Sandstorm Blog

Tom
B2B Marketers -- Getting Back to Basics, Post-COVID

COVID Forced Companies to Quickly Pivot to a More Robust Digital Approach. But Now What?

The past year under lockdown has evolved to an increased confidence among many B2B marketers. Whether providing services or products, many B2B companies’ previous digital hesitancy went by the wayside as they found themselves examining their digital presence with a much different perspective.

For many in the pre-COVID era, envisioning how their B2B customers could directly engage with their business via websites, portals, social media, and blogs was somewhat uncertain, let alone trying to figure out how to quickly transition to a thriving, digitally-driven sales and marketing process.

The COVID Effect

Unlike many other changes prompted by COVID-19, B2B companies were forced to examine how to convert their current digital assets from a passive presence towards a more robust digital approach.

The forced shutdown and remote working behaviors caused by the pandemic created a flurry of upgrades to websites. SEO, marketing automation, and content all with the hope of delivering a better quality online customer experience.

But in the absence of a strategically driven approach, technical and content upgrades are really just a first step. To realize the full business benefits of a cohesive digital marketing effort, companies should do one thing well: Know your customer better than ever before.

Audience Identification

Yes, this is a basic starting point, but you would be shocked at how many companies forget to keep their audience and the audience needs as the key driver towards marketing. Without fully understanding your audiences, marketing efforts will not be as effective, especially post-COVID.

Unlike B2C customers, B2B purchases are more dynamic and often made by or influenced by more than one individual. Having multiple stakeholders can alter your content, the digital tools, and the service portals you utilize to ensure a quality digital experience.

The good news is many B2B companies have transactional data that can assist towards identifying the ideal customer profile. Using transactional data can expose the buyer, the influencer, past purchase cycles, titles of purchasers, and in some cases audience pain points. It’s critical to use this transactional data to start forming a base target profile.

Research, research, and research.

Interview your customers to round out your understanding of their expectations. Many B2B companies just assume their repeat customers are being satisfied by your product or service pre, during and post COVID. Implement a more thorough research model around why they purchase and how their purchase behavior has changed since the lockdown. Really understand what tools and content they have engaged with to formulate purchase decisions and what they expect to experience with your organization can enrich your ideal customer profile.

Bottom line, what are the common challenges, needs, and objections that this group of people face in their role, and how does your product or service add value.

Analyze Your Competitors

Define your ideal customers further by examining what your competitors are doing. How has COVID changed the way they do business? Review their digital content, how are they messaging, what unique position are they using to address customer pain points, what digital tools are they using to create a quality online experience.

Create Personas

Gathering data from transactional resources, audience research, and competitive activity will allow you to start formulating an in-depth understanding of your ideal customers.

Buyer personas are the foundation of your company’s digital marketing strategy. They will set the tone for all of your company’s marketing material, content creation, and strategy for your entire CX experience.

Once created, a detailed buyer persona can provide a template for how all of the digital tools in your company interact with your ideal customer. This will include everything from your brand voice, your website information, which channels you use to interact with your audience, and much more.

Going Forward

Customers expect a high-quality remote experience, and companies must strive for improvement in this area if they want to cut sales costs and increase customer satisfaction.

Many companies have pivoted and invested in improved digital tools. Those addressing their audience needs and expectations first will experience a better return on their investment as we enter the post-COVID phase.

Take the time to fully understand your audience before investing in your next-generation website, blog, or any digital tools you are using. The future has changed, and smart B2B companies are changing with it.

This blog was posted by Tom on April 20.

About the Author

Tom Jacobs

Tom, President, uses his keen strategic eye to help clients create groundbreaking creative campaigns. And he's been a thought leader appearing on Bloomberg, WGN, NBC, CMO.com, and Wall Street Journal.  

Sandstorm takes Hermes Gold for Accuity ad

Sandstorm Design was honored with a gold statuette at the Hermes Creative Awards. The award was presented to Sandstorm for its impactful print ad for Accuity’s payments data products. This year’s award winners were announced by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals (AMCP), which hosts the annual Hermes Creative Awards competition.

Sandstorm’s breakthrough ad was targeted at professionals at financial technology companies who develop products for the payments industry. The ad dramatizes the catastrophic consequences of choosing the wrong provider of payments data, and created an industry stir when introduced at the annual global Money 20/20 conference.

Accuity Ad - Fintech

The Hermes Creative Awards are an annual international competition recognizing and celebrating the messengers and creators of traditional and emerging media. Entries are judged by the AMCP, an international organization consisting of thousands of creative professionals. Marketing materials across a wide range of categories are submitted by corporate marketing and communication departments, advertising agencies, PR firms, graphic design shops, production companies, and web and digital creators.

This blog was posted by on June 19.
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.

Janna
How To Get Amazing Creative From Your Agency

The mind reading fantasy

How great would it be if someone could read our minds and instantly reflect what we were thinking? Okay, it might be a bit creepy at first, but after we acclimated, it would be pretty fantastic. We would never have to order anything; we would just pay and collect our latte, salad, or sandwich. We would never argue with our spouse. We would always know what our boss wanted. It would be so productive, we would increase GDP by 200%.

Reality sets in

Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in today. So when clients want us to read their minds, we panic—and for good reason. We strive to embed ourselves into our clients’ organizations and businesses, but we are horrible mind readers. When budgets and timelines are tight (they always are), it’s best to align with a creative brief before jumping into creative execution: it saves time and money and prevents angst.

A tool that functions well in reality

Please plan for some time and money to invest in a well-written creative brief when you are planning on giving work to an agency or creative partner. Briefs give the agency time to process all of the information you have given them and think through any questions they may have. This distillation of information is an important step that allows for strategic thinking and alignment. The act of writing a brief is a discipline that requires prioritization and ensures the creative team has the right information before crafting a communication solution for you, the client.

Providing a way for effective creative evaluation across an organization

As a client, you should demand a brief when embarking on a creative project. It has a strong ROI and is the contract between you and the creative team in terms of what to expect when the agency presents creative to you. You should use this brief to evaluate the creative and ensure your internal stakeholders do the same thing. This ensures that your campaigns stay focused and on strategy. A brief also helps take personal preferences out of the equation and forces each evaluator to start to think in terms of your target market.

A simple solution, just add a pinch of discipline

I have worked in many places and with many clients that let the creative brief languish and even disappear. This results in many revisions, escalating budgets, and blown deadlines—not to mention awful creative executions. This is the epitome of the phrase “garbage in, garbage out.”

So if you want to ensure great creative that’s on budget and on schedule, you must invest the time and resources into developing a well-thought-out creative brief that has alignment from all stakeholders in the process. It’s a simple and classic tool that works.

This blog was posted by Janna on February 23.
Janna Fiester

About the Author

Janna Fiester

Sandstorm's VP of UX & Brand Innovation, Janna, is a design-thinker. Showcased in several design publications and exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, she is talented in taking nuggets of good ideas and nurturing them into solutions that are always strategic, engaging and visually delightful.

For awhile there, in the land of web design, it seemed that sans serif fonts were taking over. Arial, Verdana, Geneva, and even san-serif itself. Google got in on the action too, ditching its long time faith in serif fonts for its new logo a few years back.


 

Serif fonts have come back into vogue. Errol Morris, filmmaker and author, ran an experiment in the New York Times in 2012. Readers thought they were merely reading an essay and deciding whether or not they agreed with a statement about security. This was, supposedly, to tell whether they were optimists or pessimists, however Morris was actually testing something else. He was testing fonts. He chose several serif and sans-serif fonts to see if readers showed a favoritism toward any type of font. Which font was more convincing? Baskerville, a serif font, won hands down.

I’m guessing one study from 4 years ago isn’t enough to get you back on the serif train. Well, just this year, another serif font Times New Roman, was voted “most trusted typeface” by UK company, solopress, following a survey of 1,000 people (Comic Sans came in second place, so no survey is perfect).
 

That’s not all, though. The US National Library of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control, as well as others in the crossroads between government and medicine recommend a serif font: “Serif fonts are usually easier to read than sans-serif fonts. This is because the serif makes the individual letters more distinctive and easier for our brains to recognize quickly” (PDF).


A few google searches will show you that serif fonts have a reputation for readability, but also for conveying nostalgia and authority.

One of our recent clients, Vibrant (Formerly DHCU) came to us with a rebrand. For this client, we needed a way to merge the fun and friendly atmosphere of their business, while not undermining the trust and reliability you’d expect from a financial institution. Our solution was a mix of exciting and engaging color for their brand married with a serif font for their logo to keep their brand grounded in the financial world.

 

 

If your website could use a new look, or you're looking to build trust and confidence with your brand, Sandstorm can help.

 

Now get your serif on (go ‘head, be gone with it).

This blog was posted by on January 27.
Jason Dabrowski

About the Author

Jason Dabrowski

Jason is one of Sandstorm’s designers and also helps keep the office running smoothly. As a veteran of the theatre—from acting to directing, lighting to set design—he knows the value of hard work and a positive attitude. Look for his unique voice on the blog.

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

Sandy
Chicago Marketing Firm, Outsource Marketing Execution, Marketing Outsourcing

Extend your team and scale your efforts by outsourcing your marketing efforts. Imagine having on-call crazy-talented creatives, writers full of curiosity and wit, incredible UX architects, thoughtful marketing strategists, visionary video producers, and senior-level web developers to allow your team to do what they do best. From creating high-level concepts to executing on your entire marketing plan, our team would love to collaborate with yours!

Benefits of outsourcing your marketing:

  1. Free your team up to lead, manage, and focus on your company's growth
  2. Immediately have your marketing team up and running on day 1 (rather than hiring over 60-120 days)
  3. Access to all skill sets (like having your own in-house marketing firm, writing, design, UX, and web development department)
  4. Gain insight and perspective on how other companies and industries are solving their marketing challenges
  5. Work with top talent (agencies attract some of the best creative minds in the industry)
  6. Minimize HR costs and overhead
  7. Mitigate employee management
  8. Accomplish more within your marketing budget with our flexible retainer structures

Examples of marketing that is often outsourced include email campaigns, banner campaigns, videos, marketing collateral, whitepapers, direct mail, trade advertising campaigns, market research reports, e-books, marketing brochures, web analytics reporting, sales enablement tools, videos, annual reports, infographics, trade show booths, SEO & SEM campaign management, and internal marketing communications. 

This blog was posted by Sandy on July 5.
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.

THIS FILE WAS POSTED UNDER: 
this file was posted under: 
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.

Pages