of their web content. Based in their positioning, we crafted a voice and tone for the brand that represent their extremely thoughtful approach.

Being active in the research portion of the process, I knew the audience’s needs and I knew how they spoke–literally, I heard how they talked about their businesses through the interview. It was rewarding to build website content after being involved with every step along the way. This has resulted in clear and thoughtful copy that meets Ellwood’s needs, user needs, and best practices, too.

As a thoughtful client, their attention to detail with marketing echos their attention to detail when consulting for their clients. I’m excited for the launch of this new brand and to see how their new marketing efforts impact both their business and the marketplace.

This blog was posted by on December 4, 2014.
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.

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What is Positioning and Why Should I Care?

Lately there has been a significant uptick in clients approaching us to help them better differentiate themselves in a more crowded and complex marketplace. Many of these clients have been doing business as usual for years with several marketing tactics in place, but have noticed that they are not quite getting new customers like they had historically.

They are at a loss with how they can instigate growth without significantly increasing their marketing budgets.

A Way for Companies to Stand Out

The most effective tool that we use at Sandstorm to assist our clients stand out effectively is to define a positioning. Our process takes into account the cultural DNA of our clients’ organizations, disruptive aspects of their offerings and aligns what they offer with rational, emotional, and motivational drivers of their markets.

This information is distilled into one statement that represents what the organization means to their customers and future customers – a positioning statement.

What Does it Mean to Have Positioning?

Positioning in marketing does exactly what it’s name suggests. It positions a company strategically in an attainable aspirational direction. Although one sentence, it is a powerful discipline that forces the organization to focus on what it stands for and what that means for its customers and potential customers.

This focus is critical in the frenetic pace of a digital society. It gives clarity and purpose to every marketing decision that needs to be made and makes sure your target market easily and readily understands your brand and why they should care.

Arriving at a Positioning Statement

The best positioning statements are built from thorough primary and secondary user experience research. At Sandstorm we utilize UX practices to enhance the insights we get with our primary research. This means giving the respondent the opportunity to expound on what is important to them and less about what the protocol might assume is important. A more organic, conversational approach allows us to garner more insights with less respondents, saving time and money.

Our secondary research is also more fluid and organic. Instead of listing out the marketing tactics and individual messaging across a set of competitors, we look at overall trends inside and outside a specific industry. That way we can more clearly find white space opportunities for our clients. This actually takes a bit more time than traditional secondary research, but it pays off with greater differentiation for our clients and a stronger overall position.

The Value of a Positioning Statement

With cross-functional collaboration and a distributed workforce, it’s more and more difficult to align an organization on what they offer to customers. A positioning statement is a tool that can align an entire organization and create clear boundaries for decision-making. It also ensures that all marketing decisions on product changes or developments, pricing and distribution are aligned to portray a consistent and differentiated offering to the marketplace.

Ensuring Your Communication Provides Maximum ROI

Finally a good positioning in marketing, used correctly, guarantees all of your organization’s marketing communication is focused. Every time a potential customer encounters your brand online, in-person or in advertising they will receive the same message. This amplifies your difference and delivers a stronger ROI on your marketing communication.

If you think your company is ready for strategic repositioning, please email me directly. We would love to move you forward in the marketplace.

This blog was posted by on October 9.
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.

Sandy
Sandstorm is a SAVO Partner

We are excited to announce that Sandstorm has been selected as an Emerald Partner with the SAVO Group as their go-to marketing agency for SAVO clients who require brand positioning, content marketing, messaging and creative marketing execution to better leverage the SAVO platform and improve sales productivity and effectiveness.

SAVO is a leader in sales enablement. They create software as a service (SaaS) that bring together sales tools, automation, analytics, and content management to support companies’ sales processes.

Sandstorm is honored to be recognized for our marketing expertise to improve sales enablement and looks forward to helping SAVO clients meet their goals with targeted, relevant messages that support their brand and drive sales.

This blog was posted by Sandy on June 4.
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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