Sandstorm Blog

LauraC
Food Export: When a Website Redesign Turns Into a Rebrand: 5 Steps to Getting It Right

The Sandstorm team recently presented at the ASAE Annual Meeting 2021 on “How to Declutter” a brand. In sharing the details of our work with the Food Export Association of the Midwest and Food Export USA - Northeast, we reflected on the journey and how we got there.

It’s not uncommon when undergoing a redesign project, that organizations quickly realize that the new design of the website can be less impactful if the branding does not align. Our partnership started out similarly -- focused first on a redesign and update of the website.

But through primary research via 1:1 stakeholder and user interviews, the team quickly realized there was a deeper need beyond just the website. There was a real opportunity for Food Export to rebrand itself to better connect with its target audiences.

Sandstorm and Food Export pivoted our plan to integrate these 5 Rebranding Steps with the website redesign, in order to invigorate the brand and give it new life:

Step 1: Research, Research, Research

Sandstorm quickly immersed itself in Food Export’s brand, culture, market, and competitive set through primary and secondary research. The team quickly learned that the Food Export Association of the Midwest and Food Export USA - Northeast brands were unclear.

Even the most established companies with a clear mission statement, vision and values, don’t always have a clear brand and brand platform. This can create confusion and without a defined brand, organizations often struggle with trying to communicate everything to everyone. For Food Export, this was evident in the pages of copy walls on the website and dense copy within its marketing materials.

Sandstorm’s goal was to create a clear, distinctive, and cohesive brand. Through 1:1, in-depth interviews (IDIs), the team was able to get a deeper understanding of the brand and positioning by not only speaking directly to its constituents but also reviewing the current market, industry, and competitive landscape.

Step 2: Define the Brand Platform

From there, Sandstorm defined the organization’s desired position in the market and developed a brand platform to guide the personification of the brand. This is comprised of:

  • Brand Essence is the single, simple idea that lives at the core of the brand. And is the internal reason for being.
  • Positioning is the core idea that ultimately sets you apart from your competitors. To work, it must be believable, distinctive, and relevant.
  • Personality defines the character of the brand in human terms to shape the feel and tone of communications.
  • Promise is the way the brand will satisfy expectations, fulfill needs and establish trust.

With the brand now established verbally, the team set out to align this with the visual elements of the brand, beginning with the logo.

Step 3: Refresh the Logo

Brand logo refreshes or updates can feel overwhelming, from aligning on new logo requirements or considerations to getting stakeholder buy-in, to the stress of a global internal and external roll-out. However, this is a critical step to ensure the brand will continue to resonate with its target audiences (current and future).

Logos do not need to change often, but they should be re-evaluated when:

  • Business has evolved by either changing or expanding its offering
  • New competition and market changes occur
  • Speaking to a new audience(s) with new products or services
  • Reflecting new brand platform to bring brands to life visually
  • Aligning with shifts in industry and technology, as a brand’s logo can not only feel aesthetically tired, but the design may not be compatible with trends today

For the Food Export Association of the Midwest USA and Food Export USA - Northeast the latter two were major drivers behind updating the brand. Previous logos had gradients and details that were dated and did not translate to digital mediums.

As a result, the team underwent a refresh of the logo, which helped to not only modernize the brand experience but also deliver important consistency for how the brand should be used across Food Export’s ecosystem.

Step 4: Create the Brand Identity

With logos established, the next step was to complete the rest of the brand identity. The brand identity set out to capture the global opportunities that Food Export offers through use of vibrant colors, bold authentic photography and a layering of elements to create depth and richness to the creative. Branding elements, typography, imagery, font usage, primary and secondary color palettes, as well as example brand applications were developed and then pulled together in the brand guidelines. This serves as the digital ‘rulebook’ for all aspects of the look and feel of the brand and provides important brand consistency for all Food Export’s communications.

Step 5: Activate the Brand

With the refreshed visual and brand identity complete, the next step was to internally roll out the brand to get buy-in, input and generate excitement with key stakeholders, employees, and leadership, while delivering the assets they needed. From there, Sandstorm moved into the external launch of the brand, which was tightly integrated with the launch of the website and most prominent digital and print asset - www.foodexport.org.

The new site included personalization (key messaging, personalized pricing options, related content) while providing a much more tailored and focused experience. In addition, Sandstorm updated key brand and visual elements, while modernizing infographics and critical tools like its Program Guide, making it easier for its members to engage with the content.

Measuring Success

Not only has Food Export Midwest and Northeast received incredibly positive feedback on the new brand and website experience, but the analytics show a significant lift in website session duration, overall clicks, and impressions, as well as a much lower bounce rate, so users are finding what they need much more easily in the new experience.

And the icing on the cake was winning a Hermes Gold Award for the work we completed on the brand refresh and website.

Check it out! www.foodexport.org

This blog was posted by LauraC on September 22.
Laura Chaparro

About the Author

Laura Chaparro

As Sandstorm's Senior Account Director, Laura helps clients grow their businesses. She has worked at both big and small agencies, with small local and global brands garnering extensive experience in B2B, B2C, and retail marketing.

Amanda Heberg
Inclusive Design: Quantitative and Qualitative Research to Drive Award-Winning Gender Report

Find out what Elsevier’s most recent gender research uncovered in the Gender Report 2020: The Researcher Journey Through a Gender Lens.

How do you transform thousands of data points on gender research and make that information inclusive, fresh, consumable, and appealing to a broad set of audiences? How do we not overwhelm users with too much information and strike the right balance of data visualizations, research findings, and key content?

More importantly, how do we represent the progress of gender equality in research, while still communicating the work that still needs to be done to close the gap?

These are the questions Elsevier was grappling with when the research marketing team partnered with Sandstorm to bring the newest Elsevier gender report to life digitally.

Promoting gender diversity and inclusion in research through an evidence-based approach is a critical part of Elsevier’s ongoing research efforts. Elsevier is one of the largest, most well-respected information analytics organizations that helps institutions and professionals progress science, advance healthcare, and improve performance.

Elsevier’s Gender Report 2020 provides a deeper understanding of the role gender plays in the global research enterprise. It brings improvements in the methodology of inferred gender disambiguation and incorporates new elements, such as career progression and collaboration network analyses and perspectives from researchers.

Elsevier partnered with Sandstorm for high-powered data visualization, helping Elsevier to solidify its positioning as a global information analytics organization and thought leader while showing its commitment to gender diversity and inclusion.

Sandstorm worked collaboratively with Elsevier to provide an updated state of the current landscape including:

  • overall research report strategy and inclusive design
  • marketing content development
  • creative campaign development
  • design of data-driven infographics highlighting work in 10 countries
  • data visualization and reporting for thousands of data points, ensuring the most critical data was consumable and highly usable​
  • integrated marketing and promotion strategy, including promotional marketing assets, key messaging, and content for Elsevier’s online and offline channels -- social, email, web, .ppt, etc., in order to promote and drive engagement for Elsevier’s audiences

Key Gender Report 2020 Highlights*:​

  • Participation of women in research is increasing overall, inequality still exists across geographies and subject areas in terms of publication outputs, citations, awarded grants, and collaborations.​
  • Representation of women in research is increasing, but inequality remains.
  • Effort is still needed to ensure equality for women in terms of publication outputs, citations, awarded grants, and collaborations.
  • Latest findings indicate that disparities still linger with slower growth of articles published by women, higher numbers of women leaving research, and understudied research areas.​
  • Research shows women are not participating in collaboration networks at the same level as men, which may be impacting their career progression.
  • On average, men have more coauthors than women, with a tendency to collaborate with those of the same gender across the subject areas.
  • On a positive note, in terms of research authorship, we are closer to gender parity now than a decade ago, with women continuing to publish for nearly as long as men over the course of their careers.​

Key Gender Report 2020 Insights*:

The past fifty years have seen enormous strides for and by women in research. Women now comprise a greater share of science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and medicine graduates than ever before, and there is increased focus and energy on balanced participation, factoring gender into research and research on gender itself.

However, latest findings show that disparities still exist, with slower growth of articles published by women and higher numbers of women leaving research and understudied research areas.

Ultimately, there’s more work to do to address issues that cut across diversity and inclusion.

We are incredibly proud of our work with Elsevier in bringing to light both the progress that has been made as well as the opportunities that exist to close the gap.

*Reference Elsevier’s Gender Report 2020 here: https://www.elsevier.com/connect/gender-report

Hermes Creative Awards - 2021 Platinum WinnerWe are honored to have received the Platinum Hermes Creative Award for our collaborative inclusive design work with Elsevier.

This blog was posted by Amanda Heberg on June 17.
Amanda Heberg

About the Author

Amanda Heberg

As the VP, Business Development, Amanda leads new business development, sales, partnerships and marketing strategy across Sandstorm. Amanda collaborates closely with new clients to build strong, long-lasting partnerships while aligning Sandstorm's capabilities to solve client business problems.

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.  

eCommerce UX Best Practices: Good Ethics is Good UX & Good eCommerce

Earlier this year a German court ruled that Amazon’s ‘dash’ buttons violated that country’s consumer protection laws. These super convenient networked devices stick on your fridge or washing machine to order things like laundry detergent and pet food with the simple push of a button. German law requires shoppers to have price information at the time of their transaction. Amazon’s buttons, designed to be convenient, only provided a product logo and a button so users wouldn’t know if a price had increased, decreased or how it differed from competitors.

At Sandstorm, our core eCommerce UX principles include:

  • Transparency in pricing
  • Giving users the ability to quickly and clearly modify or cancel an order
  • Providing ways to quickly decline cross-sells and up-sells

While users have come to expect a standard ‘exit through the gift shop’ process, they are also savvy enough to know that eCommerce sites like Amazon and Expedia may not be showing them the cheapest options first.

Our user research has shown that the current eCommerce shopper is one who will prioritize convenience as much as cost. We refer to this persona as the ‘Energy Manager’. She has little time, is often multi-tasking, desperately craves convenience, and expects competitive pricing. From a saving money standpoint, the Energy Manager will apply all of the coupons and promotional codes she can find and will split orders to use more coupons.

She is also very wary of sites that engage in deceptive practices or make her jump through hoops to complete a transaction. Often these are the sites that do not get return visits.

There Is A Cost For Bad Behavior

While you may be able to frustrate users with complicated interfaces or processes to try and get them to do what you want, ultimately the only thing you’ll achieve is user frustration and brand denigration. Even worse, you’ll probably just earn yourself more customer service calls and brand-eroding, sometimes viral, dreadful complaints across social media channels without achieving the business outcome you desired.

But We Really Want To Sell You That Beer

For example, a Chicago neighborhood movie theater uses its own non-responsive website to sell tickets. The theater uses a drop down for the type of ticket the user would like to purchase.

Unethical ecommerce dropdown example

While lots of folks enjoy a good beer with their movie, it’s apparent that not everyone does because the theater added a note to try and prevent users from making the wrong selection.

So here you have a situation where the theater is defaulting a choice that will make them more money by upselling a beer but have clearly run into the issue of users making the default selection by mistake and then complaining. The resolution to these complaints? Add more copy (i.e. noise) to try and avoid the error.

A transparent, ethical, best practice eCommerce UX solution would be:

Ethical ecommerce dropdown example

This way the user has to intentionally make the selection that applies to them with the most common selection listed first. The business still gets to offer the beer upsell but doesn’t have to deal with as many complaints and no copy is required to work around the error case.

Being Good Pays Off

Users understand that eCommerce sites are businesses and are intended to make money. At Sandstorm, we have discovered that when a businesses’ profit model is clear, it tends to engender more confidence from the user as the best digital experiences are centered around a value exchange (i.e. “I give you my email and you give me a deal”). eCommerce sites that follow UX best practices provide clear pricing information along with relevant up-sells and cross-sells and easy ways for the users to get what they want quickly and easily are the ones who will earn their users’ loyalty. Good UX and good eCommerce will pay off in smoother transactions, less customer support and more repeat business.

Does your eCommerce site provide the pricing transparency and easy shopping experience that users want and good business demands? A great way to find out is with a standardized heuristic evaluation that grades your site on 10 common usability metrics. Contact us to get started.

This blog was posted by on June 10, 2019.
James Wynne

About the Author

James Wynne

James Wynne is Director of User Experience for Sandstorm and has been in digital product development since 1996. He has worked as a UX designer for a myriad of clients including large eCommerce brands, mobile device manufacturers and integrated marketing agencies.

Sandy
Just Launched: Kentico Website for Beloved Household Products, CLR® and Tarn-X®

Jelmar is most recognized for its broad range of cleaning products (CLR and Tarn-X) that have helped solve some of the toughest household cleaning problems... maybe you've seen their commercials to clean your showerhead?

The CLR Brands website was outdated and virtually unusable on a mobile device. There was also a great deal of confusion across the brands – parent company, Jelmar vs its flagship products (CLR and Tarn-X) and related products. The site did not provide a cohesive experience, nor was it intuitive for consumers visiting the site for more information or where to buy CLR or Tarn-X products. It also did not properly serve the needs of its distributors and retailers. Given the brand structure and Jelmar’s drastically different audiences, it was critical to have a modernized user experience that was cohesive while providing variations based on the two distinct user groups. Sandstorm was challenged with reinvigorating and personalizing the CLR brand experience integrating social, digital, marketing automation and the website; as well as utilizing technology to drive better business decisions – which is why the Kentico EMS content management system was ultimately selected.

Based on our in-depth user research, one of the primary goals for consumers was to identify where they could buy CLR products. Sandstorm completely overhauled the “Where to Buy” feature (formerly the Retailer Locator feature, which we renamed based on our usability study results). This tool incorporates a custom Product Search, including radius map in several key areas of the site to improve overall usability – check out the Where to Buy feature here. On the administrative side, Sandstorm developed a product management tool within Kentico, so Jelmar staff can easily manage updates to products in a single location, which propagates throughout the site. In addition, Sandstorm implemented Kentico’s Smart Search to drastically improve the findability of products, "How To" videos, FAQ spec sheets, blogs and news, etc.

Behind the scenes, Sandstorm utilized Kentico’s Staging and Synchronization features to manage development and testing in one environment, user acceptance and content editing in a second environment, and live production in a third, while ensuring that integration of code and content between the sites can always be easily managed and synchronized. From a content migration perspective, Sandstorm utilized Kentico’s import utility and custom scripts to map content into the new site, product details, images and related taxonomy. Sandstorm also leveraged Kentico’s features for tagging, categorization, Google sitemap generation, and other capabilities to improve SEO of the site.

The entire project included a complete redesign, in-depth user research, information architecture, usability testing, UX/UI development, Kentico install/configuration, Kentico web development, content migration, QA testing, analytics and launch. Additionally, upon launch, Sandstorm ran multiple email campaigns using Kentico’s Contact Management and Email Marketing features to deliver messages segmented for audiences interested in retail products separately from products for industrial/commercial uses.

End results? 380% increase in use with a 78% increase in site entrances directly to the new "Where to Buy" versus the previous "Retailer Locator". Overall 12% increase of pageviews, and an 11% reduction in bounce rate – within the first 30 days. Visit clrbrands.com.

This blog was posted by Sandy on January 23.
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.

ux, ux strategy, strategy, usability, 2017, trends

Everyone makes predictions on the next big trend for 2017. This year, we ditched the crystal ball to give you actionable UX strategies that will drive growth and innovation in your organization.

 

1. Tap into your data and do something with it

Are you collecting tons of data but not using it? Are you looking at pages of reports with no actionable information? These are lost data mining opportunities that can help prioritize initiatives and allow your business to expand or pivot. When data is combined from multiple sources and analyzed properly, it can help you make more informed digital marketing decisions that can save marketing dollars or drive additional revenue. For 2017, commit to creating an analytics strategy to regularly uncover insights from your data.

 

2. Stop guessing and simply talk to your users

Take the subjectivity out of internal meetings and go straight to the source. It’s easier and cheaper than ever before to have quick and meaningful conversations with your users through social, one-to-one phone interviews, in-person at conferences and events, and usability studies. (Did you know you only need 5-6 users from a particular user group to identify 80% of the usability issues?)

 

3. Build a customer journey map

Brand engagements are moving off computer screens to cell phones, tablets, wearable tech, gaming consoles, and even smart devices like refrigerators. Understanding all the various touch points along your customer’s journey is critical to providing the consistent, personalized brand experience they expect.

 

4. Look outside your industry for inspiration

It’s easy to see what everyone else is doing within your industry. To identify white space opportunities for your organization, look up and out (e.g., if customer service is your differentiator, look at Southwest Airlines or Disney). Businesses in other industries may have already solved the problem you are looking to tackle—it just takes a little mindshift to find them.

 

Turning these 4 UX strategies into priorities in 2017 will give you quantitative and qualitative rationale to make better (and less subjective) digital marketing decisions.  

 
This blog was posted by on January 18.
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.

user research, UX, usability, World Usability Day, UX research

There seems to be a holiday for everything now, including user experience. And Sandstorm couldn’t help but celebrate it.

The theme for World Usability Day 2016—Sustainable User Experience (UX)—unites UX and sustainability through the shared objective of creating unparalleled experiences. At Sandstorm, we understand the impact UX research and design can have on projects and, most importantly, people.

So we got excited to capitalize on our UX expertise while cleaning up our office recycling habits.

We assembled a team of eco-warriors—aka UX architects and marketing specialists—to investigate our team’s recycling habits. By utilizing user interviews—one of many types of user research—for this project, we were able to better understand current behaviors in the office and identify opportunities for improvement.

We asked our team members questions about their basic recycling knowledge, why they recycle, and what keeps them from recycling at the office. We uncovered two key findings from our research and, as a result, devised four ways to improve recycling.  

Key Findings

  1. The majority of Sandstormers want to, and do, recycle
  2. The most significant barrier to recycling is Sandstormers’ uncertainty as to whether an item can be recycled or not

Ways to Improve Recycling at Sandstorm

  1. Ensure bins are present by every desk and in every conference room
  2. Clearly communicate what can and cannot be recycled
  3. Reduce plasticware/food waste
  4. Explore purchasing a dishwasher

Usability is about tweaking what you currently have to create a more effective experience; our user research showed that—with Sandstormers already in the habit of recycling—we need only to implement a few minor changes to encourage greener behaviors. 

And just because we have action items now doesn’t mean our process is over. We will continue to track office recycling, and do follow up user research, to ensure office recycling is optimized for a greener tomorrow.

This blog was posted by on November 10.
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.