Sandstorm Blog

Matt
Bernard, Duke and Freddy mascots

A great novel has a cohesive plot, strong characters, and a reliable narrator. A great business model is no different. Your mission statement is the plot. Your employees are the characters that make the plot a reality. Then there’s the narrator, a voice that guides the reader through the material, someone reliable that relates to a specific audience segment...a mascot.

At this point, a lot of B2B companies may be saying to themselves, “Decent analogy, but how does any of this apply to me?  Mascots are a B2C tool, right?”  While it’s true that the most top-of-mind mascots are usually selling high-fructose corn syrup to children, B2B mascots are on the rise, especially in technology companies.

Those in the tech field are in a constant struggle between the creative and the professional. It makes sense to want to appear as a leader in your industry. But the need to be seen as professional by prospective clients can sometimes overshadow the need to effectively guide customers through the decision-making process. A brand mascot can be that guide.

The email marketing software provider MailChimp, is a perfect example of a B2B tech company overcoming the mascot struggle. Their mascot is a chimp named Freddy that delivers all the humanizing and brand awareness one could ask for, and in no way does he hurt the credibility of the company. Finding the balance between a silly character and an effective business tool can be tricky. MailChimp’s graphic designer wrote a very interesting blog post about how their mascot has evolved over time to become the narrator the company needed.

So what makes a mascot effective? Any good mascot does two things. It humanizes a company by creating a personal relationship with its customers, while also increasing brand awareness. In order to accomplish these tasks, the mascot must be an engaging, memorable character with an emotional design and a functional use.

This is Duke. He is the mascot for the software platform Java. According to their website, Duke was designed to represent a "software agent" that performed tasks for the user. He provides an interactive experience that goes well beyond what one would expect from a B2B business. As Duke’s popularity grew so did Java’s. He can now be found at every conference that Java attends, and since becoming “open-sourced” in 2006, anyone can design their own Duke. The current incarnation includes a jetpack and blue wings.

That personal touch and connectivity with a customer is what makes mascots a unique UX tool. In the world of B2B tech companies there isn’t a lot of levity. Giving your customer a real face to interact with (especially if that face is furry) can go a long way to improving their experience.

LogMyCalls.com (now Convirza) is a call tracking platform. They specialize in analyzing and tracking phone calls for businesses. But take one look at their website and you’ll soon find that those calls aren’t being analyzed and tracked by people or even by computers, but by a beaver named Bernard.  He adds a personal touch to the user’s experience. Sometimes all that a customer needs is a helping hand, or paw, or flipper.

Mascots like Bernard, Duke and Freddy provide brand recall that goes well beyond a logo or tagline. Because they are an active narrator of a brand, mascots can be continuously weaved into the brand’s story. As more and more B2B tech companies start effectively using new faces to relate to their customers, it begs the question...Who do you want to tell your story?


At Sandstorm Design, we create powerful brand experiences.... Learn more about Sandstorm Design's marketing services.

This blog was posted by Matt on December 18, 2012.
Matt Chiaromonte

About the Author

Matt Chiaromonte

Matt is a copywriter and social media guru in Sandstorm’s Internship Program. With a background in marketing, journalism, and improv comedy, Matt brings equal parts knowledge and entertainment to our little corner of the Internet. When he isn’t generating social media content, Matt can be found enjoying pizza, podcasts, and many other things that begin with the letter “p”.

Karen
Our Chicago Web Design Firm

Nathan Haas joins Sandstorm as our newest User Interface Designer. Nathan last worked with a web design firm based in Washington, D.C. where he worked on both print and interactive web design projects with associations, healthcare and government.

When he's not at Sandstorm creating impactful user interfaces, he's traveling, cooking, playing lacrosse or spending time at the beach (he was a life-guard for 5 years). Nathan and his girlfriend Lauren, who met at the University of Tennessee, started a blog together that focuses on cooking high-end meals for two on a low-end budget. And as a true designer, Nathan puts his design touch on all of his projects—he designed the logo for the cooking blog and does apparel design for a few lacrosse teams.

Welcome to Sandstorm, Nathan!

This blog was posted by Karen on September 25, 2012.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

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Will
Sandstorm takes home silver in the prestigious 13th annual Web Health Awards℠

Sandstorm takes home silver in the prestigious 13th annual Web Health Awards℠. (WOO HOO!) This competition recognizes the nation’s best digital health resources and top interactive agencies. A panel of 32 experts in digital health media served as judges and selected gold, silver, bronze, and merit winners.

Our work creating an interactive Medicare conversation received a coveted Silver Award for the Web Based Resource Category. This interactive web application helps users understand Medicare health care coverage options from a large insurance company.  With closed captioning as well as the ability to increase the type size, this application was designed to educate people around 65 years old on the benefits available through Medicare.

We launched this highly interactive and accessible application in August 2010.  To offer this helpful tool to an even broader audience, the application was also launched in Spanish in April 2011.

We’re really excited about this accomplishment and look forward to developing more award-winning web applications, Drupal websites, and interactive user experiences in 2012.

This blog was posted by Will on December 22, 2011.
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.

Karen
Chicago marketing firm Sandstorm Design featured in 2011 Inc. 500|5000 Fastest Growing Companies

Hooray! We are in the top 350 for companies in marketing and interactive on the 2011 Inc. 500|5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies in the country! “It’s a really exciting time for Sandstorm,” said Sandy Marsico, our marketing firm's Principal, as I snapped a photo of her with the package Inc. Magazine sent us. “I am so proud of our team’s relentless dedication to our clients and the exceptional work they produce.” Inc. Magazine releases the 500|5000 list each year to celebrate the companies who are thriving in their industries. The Inc. 500|5000 site has the full list, along with features, graphics and multimedia.

Be sure to check out the Sandstorm Design Inc. 500|5000 profile. “We’re honored to be a part of such an inspiring and aspiring group of companies,” said Marsico. Everyone at Sandstorm is enthusiastically looking forward to continued growth. Learn more about Sandstorm Design and our unique blend of marketing strategy, web design and usability services.

This blog was posted by Karen on August 23, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Karen

Another year, another guac off, and another amazing slew of recipes! This year we had eggs, asparagus, radishes and more snuck into the guacamole for that extra-special kick. But it was our User Experience Architect Alma Meshes who took home the gold with her amazing recipe for chocolate avocado truffles with chives, pink peppercorns and a cinnamon crisp. Yummy!

There is now discussion as to whether we need to rethink the rules (since chocolate truffles don't fit under the "guac" category) which currently state that the base ingredient should be avocados. Our Interactive Designer Zak Orner says changing the rules would stifle creativity, and after all, we are a creative firm! Watch video of the fun below:

Chocolate Avocado Truffles with Chives, Pink Peppercorns and a Cinnamon Crisp

Chocolate Truffle

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 large very ripe avocados, peeled and pit removed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups Hershey's baking cocoa (unsweetened)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar

Decorations

  • Hershey’s Special Dark baking cocoa (unsweetened)
  • Hershey’s Milk chocolate icing (melted)
  • Fresh chives Pink peppercorns Cinnamon Crisp (Store bought crescent rolls, rolled flat and covered in butter and cinnamon sugar. Follow baking directions on the package, cool and cut into small triangles)
  • Small paper cups (optional)

Directions

  • In a medium sized bowl, mix together vanilla extract, baking cocoa and powdered sugar.
  • In a medium sized sauce pan, melt butter over low heat.
  • In a food processor, mix melted butter and avocado together until smooth and there are no chunks of avocado left.
  • Return butter and avocado mixture to sauce pan and slowly incorporate vanilla, cocoa and sugar mixture.
  • Place truffle batter in the freezer for 2 – 4 hours or until set enough to roll into balls.
  • Using a melon baller, small ice cream scoop or your hands, roll out balls approximately 3/4” in size. Immediately roll truffle in Hershey’s Special Dark baking cocoa. Place into individual paper cups. (This keeps storage container from getting chocolate all over it!) Return to freezer or refrigerator if the truffle batter gets too soft to form balls.
  • To decorate, use melted chocolate icing as “glue” to hold 2 small chive pieces and 1 peppercorn in place. Place one cinnamon crisp per truffle in the paper cups.
  • Refrigerate until ready to enjoy!

At Sandstorm Design, we know our way around an avocado, but we're also pretty good with the web too! Find out how we can help you with our unique blend of strategy, marketing, web design and usability services.

This blog was posted by Karen on August 16, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

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Karen

I’m not here to report how a particular ad campaign went. I want LinkedIn to view this as free user research – they need to improve the user experience and usability of LinkedIn Ads.

The ad campaign setup consists of what seems to be three simple steps. But as the user moves through the experience, what initially felt simple becomes rigid and constrictive when trying to make changes, update, or delete.

The top three key items LinkedIn Ads could fix to improve usability and the user experience:

  1. No delete? You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve heard this complaint within other areas of LinkedIn before, so I wasn't surprised to find it in LinkedIn Ads. Once created, there is no way to delete an ad campaign or ad variation. You can hide them, but not delete them. Users should always be allowed to delete anything they create (just make them confirm it's really what they want to do).
  2. No “Save” option. If you leave the ad campaign setup process at any time, LinkedIn saves everything you started. This is great, except they don’t tell you they’re going to do that. So if you leave before finalizing a campaign, you would assume you're losing what you started. Upon coming back to find it's still there—you might be surprised, and also annoyed you didn't know it would be saved in the first place. If the functionality is there, tell the users upfront so they can plan for it.
  3. Cannot add new ad variations. I love that LinkedIn gives users 15 ad variations per campaign. But after you go through the initial three steps, there’s no way to come back and simply “Add a new variation.” You have to use a workaround where you duplicate an existing variation and just make changes to that. Users should never have to use a workaround for something that should be basic functionality. In fact, they should never have to use a workaround, period.

Despite my rant here, I love LinkedIn, and am very pleased to see it growing so much (100 million members as of March 2011!). As they grow, usability and the user experience is definitely something they'll want to put more focus on. For now though, these few items would make a nice improvement.

Don't forget to follow our usability and user experience design agency on LinkedIn!

This blog was posted by Karen on April 27, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Karen

Sandstorm Design recently launched a health care web application for a large insurance company. The interactive experience educates users on Medicare health care coverage options. To offer this helpful tool to an even broader audience, the application has now launched in Spanish!

This blog was posted by Karen on April 22, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Karen

Sandstorm Design is thrilled to kick off the new year by launching a new web site and brand for Gregg Communications! What started with a web site has grown into a full on partnership to reinvent Gregg’s brand. And it has been so wonderful to have a client as enthusiastic about the process as we are! With a new website and identity, the Gregg brand is now aligned with the quality service and expertise of their staff. We are so proud to announce this launch and look forward to more growth with Gregg!

This blog was posted by Karen on January 18, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

Karen

They say you learn something new everyday. And today we learned quite a bit from our Technology and Usability Director, Michael Hartman, who shared some key takeaways from a ‘Putting Research into Practice’ training seminar by Human Factors International, Inc. One of the most intriguing findings was from a study by Tractinskya, Cokhavia, Kirschenbauma, and Sharfib (2006) where participants made a split second decision (500 milliseconds) about the attractiveness of a web site. 

Turns out the average attractiveness ratings stayed about the same when the exposure time was extended to 10 seconds. This means users’ impressions about a web site’s aesthetics are made in less than a second. They don’t really change their mind after more time on the site. We all know how important first impressions are. Which is why aesthetics are extremely critical if you want a user to stay on your web site for, well, more than a second. If you ever need a little help with your website design, you know who to call.

This blog was posted by Karen on January 14, 2011.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

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Karen

We are proud to announce the launch of the new F.H. Paschen, S.N. Nielsen web site! We love working with this construction company, some say we’re almost as “Paschen”-ate as they are. Great people, great work, and a great history. We couldn’t wait for this site launch!

In addition to a new branded look and feel, the web site is filled with interactive video and functionality. We built a searchable project database that includes over 100 of their top projects. We also created an interactive experience on the homepage, new custom videos, an interactive map and a dynamically building ‘Contact Us’ form. To top it all off, custom photography highlights one of the company's strongest points of pride – their people. We couldn’t be more passionate about launching this web site for F.H. Paschen, a company we are proud to call our client and partner.

This blog was posted by Karen on November 15, 2010.
Karen Boehl

About the Author

Karen Boehl

Karen does a little bit of everything – webmaster, social media manager and search engine optimizer. She can most often be found on Twitter, in the Usability Lab, or happily buried in the Drupal admin menu.

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