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.

Arrows

Disruption is all the rage. I can't even count the number of clients who have asked for a “disruptive” marketing campaign. Disruption can be a powerful tactic, but only when it makes sense.

 

Why do you want to be disruptive?

That's the first question I ask clients, but it's not the only one. These are just a few of the questions you need to answer to gauge your capability for a disruptive campaign:  

 

  • What is going on in your industry? Your organization?

  • Do you have the talent, capital, and resources to completely revolutionize your business? And not just for the next quarter or two, but for the next 3-5 years.

  • Will your target market understand this move?

  • How many current customers will you lose when you go through this monumental change? How many will you gain?

I know, it’s harder than ever to attract audience attention: Microsoft estimates that our average attention span is eight seconds, down 33 percent since 2000. With unicorns like Uber, Airbnb and Bitcoin causing tectonic shifts of entire industries everyday, no wonder there’s a mad rush to disrupt.

When’s the right time to shake things up?

The challenge is transforming your brand and industry without the epic fail of New Coke or Crystal Pepsi.

 

Sandstorm has helped clients develop disruptive marketing campaigns, including Holden’s disruption of the sales training industry. Holden noticed that traditional training methods had lost their potency and clients needed faster ways to onboard their sales force. Holden borrowed from the eLearning space, crafting software and utilizing gamification to transform their one-time training class into a revolutionary habit-changing tool.

 

Notice from where their idea of disruption came: an observation of their customers’ repeated struggles with ineffective techniques. Additionally, they understood the equity they had built with their Power Base Selling Methodology and instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, they reinvented how they taught effective behaviors. And instead of just changing their marketing message, they also fundamentally changed how they went to market with their campaign.

 

Do you need disruption or just an evolution?

It’s not the trendy thing to say, but oftentimes an evolution is more appropriate and pragmatic than disruption. We’ve seen many clients focus their attention on overall business growth and product development to align with their clients’ needs only to neglect the marketing that attracts a wider audience to their innovations. They may lose perspective on their marketing for months or years at a time. When they begin to sense that something is going wrong, they call us to discuss a brand refresh. Sometimes a complete rebrand is required because their business and market has evolved beyond their existing brand equity.

 

When Sandstorm gets these marketing strategy requests, we dive into the brand’s existing equities and look at how they match the marketplace. We look outside of their category to garner inspiration and talk to their users, current customers, and potential customers. We find white space for them that is unique to what, how, and why they do what they do. This might be a radical evolution or a minor shift, but either way it creates momentum for their business and helps them grow effectively.

So, before you’re lured by the siren call of disruption, think about what disruption really means for your business. Has the landscape shifted so much that you need to change business model or do you just need to evaluate what you have and pivot?

 

To discuss the benefits of evolution vs. disruption, or get information on how Sandstormcan improve your marketing strategy, contact Laura at llk@sandstormdesign.com

 
This blog was posted by on July 19.
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.

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

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 on June 30.
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.

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.

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 on December 2.
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.
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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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 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.

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 on November 20.
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.

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