When it comes to digital communications, keeping up with new techniques, insights and trends is critical to being able to do your job well. As a big believer in never resting on what you know worked two years ago if you can learn what works now, I was excited to attend this year’s Digital Summit DC at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center (which, incidentally, hosted Greenbuild in 2015 with an 84% waste diversion rate).
The presentations covered all aspects of digital marketing, such as email, social media, content marketing and UX. I focused mainly on content marketing, with a sprinkling of other topics that felt relevant to my work at USGBC.
Here’s a rundown of my top takeaways from the event:
1. SEO is a moving target.
In 2019, SEO is no longer primarily about throwing as many keywords into your content as possible. As Google’s algorithm continues to evolve, so must marketers. From Janet Driscoll-Miller, I learned that adding structured data is a best practice for webpages dealing with products, events, how-tos and FAQs. This allows rich snippets to share relevant details of your content right on the Google search results page, making them stand out even if they’re not the top result.
Several presenters mentioned the huge boost that having video on a page gives to its SEO rankings. In addition, Matthew Capala shared how factors like your content’s thoroughness and length have moved up in importance. For me, this will mean emphasizing USGBC’s evergreen content more and creating new content pieces that showcase our company’s authority as an industry resource.
2. Authenticity can’t be faked.
A common refrain at Digital Summit was “be more authentic.” Users are increasingly accessing web content via their phones, and social media has shown us how easy it is to create instant, personal snippets of content about our experiences. Customers don’t want to be told how great a product is—they want to see it, from other users, not from stock images.
Debra Mastaler explained to her audience that people actually respond more positively to less polished videos than to highly produced ones, because they seem more trustworthy.
When it comes social accounts, Carlos Gil recommended sharing behind-the-scenes views of people doing what they do every day in your industry. Gil also emphasized the importance of liking and commenting on all your reader interactions on social, so they can see the company is composed of real, responsive people.
3. Making things easy results in conversions.
In a competitive marketing landscape, according to Hilary Sutton, it’s imperative to “make the first ‘yes’ easy.” Sutton challenged the audience to think about how they can make conversion as simple as humanly possible, especially for the new customer. Start with a painless way to buy in, and then overdeliver so that users are impressed, she advised.
This theory came up in Capala’s session as well, under the concept of zero risk bias. This cognitive tendency causes people to prefer choices that have no risks associated with them, such as free trials, easy-to-cancel subscriptions and signups that don’t require a credit card number.
4. Analytics are a testing ground, not an endpoint.
Although we all use analytics to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t, marketers could take a more experimental approach to using this data, said Madeline Gryczman in her presentation. She encouraged creating a culture of “test and learn” that allows your team to set hypotheses about content performance, then to review the results, to try it again on different channels or at different times of year, and finally to reuse the best-performing aspects of your trials in future content.
Making time for more in-depth analytics can allow marketers to make better strategic decisions. Also, when sharing data with internal customers, it’s good to pay attention to the visual aspects of reports, like spacing, colors and graphics, to direct attention to the most relevant insights.
5. Community connections take work.
Another common theme at Digital Summit was that communities of members, users and customers need nurturing.
In her presentation, Leigh George emphasized that it’s critical to think about what you can do to help connect the community you serve, both on and offline. This means connecting them with one another in a meaningful way, not just with your own company or product.
Also, she said, when it comes to in-person interactions, customers seek “experiences they can’t get anywhere else” to make them value IRL events over digital opportunities. Building exclusive, creative happenings that aren’t just the same old thing will drive engagement much deeper in today’s world.
Last, how do you learn what your community needs from you, exactly? The best way to find out is to ask them. Mastaler suggests polling your users once a year, at minimum, to directly ask them what they want. To gain unfiltered insight, she says, it’s also helpful to explore message boards and social media in depth to find out what your industry is talking about in general, and how they are discussing your company in particular.
Digital Summit gave me a lot of new perspectives on the challenges we face as content professionals, plus ideas on how I can best achieve USGBC company goals in the ever-changing digital landscape. I’m excited to implement some of these new strategies going forward.
In March, the AP Stylebook updated its guide to all things stylistic. The publication’s annual updates are eagerly gobbled up by America’s journalists, writers, editors, PR professionals and marketers, who all want to keep up with the latest decisions in usage.
The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law exists in both print and online form, and is the main arbiter for consistency in English usage, grammar and style across many platforms. (Some publications, though, prefer to use Chicago style or AMA style.)
Every year, there are a few changes or new entries that create excitement, a sense of, “It’s about time they did that!” Equally common is a bit of grumbling among those of us who were used to a different style. If you missed the spring release, here’s a breakdown of the top 2019 changes.
Race and ethnicity
In a time when race-related issues and inclusivity are especially important topics in contemporary discourse, the AP has responded by creating an extensive new section of guidance for writing about these matters. Read the changes and new entries.
Highlights include updates to preferred terminology, taking into account the feedback of several journalist organizations, and instructions to be mindful of whether racial identification is even relevant to describing a person in a story. The updates also clarify the meaning of “racism” and discuss terms that are becoming outdated and should be avoided.
As a writer and editor, I feel it’s especially important to keep up with preferred terms and usage when it comes to how we talk about people. Words have power, and preferences shift. Writers have a responsibility to express things in a current and sensitive way.
The most shocking AP style update this year was also the most trivial: the directive to use of the percent symbol instead of the word in most instances. In running text, where you used to write “a 20 percent increase from last year,” you’ll now write “a 20% increase from last year.” Twitter is still chewing this one over.
USGBC uses a lot of data in our articles, so this means one less edit needs to be made when I receive an article about a LEED project that saved 40% on its energy costs through making efficiency upgrades.
The category of hyphenation received an update when AP decided that we no longer need a hyphen for compound modifiers if the modifiers are “commonly recognized as one phrase, and if the meaning is clear and unambiguous without the hyphen.”
So, using one of their own examples, “real estate transaction,” as long as the average reader would know the phrase means a transaction in real estate, not an estate transaction that is genuine, there’s no need for a hyphen.
For USGBC, this decision gives weight to the way we’ve already been styling terms like “net zero energy,” which used to be hyphenated as an adjective as recently as a couple of years ago by many outlets. However, it’s been more common usage for a while to use the term without hyphen (“a net zero energy school”).
In another minor update, the stylebook tells us that quotation marks are no longer required for “such software titles as WordPerfect or Windows.” If you are still writing about WordPerfect, though, you probably need to update to 2019 anyway.
A logo is the fabric of any company’s identity. It not only tells the public where a product comes from, but also represents a brand’s message, values and leadership in the market. Now, have you ever wondered how an organization protects its logos?
At USGBC, we have several brand assets, but the most frequently requested is our LEED certification logo—a globally recognized symbol of leadership and excellence in green, high-performance buildings. Attaining LEED certification demonstrates leadership in implementing environmentally responsible building practices.
In addition, the certification logo is widely used to acknowledge a project’s achievement and symbolize a building’s commitment to cost savings, lower carbon emissions and healthier environments for the places in which we live, work and play. It’s important that we protect the logo, so that only eligible projects are using it to represent their projects.
The importance of brand consistency
Inconsistent branding can have many negative side effects. Maintaining brand consistency directly translates to how dependable people consider your organization, product or service to be. A product or service marketed with the wrong logo might cause a customer to lose trust in it. A website with the wrong logo may make visitors question the authenticity of the product or service being offered on the site.
The correct usage of brand assets is critical for upholding the credibility of a brand. But how do you do this?
At USGBC, we recognize that our LEED project teams are a part of a select group of leaders, and it’s important that they’re recognized as such for their hard work applying integrative design processes to better the future of our built environment. To help uphold our branding in the market, our marketing team created USGBC’s Trademark and Branding Guidelines, which includes the dos and don’ts on how to use our brand assets in your marketing materials.
While we follow these rules internally, we also rely on our members and the larger community to follow these guidelines to maintain the consistent look and feel of USGBC brand assets in their own materials. If branding guidelines are not enforced, they lose their meaning.
Here a few tips on how to diplomatically answer customer questions about your brand usage:
1. Be understanding.
I’ve become very familiar with USGBC’s Trademark and Branding Guidelines. In fact, I look at them every day. It’s important for me to remember that not everyone is looking at these guidelines as frequently as I am, though, so I often spell out the rules in an email, instead of pointing our customers to the long document.
2. Provide helpful resources.
That said, I always provide our customers with the full USGBC Trademark and Branding Guidelines document. It is a helpful resource whenever I have to enforce our policies. In a customer service-centric role, you’re typically trained to tell your customer “yes,” but that can’t always be the case when enforcing branding rules. Fall back on your guidelines, and always point out the page where the rule you’re enforcing can be found, so customers can view it easily.
Whenever it makes sense to do so, you can also point to helpful resources on your website. For example, when a user asks for a logo for their presentation, I always make sure to point them in the direction of our Why LEED for Your Clients? deck and encourage them to use any slides from the presentation. This not only helps ensure our brand is used consistently, but also helps make our customers’ job easier—that’s a win in my book.
3. Answer the question or find a resolution.
All questions have an answer or resolution, even if it’s not the one the customer was hoping for. I make sure I am either communicating the rules in a simple way or helping to provide the requested resource (or an alternate one).
Enforcing your brand guidelines can only help build your brand’s visibility and reputation in the industry. While it can sometimes feel like you’re having to play “good cop, bad cop,” it’s always important to remember that you’re protecting the value of the brand for all of its users.
At USGBC, the articles on our website serve many different purposes: sharing information; encouraging advocacy; and promoting our products, events and education. It goes without saying that a registration launch or an update to LEED deserves an article—but what about those webpages or aspects of certification that our customers may not be aware of, or may not quite understand?
Pointing people to existing resources and helping answer more of their questions became a big priority for me in my second year at USGBC. I wanted to dig deeper into how content marketing could support our organization and our customers alike. One way I did this was by creating the “LEED Link” article campaign.
This campaign has been a win-win: We are able to publish LEED-centered content even during times when USGBC doesn’t have major announcements or case studies, and we are able to give people searching for specific topics a quick summary with links to deeper engagement.
Consider these questions when planning a campaign to drive traffic to your existing site resources.
What are people looking for?
Start by taking a look at Google—both on the analytics side and by playing around with searches. On the Google Analytics Home section for your own website, review the stats under “What pages do your users visit?” and “What are your top-selling products?” Under Behavior/Site Search, find out what terms people are looking up on your site.
I like to periodically search Google for keywords and questions related to products of ours. This shows me what is coming up first in public search results. Sometimes, it’s our relevant webpages. Other times, it’s coverage of our resources by another organization. Obviously, we’d like our USGBC pages to be the first links that come up, so that we can ensure people are getting accurate information. Learn about ways to enhance your search engine rankings.
A top-searched term on our website recently has been “regional priority credits.” I published a LEED Link explaining what these LEED credits were and linking to additional information on our website. Now, this article is the first Google result for those keywords.
What’s useful, but not in your main navigation?
Like many organizations, we try to keep our main nav clean and high-level, with just a few landing pages, which in turn link to further information. This is a UX best practice, but it also means that some very useful info can be “hidden” on the site. If this is true of your website as well, create articles that bring those resource pages to the surface. For example:
- LEED Online is our portal for LEED project management, but it’s not in our main nav. Our LEED Link on that topic is now the third Google result after the two actual portal URLs, with pageview stats in approximately the top 5% of our total articles.
- After LEED v4 was launched in 2017, I drilled down into the new landing page content and discovered “impact categories,” which in the new version of the rating system had been updated to better reflect the goals of LEED.
- Similarly, the LEED credit library is used and searched for constantly, but is not directly linked from our top nav.
What do you want people to know more about?
This falls into two categories:
- New content. If USGBC has recently launched an update to LEED or a new study pathway for aspiring credential holders, I will put out a LEED Link about it a few weeks after the initial launch campaign. You may have done a first round of promotion for your latest and greatest resource, but don’t stop there. You’ll get even more eyes on it—or remind people who were interested the first time, but didn’t click—if you do a follow-up piece.
- Underused content. We have a stellar, searchable project directory where buildings and sites that have achieved LEED certification can have a profile page to share photos and descriptions. However, project teams don’t always take advantage of this resource, so I promoted it in a LEED Link. If there are pages on your website that you think people would find useful if they used them more, promote them!
This is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job. I love exploring the nooks and crannies of our website and our analytics to create content that leads people to what they need to know, what they want to know—and what they didn’t know they didn’t know. As a content marketer, you have to also be a detective. Get out your magnifying glass and see what you learn.
The fight for the email inbox is getting more and more competitive. Subscribers are smarter than ever, and grabbing their attention is only getting harder. That’s why an effective subject line is key to a successful email.
The subject line is your email’s first impression. Your email could be filled with the most engaging content ever, but if no one is compelled to open it, all the content (not to mention all the work that went into it!) goes to waste.
Here are some “dos and don’ts” to keep in mind next time you’re crafting a subject line:
Do get personal. Using personalization (beyond the first name) is a great way to show the subscriber that you’re paying attention to what they’ve shared with you. The Open Table subject line below is a great example of personalization done right. It includes my name, reservation timing and restaurant name, so that I’m inspired to confirm the reservation.
Example: “Ursula, let Chez Billy Sud know you’re coming tomorrow”
Don’t use spam words like “free,” “buy now,” “act now,” or “this isn’t spam” (take a look into your own spam folder for some examples of what not to include).
Do pay attention to character count relative to where your emails are being read. While a longer subject line may be ideal for desktop, it’s not going to work if most of your subscribers are reading emails on their phones. Also, please don’t include the word “newsletter” in your email. It’s redundant, and you’re wasting valuable real estate.
Don’t lie about the content in the email. In accordance with the CAN-SPAM Act, your subject line should reflect the content of the email. Our USGBC candidate handbook emails are a great example of being straightforward. There’s no confusion with a subject line that says, “Here’s your LEED Green Associate Candidate Handbook.” The subscriber knows exactly what to expect in this email—the candidate handbook.
Do be timely. Caviar, a food delivery service, sent me an email the day after Easter, with the call to action of “eat a salad.” It’s relatable and funny because of its timeliness. Bonus points for relevant emoji use!
Example: “So you need to eat healthy because 🍭🐰🍫”
Do A/B test. Subject line A/B testing is an easy place to start. Each test is a chance to learn about your subscribers. You never know what may work.
Examples we’ve tested here at USGBC include:
“Last chance to register for the Wintergreen Leadership Awards next week” vs. “Knock it out of the park at the leadership awards next week ⚾”
“Join a live LEED v4.1 session on Materials and Indoor Environmental Quality next week ✅️” vs. “Get your LEED v4.1 questions answered ✅️”
When collaborating with vendors to produce merchandise for USGBC’s online store and for giveaways at various in-person events throughout the year, like our annual Greenbuild show, we always prioritize quality products over volume quantity discounts, and try to partner with vendors with a like-minded ethos.
- Our popular USGBC-branded custom insulated bottles are produced by Kleen Kanteen, a certified B Corporation working to reduce single-use containers.
- TS Designs produces many of our favorite T-shirt designs, including our LEED ampersand shirts, our award-winning screen-printed tees, and the tiniest tees of all—”My Crib is LEED Certified” baby onesies. Most of these shirts are printed on Cotton of the Carolinas, a T-shirt brand that keeps all of its operations to a 600-mile radius. Each t-shirt can be tracked “from dirt to shirt” by locating the unique color threads found on the inside of each shirt or by visiting the TS Designs website.
- Our Pela iPhone cases, laser-engraved with the USGBC logo, have become a fan favorite. Pela claims that its phone case, fabricated out of a material called Flaxstic, is durable and shock-absorbing, while also being biodegradable.
Any vendors missing from our list? Let us know in the comments.