Sandstorm Blog

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.

Friends watching the Super Bowl

By all accounts, Sunday’s Super Bowl game was a defensive masterpiece. On the offensive side of the ledger, the broadcast included commercials for toenail fungus and toilet envy, topped by a walking, talking intestine.

These shudder-inducing moments aside, the commercials of the 2016 Super Bowl offered tremendous range, from Colgate urging us to conserve water to Helen Mirren excoriating drunk drivers. Some of the evening’s highlights:

Best celebrity performance

T-Mobile’s “Restricted Bling” had Drake happily and self-deprecatingly agreeing to comic revisions of “Hotline Bling” offered up by attorneys representing a rival carrier. Every ad person was nodding in appreciation.

Honorable mention: Hyundai’s “Ryanville” spot, which transported us to a small town in which every person is a distractingly attractive Ryan Reynolds. “Can you give me a warning?” “Sure. Warning—here comes your ticket!”

Best use of a pop song

Heinz Ketchup’s “Stampede,” which had dozens of dachshunds dressed as hot dogs loping through a field to Harry Nilsson’s “Without You.” I dare you not to smile.

Honorable mention: a flock of sheep surreptitiously harmonizing Queen’s “Somebody to Love” in the Honda Ridgeline “A New Truck to Love” spot. Until this spot, no one had even heard of a truck-bed audio system.

Best use of a soft voice amid all the shouting

Jeep’s “Portraits” acknowledged the many people and moments that have shaped the brand’s 75-year history. The spot helps make Jeep’s story the story of America.

Honorable mention:Text Talk,” aired by NO MORE and the NFL, which aims to educate viewers of the warning signs of domestic violence and sexual assault. Quietly chilling.

Best use of a cultural icon

Snickers’ “Marilyn” spot, in which an irascible Willem Dafoe morphs into Marilyn Monroe on a movie set. Nice legs, Willem.

Honorable mention: The Hulk battling it out with Ant-Man for a can of Coke in the epic, city-shattering “A Mini Marvel.” Glad you two could finally get along.

I’ll spare you a review of the worst spots, which have to include the Steven Tyler Skittles sculpture and Liam Neeson scaring people into buying an LG OLED TV.

This blog was posted by John on February 8, 2016.
John Rausch

About the Author

John Rausch

Over his 25 years in the advertising industry, John has produced award-winning work for many B2C and B2B clients. He is a passionate believer in the power of the brand and brings a strategic approach to every piece of creative.

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Sandy Marsico spreads holiday cheer on

Sandy has a featured post on Executive Street, the Vistage blog. “3 tips to designing a holiday party that your employees will love” is all about Sandy’s (and Sandstorm’s) unique approach to celebrating the season successfully.

Happy Holidays (and have a great holiday party)!

This blog was posted by Will on December 18, 2015.
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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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.

Brand Is Not Dead, It’s on Life Support

Here Is How to Make it Healthy Again.

So, I recently heard Michael Fertik speak at SMASH Chicago 2015 and he started his talk with an incendiary statement for a room full of marketing people: “Brand is dead.” I understand why he said this, he was trying to make a point about the depth and breadth of an online reputation and overall footprint of an organization in contrast to a traditionally managed brand.

Reputation Management Is Important

I agree with him on the importance of online reputation management. I also agree with him that managing a reputation is about more than just the marketing materials that are carefully crafted and displayed to the public. I agree with him that business practices, hiring practices, sourcing practices, distribution decisions, operational structures and many other factors that were never supposed to see the light of day are now easily unearthed and actively criticized by the public.

Brand Is Not Dead, It’s Bigger

The one fundamental disagreement I have is that brand is not dead, but more important than ever in this cluttered age of information everywhere, anytime, all of the time. Brand is bigger than it once was, exactly due to the challenges of reputation management.

For example, REI has made an operation decision to close on Black Friday and encourage the public to get outside. This is a tangible representation of their campaign and has fueled their social media. It is fundamentally who they are as an organization and what the REI brand means. Another example is Zappo’s outsize customer service. They made a choice to build service on one metric, making the customer surprised and delighted. This built the Zappo’s brand to what it is today.

Branding is about your entire business, not just your logo. In order to be relevant, your brand must seep through the pores of your organization. It must be lived in how one hires, prices, serves, produces, distributes and communicates. It is the connective tissue of your organization.

Brand Experience Strategy: A Framework

The comprehensiveness of modern marketing has many marketers throwing up their hands and resorting to a scattered Whack-A-Mole approach. The antidote to this frenzied situation is brand experience strategy and planning. Creating a framework that looks at the fundamentals of an organization - like pricing, distribution, the product/service and the overall industry landscape - through the lens of a user gives you a compass to unify your marketing efforts. These users can be anyone who engages with your organization on any level, and there are usually many: employees, investors, customers and potential customers. Getting to know your users, their actions, beliefs, wants and fears, will enable you to cater to them at every touchpoint, building a brand that is big enough to cover everything modern marketing demands of you.

Brand is not dead, it is more relevant than ever. A well-researched brand experience strategy will take your brand off of life support and make it healthy again.

This blog was posted by Laura on November 13, 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.

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Wall Street Journal and Vistage interview of Sandy Marsico, Sandstorm

Wall Street Journal and Vistage interview of Sandy Marsico, CEO of Sandstorm®

This blog was posted by Will on October 15, 2015.
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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How to Compare Content Management Systems - Goals and Requirements

Deciding which Content Management System (CMS) to use can be a daunting task. It can be difficult to sort through the plethora of irrelevant recommendations and confusing information to find the best solution. Many of our clients come to us with a rough sense of what they want, but need help making the final recommendation.

How to compare CMS?

Comparing Content Management Systems is challenging because it means different things to different people. The phrase has evolved to cover a range of web frameworks and applications. It is a broad term that covers any program which facilitates content creation and updates (usually on the web). On top of that, many popular CMS options are highly customizable – two sites built on the same framework can look very different. 

Going beyond the simple editing of an organization's "About Us" page, modern websites demand a great flexibility in how they handle content. They often need different types of content, each one requiring specific workflows or relationships aimed at solving various goals. For example, consider the differences between a blog post, an event listing, and a product detail page. Each one has unique data associated with it. Each one is organized in different ways. Being able to handle unique types of content while still providing a consistent interface is an important part of any CMS.

A CMS often has other advanced functionality. They pull content in from other systems. Some integrate with different authentication systems. Some have an online stores. Others allow a community of users to login and participate in some way. Still others might pull in raw data from one source to display it to users in a completely new way. These are all managing different kinds of content at some level. 

Create Goals

Not every site needs every possible option. So, what does it your site need? It's good to get back to your goals and requirements. Your website has needs that are just as unique as your organization. A needs-based assessment can help to focus your requirements and narrow down the search.

Start by defining your goals. Create a list of what you want to achieve with this new CMS. Starting with your goals will help to focus your efforts.

  • What problems are you looking to solve? 
  • Are you looking to increase your brand perception as part of this project? 
  • Is increased membership or sales a primary goal? 
  • If you have a current website, what is it not doing well? 
  • How will your CMS need to support your organization? 

Identify and prioritize your requirements

Once you have a good list, start writing a list of requirements. Some will just require a quick rephrase of a stated goal. Others will lead to a whole new list of items. For example, if your goal is to publish your events calendar online, but your events are currently managed in a different system, integration with that system is a potential requirement. 

Next start to prioritize these requirements. Rank your requirements from must-haves to nice-to-haves. This exercise helps you make the most informed decisions as you start to build your budget. Some items might need to come in a second phase after the first version of the site launches. 

Eliminate some options from the start

Understanding your organization's technical requirements can also help to eliminate some options. For example, if your IT infrastructure requires you to use .Net, then a Ruby, Python or PHP-based solution (like Drupal) may not be possible. More and more these restrictions are no longer a problem with modern hosting options, but it's one of the first questions to ask.

[Continue to Part 2: Consider Your Options]

This blog was posted by Sean on July 24, 2015.
Sean Fuller

About the Author

Sean Fuller

As Technology Director, Sean is a hands-on developer and technical lead on projects. He works with design and strategist teams from kick off through launch to plan, design and execute technical solutions for client projects. 

Sandstorm had fun with these Stanley Cup-cakes

Everyone at Sandstorm is excited about the Chicago Blackhawks winning their sixth Stanley Cup! 

As we’ve all anxiously watched games throughout the season(s), we noticed something familiar. (No, not “Chelsea Dagger.”) The Hawks display core values similar to ours. (If you need a reminder they are: Learning and Sharing, Warrior Spirit, and Have Fun) We haven’t changed our business to be more hockey-centered, but the connections between our winning formula and theirs is pretty clear. 

Learning and Sharing

The Hawks are always training. They’ve never rested on their laurels from past wins. They don’t rely on their skill and natural talent. Every day they’re practicing and training to be a stronger and more agile team. They’re studying their past games to improve their performance and to make note of what their competition is doing.

Some of them have been at this for a long time, consider the coaching staff. Everyone has an experience or expertise that they can share with their teammates to help them improve.

Warrior Spirit

How much do I have to say about this? HAVE YOU EVER WATCHED THEM PLAY?!

They take every game seriously, and they have each other’s back. They’re a team first and foremost. There are stars (the ones on commercials and billboards), but on the ice they are all working toward the same goal. 

Everyone is putting out their best to win, not for themselves, but for the whole team. Look at Duncan Keith logging over 715 minutes in the postseason. Goalie, Corey Crawford shutout 25 goal attempts in Game 6 of the finals alone. That’s a LOT of Warrior Spirit. 

Have Fun

After all the hard work they’ve put in this season, now is the time to have fun. Following the intensity, the team can finally unwind. If you’ve seen the news this week, you’ll know that they have, too, in clubs, parties, and the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.

Yesterday they’ve had a ticker-tape parade through downtown Chicago with at-capacity rally in Soldier Field. They have the attention of the city and the world, and they all get the opportunity to share their excitement and win with their day with the Stanley Cup at a venue of their choosing. Many choose to go to their hometowns to share with their families and friends.

Getting to the Cup

All of these factors come together to win. We at Sandstorm don’t have a cup we’re aiming for, we just want to do good work for good people. While we’re not in the national spotlight, we work just as hard together to make great things happen. Whether it’s a responsive website or a rebranding project, our team is working to make our clients scream “GOOAALLLLLLLLLLLL!”

[Our image for this post is of delicious Stanley Cup-cakes that Alicia brought in from Bennison's. Celebration never tasted so good!]

This blog was posted by Will on June 19, 2015.
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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Five things to help you choose a name for your business

We do a lot of branding and rebranding for clients here at Sandstorm. Naming is a fundamental piece of any organization’s identity, and we do not embark on this process lightly. It requires clients to do a lot of reflection about where they are today and where they want to be 5, 10, 20 years from now.

In order to ensure the company name resonates with clients, customers or members, we conduct thorough discovery to unearth who the organization is at its core. The research does not end there; we then look at competitors and like-minded organizations outside of our client’s industry to see where the opportunity, or “white space,” is.

It is fundamental that a company name honestly represents the organization. It also needs to differentiate itself, but not stray too far from the core identity.

Here are tips for success when embarking on the business renaming process:

Tip #1: Easy to Say and Spell

Make sure the name is easy to say and spell. In the age of Google, you want to make sure that you are easily found when someone is searching for you. The name also needs to be easy for someone to spell while they are talking on the phone or writing out an email address.

Tip #2: URL Availability

Don’t forget to make sure there is an appropriate .com URL available that has some iteration of your name. You may have a great company name, but if there is no intuitive URL available, or if it’s ridiculously expensive to secure, then you are going to make things very difficult from a digital marketing perspective.

Tip #3: Rename for a Good Reason

If you are renaming, be absolutely sure you have solid reasons for doing so.

  • Has there been any bad press about your organization with the current name?
  • Have you moved your organization in a direction that no longer aligns with your name?
  • Do you offer different things then you did when you initially named your organization?
  • Will a new company name help better articulate the new offerings?

Do not rename just because you acquired another organization unless this acquisition redefines how you’re positioned in the marketplace. You should not choose a new company name because you are launching a new product, either. That is, unless the product will fundamentally redefine your target and competitive arena.

Tip #4: Your Name Must Mean Something

Your new company name should reflect your organizational values and purpose. Don’t go chasing shiny objects, buzzwords or “the zeitgeist” and hope that the organization will follow. You will be setting up an expectation that will be hard to meet if your name, mission, and people do not fundamentally align. Get your organization aligned for this change before trying to rename. Once your team is all on board, that’s the perfect time to announce your newly minted organization to the world.

Tip #5: Can the name cover your long-term goals?

Your company name needs to have longevity. What you call your company today needs to be big enough to account for changes and growth for years in the future. Renaming a company is time consuming and is a considerable investment in your organization's future. The name itself seems small, but what it represents is immense. Naming and renaming should be approached thoughtfully, in order to garner the most ROI from the change.

Naming and renaming are fun projects. There is so much potential in a new name. Follow these five tips and you will be well on your way to a solid name.

[If you need some help with renaming, contact us, and we can put these considerations into action with you.]

This blog was posted by Laura on April 13, 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.

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Hamburgers Menus: A Matter of Taste (April Fools!)

[This is Sandstorm's 2015 April Fool's Day post. Enjoy!]

Anyone involved in mobile usability or mobile user interface design is familiar with the hamburger menu icon. 

But where did this icon come from? Why is it called a "hamburger"? Today we uncover it's interesting origins and how you can change how you use it on your sites to be more user friendly. 

Hamburgers and Navigation are Linked Historically

The connection between hamburgers and navigation has a long history. Hamburg the city from which the sandwich derives its name, was once known as one of the busiest port cities in all of Europe. Located on the Elbe, it has easy access to the North Sea and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean. As a hub for shipping commerce for centuries, Hamburg became well known for the production of accurate maps, compasses, and astrolabes.

Thus, the best way to get from one port to the next was, in effect, to use “Hamburger Navigation.” In fact, it is believed that the beloved sandwich came to the U.S. as the Hamburg steak served to passengers on the Hamburg-America Line steamships.

Its "Iconic" Origin

The history of the hamburger menu icon is quite unclear. While conducting our research, we encountered the earliest depiction of three parallel lines being clicked. Below you will be this example from Egyptian hieroglyphics. We are unsure whether actually touching these would have triggered a secret passage or simply were used as a guide for readers, i.e. “you are going in the right direction.”

At the time of hieroglyphics, hamburgers didn’t exist (nor did Hamburg the city). How did these Egyptian and German roots “stack up” to be the icon we know today?

One hypothesis is that while most Egyptian tombs were being excavated in the early 20th century, the popularity of the hamburger as a sandwich was rising. The more likely hypothesis is that that three horizontal parallel lines looks like a hamburger, albeit a minimalist one. (Taken literally, it looks much more like a grilled cheese or a filet-o-fish.) Or so we thought.

Finding the hamburger menu online

We did some Internet excavation of our own using the Wayback Machine. We reviewed a number of websites related to fast food burger joints. Here we encountered a revelation, the first McDonald’s website and what did we find? A hamburger menu.

While this icon directed users to the restaurant menu to order food, it’s clear that this is the first, and most literal use of this now beloved means of getting from page to page on a website. This visual cue being paired with with the historical aspect of “Hamburger Navigation,” is quite possibly the result of a happy accident.

Even today, Five Guys Burgers and Fries uses a hamburger icon for all iterations of their responsive websites.

How can we make these icons more appealing to users?

You may also be aware of some of the research related to the position of the hamburger menu and whether or not including a label with the word ‘menu’ above or below the icon increases users understanding of the icon (it does).

While we’ve adopted the practice of including labels with icons to improve user understanding and reduce the cognitive load, we’ve been experimenting with a variety of designs for the hamburger menu icon. In particular we wanted to answer the question, can a more realistic hamburger icon affect the site’s user experience? If so, what factors contribute to a better experience? Below are some of the icons we tested along with their results.


Result: Users experienced minimal usability issues but felt the overall site experience was missing something.
Recommendation: Consider toppings to improve visual appeal. Remember, users navigate with their eyes!


Result: Very few usability issues uncovered. 85% of users tested found this to be the most satisfying version.
Recommendation: Your go-to icon for most audiences. Consider adding a fried egg and bacon to enhance the experience.

Double Cheeseburger

Result: Users anticipated a longer menu due to the additional layers. Some users felt tired after navigating. 
Recommendation: A/B test to determine the appetite for site pages from your users.

Triple Cheeseburger

Result: Inconclusive, very few users were able to complete all tasks in the study. Caused confusion among international audiences.
Recommendation: Less is more. May be useful when you need to increase the size of your user base.

Hot Dog

Result: Tested well with children.
Recommendation: Avoid the use of ketchup.

Chicken Sandwich

Result: Great usability but the experience came across as dry.
Recommendation: Consider toast as possibility instead of a kaiser roll or spice it up with some hot sauce!

Veggie Burger

Result: No usability issues uncovered but users were generally dissatisfied with the experience.
Recommendation: Not suitable for the main menu. Save this for the side navigation on the desktop version.


The more delicious the user perceives the hamburger to be, the better the user experience. Get to know your users, preferences vary depending on the use case.


Hieroglyphics -
Grilled Cheese:

If you haven’t realized yet, this post is a complete joke. Happy April Fool’s. Here’s the real history of the hamburger icon.

This blog was posted by Michael on April 1, 2015.
Michael Hartman

About the Author

Michael Hartman

As Sandstorm's Technology and Usability Director, Michael leads our developers and usability researchers in creating web sites and applications—both desktop and mobile—that embody our favorite blend: intuitive user experience and dynamic Drupal development.

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