Sandstorm Blog

Joshua
B2B Best Brand launch Award for marketing campaign, Sandstorm team: Chief Strategy office Laura Luckman Kelber, Executive Creative Director Janna Fiester, Creative Director (Content) John Rausch, Account Director Alicia Newland and UX Art Director Nathan Haas

Sandstorm® recently acquired some new hardware when we took home the Best Launch Award at the B2B Marketer Awards & Conference for our marketing campaign rebranding Holden, a global leader in sales performance development.  

Like many businesses, Holden was in a shifting industry and looking for a way to stay relevant while standing out. Sales training was seen as an ineffective & inefficient necessity, leading Holden to borrow from the eLearning industry to disrupt their industry by repositioning as a SaaS company. Sandstorm came in to create their new brand strategy, which included the bold claim that "sales training is over". 

This disruption, punctuated by the new tagline game-changing sales habits, moved Holden away from a traditional sales training organization to an innovative, educational solution for developing talent. The brand launch campaign, that included a new identity, tagline, digital marketing, website and marketing collateral, helped Holden achieve 106% their annual lead gen goal in the first 5 months.

Congratulations to the award winning, Sandstorm team: Chief Strategy office Laura Luckman Kelber, Executive Creative Director Janna Fiester, Creative Director (Content) John Rausch, Account Director Alicia Newland and UX Art Director Nathan Haas!

This blog was posted by Joshua on June 30, 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.

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.

Laura
Marketing Whack-A-Mole Will Drive You Crazy

Stay Sane with a Strong Central Brand Experience Strategy

With the complexity that modern marketers are faced with, it is no surprise that many feel overwhelmed. In actuality, this feeling that you are drowning in your own marketing can be avoided with a strong central strategy. In this post we will show you how to get ahead of your marketing instead of reacting to problems on an individual case-by-case basis - or what we call marketing Whack-a-Mole.

How Do I Start?

To start building your brand experience strategy, establish your goals and the measurement of those goals. From there you should delve deep into your organization and document all of the things the organization is doing well, what it could do better and where the gaps are to achieving consistent excellence. Many times this can take the form of a journey map. This helps the organization visualize the challenges and prioritize the work needed to produce great marketing.

Talk to Your Users

Once you have done a thorough analysis from the inside, garner feedback from the outside with 1x1 interviews across your user groups. This will illuminate those things you can’t see due to organizational blindness and will ensure the experience the organization creates exceeds the needs of your user groups.

Look At Possibilities

There are a few other pieces of data that are needed to create a truly inspired brand experience strategy that builds momentum for your organization and, ultimately, your brand. Look at 3-5 competitors in your category. This will give you a sense of where there are opportunities in your category. Don’t stop here. Think about some inspirational brands, approximately three, to see how your brand experience can truly stand out in your category.

Hypothesize, Analyze, Iterate, Plan

After collecting all of this data, take some time to analyze it. Formulate some hypotheses about where you could take your organization. Distill the data into a brand experience strategy that can, at its best, be a guidebook across your organization to define expectations from hiring policies to product development priorities, as well as your marketing communication.

Sanity Ensues

This process will ensure that you can successfully manage your reputation and cultivate the brand experience that you aspire to be. Your brand will clearly, consistently, and quickly convey the story and the reputation you have built.

This blog was posted by Laura on December 2, 2015.
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
Digital Marketing Agency, Sandstorm Design's Holiday Party 2014

We have quite a few traditions at Sandstorm, and one of my favorites is our Holiday Party (and the 24 hours that follow it). After many years of battling calendars, I’ve discovered a human truth – just about everyone is free on Sunday night. I’ve also come to realize that the greatest gift I can give my amazing and hardworking team is the gift of… sleeping in.

So, we merged those ideas and another Sandstorm tradition was made! Every December we pick a Sunday night for our big bash at Chicago favorite, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba (a group then goes out for an after party), and the following Monday we don’t open until 1pm. And when we do, it’s a comfy and casual pajama day – complete with pjs and slippers. With a cup of hot tea, sparkling lights and cookies galore, it’s the most wonderful (work) day of the year.

As we wrap up our “advent”ures for 2014, thank you for an awesome year of creativity, fun, growth, and collaboration! (And a special thanks to the Sandstorm team who worked together and managed to get everyone to write a blog post this year... anyone in digital marketing knows what a victory this is!)

It's been a great year. Thanks for being a part of it!

Happy Holidays from all of us at Sandstorm :)

 

 

This blog was posted by Sandy on December 24, 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.

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Laura
My Absolutely Fantastic, Awesome, Rockstar Team

I am going to brag about my team of Strategists. They are, as Sandy would say, “Awesome!” Why, you ask, are they awesome? Well, first off they are extremely passionate about what they do and how they serve our company and our clients. There is never a day or assignment where they just “get something done.” They embrace our clients’ challenges as their own.

This passion helps ensure that our clients get the very best work possible, while also staying on time and on budget (which is no easy feat). They also are highly accountable and when there is a miscommunication or problem, they always think of how they could have avoided it and how they can mitigate it in the future.

Additionally, they are big sponges. Not only do they never shy away from a learning opportunity, but they run toward any opportunity that is presented. This means that we are always getting better, every single day.

Oh, did I mention that they are selfless, too? They are always willing to help out someone on the team, no matter how busy they are. They are always looking for ways to ensure the creative and development teams have the time and resources they need to do the best work possible.

They are extremely likable and talented individuals. If you have not had the pleasure of meeting all of them yet, you can get a feel for them here (Emily, Amanda, Kellye, Megan, and Reilly).

This blog was posted by Laura on December 15, 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.

Kellye
5 Tips for Improved Video Marketing

The days of debating the merits of video marketing are over. With 100 million viewers watching at least one online video per day, it’s no wonder that 87% of content marketers are now integrating some form of video content into their campaigns.

However, while the majority of content marketers are actively employing video marketing, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about optimizing video content for the best results. These five tips will help you create video marketing content that’s worth your investment.

1. Establish a Goal Up Front

Video is a tool for a achieving a goal, not the goal itself. Before you begin, make a solid decision on what you’d like your video marketing content to achieve. Is it spreading the word about a promotion? Driving traffic to your website? Providing answers to viewer questions?

Once you’ve established a clear objective, it will be easier to make use of my next tip...

2. Trim Off the Fat

Because video marketing is viewed as a large expense, it’s common for marketers to try to use one video to send out multiple messages. Resist this urge.

Video audiences are impatient. They hit the play button with expectations and will not hesitate to click away if those expectations aren’t met. If you don’t get to the point, and get to it fast, you’ll be putting on a show for an empty house.

Ask yourself, “what’s the one central message we want viewers to come away with?” and cut everything else. No exceptions.

But wait! What if you have different audience segments, and you need a different message for each one? That brings me to my next tip...

3. One Size Doesn’t Have to Fit All

Contrary to popular belief, video is not an inflexible medium. It can easily be adjusted to meet the needs of different audiences.

The best way to tailor video marketing content is to produce multiple versions. People are often reluctant to do this because they think making more than one video won’t be cost effective. That assumption simply isn’t true. If you plan carefully, you can economize many aspects of production to turn your single video into a video series without draining the bank.

For instance, you may be able to record two voiceover tracks within the same session fee, or recycle footage from one video to the next.

Publish each video in the right place with the right keywords, and your video marketing content will yield much better results.

4. Embrace the Brand

If you want to build brand recognition, your logo can’t do all the work! Many marketers only brand their video content through graphics, but there are many opportunities to solidify your brand within your video marketing content.

  • Start with the script. Don’t just proof for message. Take the time to put all dialogue or voiceover in the right voice and tone for your company.
  • Think through your casting. The talent featured in your video should be a reflection of your brand personality.
  • Consider location. Even if you can’t afford a set stylist, make sure to pull in your brand colors wherever possible. A red mug on the desk or orange curtains in the background can go a long way toward building brand recognition within your video content. Wardrobe offers further opportunities to solidify the brand identity in your audience’s mind.
  • Make direction a priority. A good director will take your brand into account in everything from the style of camerawork to the lighting setup. A good editor will consider your brand in the pace and tone of the video, as well as soundtrack selection.

In short, if you want to increase brand recognition, the brand must be present throughout your video marketing content.

5. Don’t Settle

Video audiences have extremely high expectations. They’re used to Hollywood scale productions and are unforgiving of content that falls short of this bar.

No one expects you to have action movie special effects, but they do want to see a clear picture and hear crisp sound without interference (in video terms, this would be referred to as having “high production values”).

More importantly, they want to see content that lands. If your video is supposed to be funny, don’t accept a joke that doesn’t make you laugh. If it’s supposed to tug the heartstrings, don’t settle for a story you don’t care about.

At the end of the day, the extra effort will pay off in higher audience retention and better results.

Putting it All Together

While some of these points may seem intuitive, a vast majority of video marketing ignores these rules. Apply them to your next video and your content will be ahead of the game. With a stronger video component to your content marketing strategy, you are opening your brand to more user engagements and ultimately a higher return on your investment.

This blog was posted by Kellye on November 20, 2014.
Kellye Blosser

About the Author

Kellye Blosser

Kellye’s unique approach involves a delicate balance of left and right-brained thinking. She most recently hailed from the corporate video world. Here at Sandstorm, she’s excited to bring strategic, innovative thinking to every project.

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

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.

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