Sandstorm Blog

Joshua
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 Joshua on June 20, 2016.
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.

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, 2014.
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.

Megan
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 Megan 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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Will
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 Will 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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Laura
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 Laura on October 9, 2014.
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, 2014.
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.

Sandy

We recently had an amazing opportunity to share our story of building a culture of gratitude, fun, and recognition with Marcus Lemonis from CNBC's "The Profit" (who is totally awesome by the way). Like any other small business, we had growing pains. By focusing on defining and building our culture, we absolutely flourished. The results are staggering. We doubled our staff, moved into new digs, grew revenue 250%, and are growing another 30% this year, too. 

Here are 5 things that transformed our culture:

1. "Leading by example" is only half the work. "You are what you tolerate" is the second half. So if you're a CEO or manager, step up and speak up. 

2. We held a company meeting called "The best place I ever worked." Everyone on our team shared what they loved most about past companies they worked for... and why. This was the beginning to our multi-year plan to learn from other successful organizations and implement. I would recommend Tony Hsieh's book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose.

3. We established ground rules. We call these "Sandstorm Expectations" and they show you how to be a Sandstormer. 

4. We defined our core values to work by, to hire by, and to live by. Not core values on a poster, but meaningful, concise, memorable ones (call our office and anyone who answers will be able to tell you what they are).

5. We celebrate successes every month in a company meeting called a "You Rock." CNBC did an amazing job capturing this in their video - thank you!


So, how did CNBC and Marcus Lemonis find us? Through Vistage, a CEO leadership group that I've been a member of for 8 years. They were looking for small businesses with a story to tell. I replied, and many weeks later, Sandstorm was selected as 1 of 12 companies featured. 

We are so grateful for the opportunity to share our story with other business owners and hopefully inspire them to embrace a culture of celebration at work.

We hope you enjoy the show: Check out the video

This blog was posted by Sandy on .
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.

Megan
Keep Your Content Timeless: No Buzzwords, Please

Buzzword – n. a word or phrase, often an item of jargon, that is fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context.

These words are trendy, fashionable, this season’s latest fad. They should not be loaded into each and every piece of work we create and used until the end of time. Words like these were meant to refresh and have become cliché. We hear and use them so often that they tend to invade other aspects of our work, diluting the value of what we produce.

As an avid reader and occasional writer, I know that I might put more emphasis on word choice than others, but some of these words just aren’t going to work anymore. Word choice heavily impacts the impression we give off to others (there’s my PR background sneaking up). If we speak to users in a whirl of buzzwords, they won’t know what to think about us.

The Usual Suspects

Using buzzwords dilutes our meaning and creates skepticism within our audience. They become throw-away words and almost ensure what we are trying to convey won’t be heard. For example, a content strategy filled with buzzwords is stale and forgettable, whereas language that is thoughtful and precise will better convey your message and engage your readers. Try your best to avoid these words and you might actually reach your users:

  • Innovation
  • Leverage
  • Dynamic
  • Thought leader
  • KPIs
  • Empower
  • Groundbreaking
  • Stakeholder
  • Low hanging fruit
  • Game-changer
  • Next-gen
  • Out-of-the-box
  • Turnkey
  • Breakthrough

Although I cannot share exact quantitative data on the overuse of these words, I am sure you are nodding your head in agreement when you read the list. These words have become ubiquitous background noise. I am even prone to using them once in awhile. The one I use often (unfortunately), is “out-of-the-box.” I have no idea how big the box is or what happens inside, but no matter what, every idea and concept should be beyond said box or ready to go when it is removed from the box.

It’s All in How You Say It

You don’t need to use these words to sell your ideas or products. Use the descriptive words and phrases that come natural to your vocabulary. You will seem far more credible with this approach. People are going to believe what you are saying and feel that they received something valuable from you and your team.

Whatever content you are creating needs to be comprised of words your user understands and would use themselves. If they cannot understand what you’re saying, how will they see the value of your work? Consider your audience and use words that are timeless to them. Make sure that whenever your content is picked up, it’s relevant and makes sense to your audience. Show that you and your organization don’t fall into the habit of following trends. Your word choice reflects your work. Make sure the content comes across as great, timeless and not “rad” or “tubular.”

Breaking the Habit

If you aren’t sure about letting the words go, trust me, your users are ready. We just had a client in our office last week, working on a content strategy. While toying with descriptive words for part of their plan, the word innovation came up. They quickly rejected that idea, saying they were so sick of hearing that word. It was so refreshing to me to hear that they wanted to dig deeper for a more specific descriptive word.

I’m not asking my fellow marketers to bust out a thesaurus for each and every content strategy they build. I’m suggesting that it’s time we go back to using our natural word choice and stop hiding behind the fog of buzzwords. Be real with your users and you will get the same in return. Trust that your natural word choice will do the heavy lifting and get the real point across.

This blog was posted by Megan on March 12, 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.

Emily Kodner
Top 4 Reasons You Hate Managing Content on Your Web Site

Some content managers love their jobs. Some content managers hate their jobs. If you are in the second category, maybe it’s because of these reasons.

1. You have no strategy.

You are just updating the same old copy that somebody originally wrote fifteen years ago. Maybe you’re babysitting a “helpful links” page. Stop filling orders rather than seeking and producing content with a defined purpose.

Take time to make a real content strategy. Involve key stakeholders for their great ideas (and more importantly, their buy-in). Identify your target audiences. Define your users’ goals and your organization’s goals for the site and figure out how you are going to use your site’s content to meet those goals. Select topics that will bring you the right traffic. Establish your site’s voice. The strategy is your filter. It tells you what to spend time on and what to say no to. It tells you what content to cut and what content to create.

2. You have no style guide.

You (and other people) are always finding style inconsistencies throughout your site. Where does your company stand on the Oxford comma? Are page titles in sentence case or title case? Depending on the reviewer or writer you seem to be constantly fixing or unfixing things.

Select a style guide. Preferably one aligned with your industry and intended for web writing. Create an organic style guide to keep track of all of your industry and company specific terms.

3. You have no content governance plan.

Every time you make a content change you have too many, too few, or just the wrong people review it.  This means it takes forever to make changes or you end up with sub-par (maybe even inaccurate) content on your site.

Create a governance plan that makes it clear and transparent who is responsible for each section of the site. After much experimentation, I have had much success with an adapted version of this model.

4. You are looking at the wrong analytics.

You spend hours and hours each week (or each month, or just when somebody asks) putting together reports, but you’re just making reports for the sake of making reports.

Are you reporting average time spent on site? How are you evaluating that? Is it a short time win or a sign that your site is impossible to navigate?

Isolate the site’s goals and define key performance indicators that align to each goal.

Create dashboards or custom reports where possible to reduce your time manually manipulating your Google Analytics data pulls in Excel. Review the reports with other people regularly AND isolate improvements you can make. Identify the things you should do more of because they’re working so well.

Take a step back and take some time to improve your process. The steps outlined above can improve your personal workflow and make sure you’re aligned with the rest of your team.

This blog was posted by Emily Kodner on February 28, 2014.
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.

Jason
Jason provides a great user experience at the front desk

What makes for a great front desk experience? As someone who has been the face at that desk and the first voice on the phone, it’s a combination of empathy and information. I’ve never had a full-time position where I just sit and wait for people to show up. The front desk person always has other priorities and goals.

People coming in the office don’t need to know that, it’s not really relevant to them. All they remember is if I helped them when they came in. In much the same way visitors to your website don’t know and don’t care what your other priorities are, they just care about what you can do for them.

Greet Them

The greeting when you walk through the door is quite important. Friendly and attentive is by far a must. You wouldn’t have your front desk person stand at the door and loudly yell at potential clients as they walk in “HEY! We’ve got a great deal for you, let me show you right now!!!” while blocking their entrance and view. Pop up ads, loud music, animations, and the like, go over about as well.

Anticipate Their Needs

I think we’d have trouble landing business if when a potential client walked in the door for her first meeting, I shoved a hot cup of coffee down her throat, yanked off her coat, and tossed her into the bathroom. I would certainly ask her if she’d like something to drink, if she’d like to hang up her coat, and if she needed the bathroom, but I let her decide what she needs.

Your users know what they want, and it may not align with what you want them to do. Error on the side of walking in their shoes, worry about your goals on the back end. Ultimately this will more effectively accomplish your goals.

Keep Them Updated

If the guest is here to see someone, I make sure that both that person is notified and that the guest is aware so that the guest is not waiting and wondering what’s going on. When an action is completed on your website, do you give a clear confirmation? If a visitor runs into a problem, does your 404 page or other error messages give that visitor any direction on what he can do next? In the real world, he can ask, or just glare expectantly. On the web, your visitors will just go to your competitors.

Learn and Repeat These Five Words

Businesses have a front desk for very much the same reasons they have a website. It’s another channel for interaction and if done well, can enhance and build relationships. If done poorly it can make sure they never come back. It all comes down to 5 words :

“How can I help you?”

This blog was posted by Jason on February 13, 2014.
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.

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