Inspiration from the Content Marketing Conference: Connecting with your customer

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Inspiration from the Content Marketing Conference: Connecting with your customer

Do you ever feel you’re in need of a professional reboot?

It’s not so much the feeling of hitting a wall—I can certainly identify writer’s block when it comes along—it’s more of a confidence issue. Basically, I was feeling stale. 

That’s when I stumbled upon the Content Marketing Conference in Boston. I only had two weeks to get approved, booked and registered, but something about their superhero enthusiasm for writing got to me. Plus, they promised good laughs throughout. 

The experience turned out to be everything I needed. The speakers were engaging and dynamic, and that humor they promised went a long way in making me feel more inspired about my work.

In addition to the learning opportunities, conferences are a great place to get affirmation. There’s a feeling of validation in being among your tribe—in my case, my content marketing squad.

Here are eight takeaways from presenters who inspired me:

Ann Handley

“Don’t tell me what you do, tell me why it matters to me.”

Ann Hanley emphasized that content gives us the opportunity to offer our audience a full experience, a packaged story.“ It goes beyond just being “different;” the package must be extraordinary. “It should sound like a movement; it’s something you want to be part of; it’s your squad,” she said. Exceptional content builds an experience that offers much deeper value and translates into real life, seamlessly.

“Smart marketers don’t just join conversations, they lead them.”

There is stiff content competition on the web. We must ask, “What story can I tell with a depth and breadth that doesn’t already exist?” Fine-tune the brand’s tone of voice, first. From there, we can build actual relationships with our target audiences. Be someone they want to know. Today’s content marketer has to be “bigger, braver and bolder” with their creative choices.In a nutshell: “Does your content tell a different story with a specific point of view?”

“Pathological empathy.”

This is the “source of the squad.” Empathy builds trust. It takes walking the talk for a customer to believe you when you tell them, “we hear you; we see you.” The relationship between brand and consumer is real and impactful. We can creatively narrate a story that resonates and builds an emotional connection on its own. 

Brian Halligan

“Content marketing is hard work—you’ve got to actually rub some brain cells together and make friction.”

This comment echoed Ann Handley when she noted that content marketing is far more about “brains than budget.” There’s a crossover between psychology and marketing for a reason. The content marketer has to study and listen before executing any creative elements. It’s a lot of responsibility, but great content is useless if not planned and executed thoughtfully.

“If text is to Google is to 2007, video is to social is to 2017.”

That was self-admitted risky statement to make to an audience full of writers!

It was hard to hear, but important. We have to remain open to the changes in our industry—they are, after all, constant. Our role has to evolve with the digital landscape, and sometimes that means getting comfortable with new trends and new media.

“Engage them where they live.”

As a social media manager, I had to include this quote. It was followed up with the statement, “Invest more in social.” The opportunities to connect and build community are limitless. These people become that aforementioned “squad.” They can become loyal brand ambassadors. 

Larry Kim

“Sometimes success is random, but you need quantity to find the quality.” 

Let the data speak! Experimentation is necessary. Not every idea is going to work, but a fraction of those do work. If there is no process in place to track our content, we cannot measure performance. This is the longest haul of the process for many, but it’s essential.

Josh Bernoff

“Write without the bullshit.” That’s the summary—but for more, check out Josh’s infographic:

See more content marketing tips

Use contributing writer guidelines to keep your content on message

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Use contributing writer guidelines to keep your content on message

You might have heard the phrase “green buildings are about people.” And it’s true—who better to illustrate USGBC’s mission, to transform the way buildings are designed, built and operated, than those who are working to do this every day?

Contributing writers come from many areas of the green building industry—from design and construction to urban planning and building maintenance. Our contributors are experts in their fields. Whether they represent major brands, local governments or grassroots organizations, they offer their own unique perspectives on the challenges and opportunities in green building.

In most cases, a member of our communications and marketing team will work with writers throughout the development process, from brainstorming through publication. Once an idea is pitched, we can begin drafting. We listen to a writer’s messages and goals for sharing their stories. Our job is to make sure that the article, while remaining authentic to the writer’s voice and expertise, meets our needs as a content provider for a wide audience.

This is where setting expectations can play a vital role in shaping and delivering optimal content. Doing this up front ensures that we provide timely and relevant information for our customers. Having in-house guidelines for tone, style, length and format also makes sure that our messaging is consistent across the dozens of platforms we manage.

Here are a few of our high-level guidelines:

Keep content relevant.

The majority of readers are green building and LEED professionals. For your company, keep in mind whom you’re writing for, and consider what will be most useful to your target audience. Focus on the “how” and “why” of any content piece—going deeper into any challenges, solutions and benefits. Pro tip: Readers should be able to come away with an understanding of how to apply the information presented.

Keep it short.

We publish articles of about 300–500 words on our sites, and never more than 700 words. Having a word limit not only keeps content regular across channels, but challenging yourself to say what you mean in fewer words is an excellent exercise in honing your ability to communicate clearly and concisely. Pro tip: Get to the point early on. Express the main issue, opinion or purpose of the piece in the first or second paragraph.

Watch the tone.

Articles are an extension of your personal platform as a subject-matter expert, and reflect your ability to connect with audiences in a meaningful way. To that end, the tone of your article should be conversational and professional. Pro tip: Use clear, illustrative language that conveys the impact, benefit and implications of what you are writing about and avoids personal commentary.

Make it actionable.

Every article should include a clear takeaway, lesson learned or call to action. In addition to having information significant to the user within the body of the text, at USGBC, we include a button at the end of each article that links to further details on the topic, a sign-up form or an event registration page. Pro tip: Always include a way for the customer to take some type of action to further their journey.

For more tips, read our one-pager for contributing writers.

3 tips for better SEO

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3 tips for better SEO

Ever heard the old philosophical question, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

As a digital marketer, content delivery is important. Understanding your target audience and knowing what they want is key to crafting compelling product marketing material—and ensuring its success. After all, why make content if no one is going to see it?

One of the major weapons in your arsenal is SEO.

SEO, which stands for search engine optimization, is all about connecting users to the best, most relevant content. Here are three tips to help make your content more SEO-friendly and rank it higher in search results.

Make your content relevant.

At the end of the day, search engines are a business, and they’re looking to generate high customer satisfaction. To do their jobs as best as possible, their goal is to refer users to websites and content that’s most relevant to what they’re searching for, says Search Engine Watch.

Content that’s filled with keywords, which are the words and phrases you use in a search box, likely will be rewarded with better rankings. Some websites use sneaky tactics—such as using white text on a white background or setting a font size to zero—to boost their listing, also known as blackhat SEO. Avoid such underhanded techniques. They’ll earn you nothing but a hand slap from search engines, pushing your content further down in search results.

Ways to improve your content:

  • Write strong, clear and concise headlines that immediately convey what your content is about. Use headlines as opportunities for keywords. Check out NPR’s article on how to write great headlines.
  • Wrap hyperlinks around keywords and text. When search engines crawl the web, hyperlinking vague words and calls to action, such as “click here,” don’t mean much to them.
  • Make sure to provide “alt text” for images in HTML to give search engines a text description of your visual content.

Be authoritative.

Search engines have discovered that links can serve as a proxy for a good-faith vote in strong content, according to Moz, a marketing analytics software company based in Seattle.

Take Wikipedia, for instance. It consistently ranks as one of the 10 most visited websites around the world, according to Alexa, and it’s partly due to its content using a robust, comprehensive linking structure.

Additionally, use more synonyms to describe your product or a topic. Search engines register content that uses a variety of related phrases as higher in quality, said Arnie Kuenn, CEO of Vertical Measures, at Content Marketing World 2016.

Improve user experience.

Search engines look for the “long click”, in which users click a result without heading immediately back to the search page to try again, according to Moz.

Think about your website’s user experience. Is it difficult to navigate around your website? Does your website look safe? Does it have a high bounce rate? Those are factors that will play into how your website ranks.

Also, work on your URL structures. Search engines like Google display URLs in results, affecting click-through and visibility. Use shorter URLs and keywords wherever possible, and make sure to use hyphens to separate words for easier readability.

Looking for more SEO tools? Explore SearchMetrics’ SEO glossary, and check out Google Trends, which offers a broader picture of search query data. 

Learn more about best practices for your website

7 easy green DIY decorating projects for Halloween

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7 easy green DIY decorating projects for Halloween

The National Retail Federation projects that Americans will spend approximately $8.4 billion to celebrate Halloween this year, a record high in the annual survey’s history. Save a bit of green while being green, and make your home spooktacular with these seven eco-friendly DIY decorating projects.

1. Paper origami bats made with 100 percent recycled construction paper

Trick your guests into thinking there’s a flock of bats in your home by creating 10 or so paper versions to stick on a wall (instructions are at You’ll need recycled black construction paper, which should cost $2–3. You also could create a paper bat mobile as Martha Stewart advises, by tying your winged creations to a tree branch.

2. Spooky terrarium jars

Decorate your windowsills with these DIY Network spooky terrarium jars, using recycled glass jars with spiders, cotton ghosts, moss and branches. Making these terrarium jars is fairly easy, and it’s a great project to get kids involved in. You can let them fill their jars with whatever tiny, terrifying toys they like.

If you have some old gauze tape lying around and extra glass jars, you also can make your own mummy luminaries from the blog “A Little Clairification.”

3. Dark paper flowers

Add a touch of shadowy glamour to your space by making a black flower arrangement using biodegradable crepe paper. If you have extra paper, you also can make a black paper wreath, as seen in “Country Living.”

4. Wooden pumpkins

Try something new this year, and make your own version of a pumpkin as Today’s Fabulous Finds suggests, by reusing old wooden blocks.

5. Spirit jugs

Light up the pathway to your home for trick-or-treaters with “Eighteen25″‘s spirit jugs. Take any old, used milk gallon jugs, and draw silly faces on them using a permanent marker. Make these ghost-like containers shine at night with low-wattage christmas lights.

6. Apple tea light holders

These apple tea light holders from “Woman’s Day” are an easy and quick way to illuminate a room during Halloween. After using the apples, you can give them to a local farm for animal food or add them to a compost bin.

7. Recycled K-cup garland of lights

Big coffee drinker? The “KimSixFix” shows you how to put those old K-cups to use by making a garland of lights to hang across your fireplace’s mantel for Halloween. Like the spirit jugs, you can draw a variety of scary faces on each cup.

Healthy office spaces matter to employees

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Healthy office spaces matter to employees

A transition has been taking place in the green building office world over the past few years. Companies are not just building buildings that are better for our environment overall—they are actually building offices that are better for their employees.

Many companies have realized that not only does their space need to be environmentally friendly, but it also needs to keep workers happy and healthy to increase productivity. For example, McKesson in Richmond, Virginia, took strides to implement WELL Building Certification and focus on wellness for its employees. WELL believes that buildings should be developed with people’s health and wellness at the center of design.

So what does this shift in focus mean for all office spaces? Consider the effect of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) in office buildings on employee health, well-being and productivity. Healthy buildings do more than mitigate our impact on the environment—they can have social and emotional effects as well. Studies have shown that employees in buildings with adverse health conditions are absent more often, lose more work hours and are less productive than employees without these conditions.In some studies, there have been 11 percent gains in productivity from improved ventilation and 23 percent gains in productivity from improved lighting design.

Having healthy buildings can make a huge difference. My friend Anne recently was fortunate enough to move to a new office space. Her company left a relatively old, unhealthy building and has relocated to a much newer, LEED-certified building. She shared with me some of her reactions to moving into a more wellness-focused space, giving us a personal look into how healthy buildings can really improve daily work life for us all.

In your previous building, what was noticeably unhealthy to you during a workday? The air quality was definitely subpar—the dust that accumulated and the allergens we all noticed inside were all frustrating. In addition, I think there were questions about the cleanliness of spaces based on their age. But as an employee, you don’t have a lot of options!

Were you ever worried the IEQ could have longterm negative impacts on your health? I think I was conscious of how dust and mold might be impacting me every day, but it was easy to blame that on my allergies or my problems. But recognizing how a work space can exacerbate those problems—and that it isn’t OK—was definitely a shift that resulted when I had access to a nicer, high-quality space.

What does your new building have that has made your workday seem better? Improvements in technology, better spaces for meetings and group work, and even higher-quality materials in the furniture all result in positive impacts on work. It feels like the space is designed to be productive—not that it just happened to be occupied by a business. The space also has a great employee kitchen, privacy rooms for breastfeeding or other personal needs and a fitness center. It would be easy to call these things perks, but they are important parts of having healthy employees.

Are there things you think we take for granted, but are actually very important to improving productivity in the workplace? Designing spaces where groups can work, I think, makes a difference.

Do you believe that your new space will directly impact your workday mentality? Absolutely, the space is now an easy and comfortable part of my day-to-day. That it isn’t a stressor already helps!

We saw at Greenbuild this past week that the health and wellness of workers is becoming a larger focus across the board—there was an entire section of the Expo Hall floor dedicated to health and wellness. Not only can it help your employees feel better, it can serve as a competitive asset for companies. We heard Rick Fedrizzi say, “We have more to do to extend the focus from inside our buildings to inside our bodies.” A report released during Greenbuild last week shows that employees who work in certified green buildings have higher sleep quality scores — and who doesn’t want better sleep just by going to work every day?

The future holds a lot of changes, but it seems clear that those changes will only improve our work lives. What do healthy buildings mean to you? 

“At their best, our buildings and communities are powerful promoters of health and well-being. At their worst, they contribute to some of the key public health concerns of modern society, from asthma to cancer to obesity.” —Mahesh Ramanujam

Growing PR to meet demands

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Growing PR to meet demands

This article from Marisa LongUSGBC Communications Director, was originally published on PR News on Sept. 19, 2016. Marisa and other leaders from USGBC’s Marketing Department will present Marketing and Sustainability: Tools and Tips to Tell Your Story at the upcoming Greenbuild International Conference and Expo. The session will take place Thursday, Oct. 6, from 2–3 p.m. in Petree Hall C. 

Whether you are managing and growing a team in-house, looking to build better relationships with colleagues and senior executives or establishing the best way to work with consultants or clients, creating a PR team structure that produces results and meets demands is critical to success. PR pros must create a thoughtful plan, identify individual strengths, recognize weak spots and address change and challenges head on—all while creating compelling campaigns that produce results.

Growing to meet demands

At USGBC, we’ve had to navigate significant growth and find the right way to make sure PR was meeting demands. USGBC is a nonprofit dedicated to creating a healthier, more sustainably built environment. Our primary vehicle for this market transformation is LEED®, the world’s most widely used green building rating system.

Since LEED launched in 2000, it has grown to certify more than 5 billion square feet of space in more than 160 countries. Today, approximately 1.85 million square feet of space certifies every day. There are nearly 200,000 LEED-credentialed professionals and thousands of volunteers globally and more than 12,000 national member organizations, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses.

When I arrived in 2010, USGBC had about half the 30-plus staffers that today make up the marketing department. USGBC had somewhat plateaued in attracting new audiences and was seeking to expand its reach. I was tasked with overseeing the launch of the Center for Green Schools, which reached beyond the B2B community and introduced us to consumer audiences.

Over the past few years, our efforts also started expanding to new products and programs through USGBC’s sister organization, Green Business Certification Inc.™ (GBCI).

With so many B2B brands and B2C causes, disseminating information that resonates with the right audiences can be a challenge. The marketing department is responsible for growing USGBC’s marketplace presence and making sure the message is clear and bipartisan for a variety of stakeholders that expect information, transparency and support. And we are mission-based; ultimately,we are focused on advocating for a more sustainable future and providing solutions to create a sustainable environment for generations to come.

Read the rest of the article

Easy steps for taking the perfect #FindyourLEED photo

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Easy steps for taking the perfect #FindyourLEED photo

Show us where you #FindyourLEED with our iconic oak leaf:

Step 1: Print out your leaf.

Step 2: Capture a photo of your favorite LEED® project, including the oak leaf in the picture. Photos can be taken indoors or outdoors.

Experiment with interesting angles and vantage points. Have a friend hold the leaf for you to get the perfect shot.

Make sure the image is in focus and no too blurry. It’s better not to shoot straight into bright light. Adjust your angle so the background will not be blown out.

Don’t take a photo of the leaf on a flat surface. We want to see the project you are highlighting.

Safety first. Don’t take any unnecessary risks to capture your photos.

Step 3: Share your best photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Don’t forget to tag your photos #FindyourLEED. Check out other #FindyourLEED photos for inspiration!

Greenbuild flashback

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Greenbuild flashback

In celebration of the upcoming 2016 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Los Angeles, here’s a look back at how we brought the USGBC® experience to life in New Orleans in 2014. And be sure to visit us in booth #1425 at Greenbuild 2016, “Iconic Green,” in Los Angeles.

What are you waiting for? Register today.

Read “The USGBC experience”

Fresh ideas about content marketing at CMWorld 2016

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Fresh ideas about content marketing at CMWorld 2016

Last week, I joined over 3,500 other content marketing professionals in Cleveland, Ohio, for Content Marketing World. This annual event features so many experts on different aspects of content marketing strategy that it was hard to choose just one session for each time slot. Each speaker brought a special way of looking at content challenges in today’s fast-paced world.

At some types of conferences, learning is about absorbing factual information—but at CMWorld, it was more about absorbing new ideas. For me, one anecdote could start a whole train of thought on how to creatively engage with customers. Although stats, ROI techniques and other concrete tips were plentiful, the real takeaways from Cleveland were the fresh ways to look at the content we generate at USGBC®.

Here are just a few of the quotes that started me thinking:

“Be part of the info your audience actually wants to consume.”

According to author and speaker Andrew Davis, there are 347 blog posts published every single second. As marketers, we often think that more is better and keep throwing the same message at our audience. But being bombarded with information only makes people numb to it. Davis encourages companies to raise themselves above this content flood by offering customers original, engaging content they don’t even realize they need—but once they see it, they’re hooked. They will be eager to subscribe and will anticipate seeing this content on a regular basis.

Davis’s example was “FishTales,” a 16-second video series on Instagram billed as “The Shortest Cooking Show in the World.” A fish business that had been floundering (sorry, couldn’t resist) took off in a big way through this creative format. It led to a longer-format show on YouTube and, in turn, high demand for Bart van Olphen’s sustainably caught seafood.

“Narrow the focus and go big.”

Workfront’s Heather Hurst, like many of the experts at CMWorld, encouraged us to stop trying to be everything to everyone. Any organization will benefit from zeroing in on what it does best and what its core customer base wants.

Her analogy was the emergence of food trucks, a specialization success story. Food trucks have changed the game for downtown lunch spots the way that Uber has changed the game for taxis. Flexible and mobile, food trucks are popular for their convenience, fun factor and highly specialized focus. In Hurst’s scenario, “going big” was a corn dog truck toting a gigantic corn dog on top. In D.C., I’ve seen trucks dealing in tater tots, Asian-fusion tacos and waffles. Whatever your specialty, hone it, refine it and show it off! You do it better than anyone else, and people will follow you for it.

“There are infinite creative possibilities, so use data to reduce options to ones that have a high probability of success.”

TrackMaven CEO Allen Gannett shared a lot of colorful anecdotes about creativity and the perception that successful media arises from sheer inspiration. But usually, it doesn’t—it’s the product of a system. Without a system, the number of possible ways to approach making content can result in our creating hit-or-miss, ineffective pieces.

According to Gannett, gathering user data narrows the options to a manageable set of proven formulas. If you believe, as about 60 percent of marketers do, that your content is not generally effective, then it’s especially important to track what kinds of content are successful and focus on repeating those formulas. He refers to this as “intentional creativity.” If you know what works, make more of that.

“The best place to hide a dead body is page 2 of Google search results.”

If your goal is to increase your organic search traffic, advises Arnie Kuenn, CEO of Vertical Measures, there are several concrete steps you can take. You can eliminate duplicate content by deleting or combining articles so that similar content items do not compete with one another. You can freshen up existing articles by updating the content and tweaking titles to reflect more current industry terms.

Another way to increase SEO rankings is to add semantic keywords and synonyms. Kuenn suggests that your rankings will improve if you are seen as an authoritative industry voice—search engines read content with a variety of related phrases and industry terms as being more high-quality content. His example was a passage containing the word “TV show” in several places, which he then reworked to include the phrases “episode,” “pilot,” “series,” and other related phrases. Focus on adding synonyms that make sense for your industry and its customer searches.

As I mull over these and more tips from the conference, I’ll be thinking about new ways that USGBC can serve its audience with content they need and content they want. Is there something you’d like to see more of in our green building content? Leave your ideas in the comments below.

What our PR team learned at the SPARK conference

4 digital marketing blogs to follow

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4 digital marketing blogs to follow

Digital marketing is always evolving, thanks to new tools, technology platforms and changing audience behavior. To make sure I don’t fall behind the marketing pack, I follow these four blogs and publications for the latest insights, research and inspiration.

1. Think with Google

Audience: All marketers 

When an Internet giant like Google speaks, you probably want to listen. Think with Google captures all the latest current events, consumer trends and data and adds context on how it could impact marketers’ work for their brands.

Take this summer’s Olympics in Rio, for example. Think with Google recently published a quick and fun article about top searches during the games and why brands have to think beyond sports for Olympic video marketing plans. Spoiler: Apparently, people who were searching for information about cycling also were searching for rice cakes.

Other things to note:

2. Create

Audience: Designers, illustrators and photographers

They say a photograph is worth a thousand words. Create, Adobe’s online magazine, must be worth a million.

Create regularly publishes features on photography, graphic design and illustration, among other topics. It posts tips and advice on challenges that creatives typically face, such as creative block, and how-to guides, including building a brand in real time and using color more effectively in photos.

Other things to note:

3. TrackMaven

Audience: All marketers

TrackMaven’s blog is a favorite of mine, not only because their company mascot is a corgi (and I repeat, a corgi), but because they cover a wide variety of content strategies and platforms.

Among the topics they cover are SEO practices, emerging social media such as Snapchat and updates to existing platforms such as Instagram, with its new Stories feature. TrackMaven also hosts live webinars, which I have found very useful, that you can view afterward.

Other things to note:

4. Poynter

Audience: Content creators

As a former reporter, I’ve always had a soft spot for Poynter. It’s a journalism blog, but a lot of the challenges the news industry faces in its high-speed migration from print to web mirror what marketers experience regarding content publishing strategies. Some news organizations, such as The New York Times, are investing more in their interactive content; others are wondering how best to use social media to lift their content up in terms of engagement and traffic.

Nieman Lab and Northwestern University’s Knight Lab also are great blogs to keep an eye on for content publishing practices.

Other things to note:

More resources