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Bill Kurland
Mentor Guiding a Young Professional

I wrote my first song at the age of two; it was called “I Can Do It By Myself.” Unfortunately, that became my mantra for longer than I’d like to admit, and it wasn’t until my twenties that I discovered the profound impact mentoring could have in my career and personal life. Since then, I’ve been incredibly lucky to meet men and women with the passion to guide me through my exploration of the world. And I’m especially grateful to work alongside so many of them every day.

Mentorship is an essential part of our culture at Sandstorm®. As our founder and CEO Sandy Marsico recently shared with ABC News, having a great mentor was essential to her success, which is why learning and sharing is one of our three core values. Our amazing directors not only share their decades of expertise with fellow Sandstormers, they’re active in the community, educating and inspiring the next generation of developers, designers, and strategists, too.

I’ve benefitted immensely from our creative directors’ mentorship—shout out to John and Janna for anything I missed during our company You Rocks. And it got me thinking about how mentorship has helped other Sandstormers in their careers and personal lives.

Learning From the Best

John Rausch - MentoringAs a budding copywriter, Creative Director John Rausch was fortunate to be mentored by the creative genius who wrote the immortal "Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun" jingle for the Big Mac. “In the years I worked for him, I learned a lifetime's worth of insights into developing impactful creative work,” John shared. “But perhaps the most significant thing he taught me was the importance of paying it forward—sharing my own passion and acumen with the creative professionals who would come to work for me.”

Finding Solutions Through Empathy

Megan Durst - MentoringAs a resident assistant at Central Michigan University, Strategist Megan Durst found a mentor in her resident director. “He taught me a lot about understanding people’s motivation,” she said. “It really helped me empathize with my students and help them find solutions to their problems. Not only have those skills been critical in my personal life, they’ve been equally essential in my career as well.”

Teaching the Next Generation

Janna Fiester - MentoringExecutive Creative Director Janna Fiester’s undergrad professor has remained a mentor ever since her time at Ball State. Her professor even encouraged Janna to earn an MFA and become a professor herself, which she did. It was during her time as a professor at UIC that Janna began mentoring students of her own. “Now one of my mentees is also a client. She still calls me her mentor and a strong influence to choosing design as a career.”

Lifelong Relationships

Amanda Heberg - MentoringAmanda, our Director of Business Integration, found an amazing mentor in her volleyball coach—even getting the opportunity to coach alongside him when her daughter reached high school. “He gave me great advice throughout my entire life: in business, coaching, and in my personal life. He truly cared about me and making sure I was successful. He's had such a profound impact on my life and always went out of his way to help me, even without asking.”

Friends in High Places

Joe RuelFront-End Developer Joe Ruel was fresh out of college when he met one of his mentors. As Joe recalls, “My mentor guided me through many aspects of development and helped me find my passion in front-end development.” Though his mentor moved onto another company, they kept in touch. Over the next year, Joe heard so much about his mentor’s new company that he applied for a position there. Sandstorm Senior Front-End Developer Jeff Umbricht continues to be a guiding influence in Joe’s life, and was quick to note that Joe got the job on the strength of his considerable skills alone.

How has mentorship impacted your life? We’d love to hear your story in the comments.

This blog was posted by Bill Kurland on June 1, 2017.
Bill Kurland, Copywriter

About the Author

Bill Kurland

Copywriter Extraordinaire

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Bill Kurland
Content Marketing

Content marketing is the cornerstone of any successful digital marketing strategy, but it’s not enough just to create compelling content. You also have to think through how users engage with your content.

Since almost 90 percent of users are less likely to come back to a website after a bad experience, you really have to create a great experience right from the start. But don’t worry; creating compelling, user-friendly content isn’t as hard as it sounds. With a few simple changes, you can pack a serious punch. In fact, you’re probably following some of these best practices already.

1. Write content that’s scannable.

Like most readers, you’re probably skimming this article. Nielsen Norman Group, a leading UX research firm, found that 4 out of 5 users scan web pages looking for important information and fewer than 2 in 10 read word by word.

To deliver useful information to your users, your content needs to be scannable. You can make your content more user-friendly by following these best practices for web content. Start with the top 10 pages your users visit the most on your site and apply these principles:

  • Think mobile first—look at how your content displays on a device.
  • Use meaningful sub-headings instead of overly clever ones.
  • Turn items listed in a paragraph into a bulleted list.
  • Keep paragraphs to a single idea, and keep them concise. Paragraphs can have just 2-3 sentences.
  • Edit your content, then edit again.

2. Use hyperlinks within your body content—and make them stand out.

Hyperlinks—the colorful text that links to other pages—are essential to a great user experience. They serve as signposts on the road to discovery and help users explore your content in a meaningful way.

Underlined text in a contrasting color is the best way to communicate a hyperlink, and it’s what most users expect. Using a longer phrase of three or four words is more engaging than a single keyword, and using really engaging language related to the link is even better.

Just remember not to overdo it; two to three links on a page is plenty for content of 450 words or less.

3. Create engaging and attractive calls to action.

Whether you’re trying to increase newsletter signups, encourage engagement, or promote an event, an appealing call to action (CTA) will improve your results.

What’s the key to an enticing CTA? Use a vibrant color from your brand style to draw attention to buttons, and give them a consistent look and feel. Use verbs in your CTA copy that tell users what you want them to do and what they get in return:

  • Register for the event
  • Request more information
  • Download this report

If you follow these tips, you’ll be able to make quick optimizations that have a real impact on your site. Your current users will praise the improved usability, share more of your content, and you’ll have laid a solid foundation for attracting new users who are essential to growing business.

This blog was posted by Bill Kurland on March 23, 2017.
Bill Kurland, Copywriter

About the Author

Bill Kurland

Copywriter Extraordinaire

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Bill Kurland
Healthcare, value based care, app, application, healthcare app

As healthcare costs continue to rise, value-based care has emerged as a way to improve patient care and reduce costs. Value-based care departs from the traditional fee-for-service model where physicians and facilities are paid for the tests and procedures they supply, and instead institutes a patient-centered system that pays doctors and hospitals based on the quality of care they provide.

Prominent employers, private health plans, and the federal government have embraced the shift from fee-for-service to value-based payment models—including accountable care organizations, bundled payments, and patient centered medical homes—but widespread adoption has been slower than expected.

A study from Quest Diagnostics and Inovalon (PDF) implies that the adoption rate has been hindered by a lack of tools for professionals to succeed in a value-based care system. Nearly two-thirds of physicians and health plan executives said that they do not have the tools needed to succeed in a value-based care system.

It’s unlikely that this will remain an issue for long, as solutions that advance value-based care initiatives, such as health apps, are a primary focus among innovators in medtech, according to PwC’s Health Research Institute. Half of the top ten medical device companies are offering customized solutions independent of any product offerings, while 70 percent are shifting toward services-based offerings.

Many of the top healthcare technology advances to watch for 2016, as identified by the ECRI Institute, point the way toward value-based care. Mobile stroke units, wireless wearable sensors, and miniature leadless pacemakers will have significant effects on patient care and allow medical professionals to provide a holistic service inside and outside of a healthcare facility.

Sandstorm is currently working on several projects that incorporate analytics into medical and health applications and offer tools for healthcare professionals to succeed in a value-based care system. One of these innovative projects is an iPhone app for physicians and medical coders that allows them to:

  • Track the number of patients moving through a facility
  • Identify trends in diagnosis within facilities and across regions
  • Assess physician performance
  • Ensure the quality of care provided

This application can increase efficiency by enabling reassignment of patients and doctors to facilities based on need, and allowing hospital administrators to identify trends in patient care and illness to offer more effective treatment.

For medical professionals, the app will address one of the most common barriers to mobile technology in healthcare: a lack of internet connectivity in hospitals. The app will offer an offline mode, which will allow doctors to continue tracking their work as they make their rounds. Once their device reestablishes a Wi-Fi connection, the app will immediately upload data back to the server.

At Sandstorm, we’re looking forward to providing more innovative tools to providers and organizations throughout the healthcare industry that enable the implementation of a value-based care system. 

This blog was posted by Bill Kurland on September 30, 2016.
Bill Kurland, Copywriter

About the Author

Bill Kurland

Copywriter Extraordinaire

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Bill Kurland
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.

 

Step 1: 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 Bill Kurland on August, 15, 2016.
Bill Kurland, Copywriter

About the Author

Bill Kurland

Copywriter Extraordinaire

Bill Kurland
Bill Kurland, Copywriter

Hey, everyone. I’m Bill Kurland, Copywriter Extraordinaire and I’m proud to be a Sandstormer.

I earned my first dollar rocking out on my Mickey Mouse guitar at the Chicago Blues Fest when I was two years old. That ignited my passion for musical performance and over the last 28 years I’ve played jazz, rockabilly, punk rock, classical, and soul on stages and in studios across the country. Fun fact: if you’re ever backstage at the Chicago Theatre, my autograph is right next to Rihanna’s.

At 25 I rekindled my love affair with creative writing and turned a three-week content assignment into a career. Since then my marketing experience has become as diverse as my musical background: SEO and SEM, social media, email marketing, influencer engagement, earned media, and content marketing are just a few of the channels in which I have extensive experience strategizing and writing.

For the last several years, I worked for Tribune Publishing, scoring a “Tribune hat trick” one crisp spring morning when Walter Jacobsen, Michael Phillips, and John Kass all greeted me on my way to the office. While there I focused primarily on the real estate category creating unique stories for the company’s leading ecommerce platform. I joined Sandstorm because I’m passionate about doing meaningful work for good people.

When I’m not Sandstorming, I’m lurking at Chicago clubs like Double Door, Lincoln Hall, Thalia Hall, et al., or lounging on the couch reading fiction—David Mitchell, Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, and Neil Gaiman are just a few of my favorites. My girlfriend Kelly and our cat Norm keep me company on the couch as we binge watch episodes of Lady Dynamite, Master of None, and other Netflix comedies.

This blog was posted by Bill Kurland on July 27, 2016.
Bill Kurland, Copywriter

About the Author

Bill Kurland

Copywriter Extraordinaire

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Bill Kurland
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 Bill Kurland on July 11, 2016.
Bill Kurland, Copywriter

About the Author

Bill Kurland

Copywriter Extraordinaire