Every year at USGBC, we look forward to the many local, regional and international meetings where we can network with our peers and continue our personal professional development and education. Despite having to postpone our in-person meetings until 2021 due to global health concerns, USGBC didn’t want to miss the opportunity to provide valuable educational opportunities to our partners and colleagues around the world, so we’re moving many of our in-person events to virtual events. Thankfully, marketing and promoting our virtual events doesn’t have to look much different.
Promoting events involves a lot of moving pieces, from graphic design and email marketing to content creation and social media posts. Here’s what to keep in mind to successfully promote your event, whether it’s in person or virtual.
1. Create a robust marketing plan.
Most of the work in event promotion comes in the planning process, as creation of key messages and graphic design assets need to be completed ahead of your promotional push. Creating a robust marketing plan early in the process is paramount to successfully marketing your organization’s event.
A marketing plan should include:
- Key messages focusing on what attendees will get out of the event
- Audience segments, including relevant professions and geographic locations of attendees
- A timeline for promotions
- Potential press opportunities and a targeted media list
- A social media plan
- Graphic design assets needed
2. Organize deliverables with a marketing calendar.
Create a timeline for when you want to promote certain aspects of the event, such as keynote speakers or the launch of registration. Make clear the avenues you want to use to share your messaging, whether that be through customized emails, blog posts, social media or any other platforms.
Be sure to share the marketing calendar with any other team members that you will need to involve in the process, like the email marketing team or social media team, and that you assign tasks clearly and appropriately.
Create a marketing calendar to stay organized.
3. Reach the relevant audience with emails.
Emails are one of the most effective ways of reaching potential conference attendees. Almost every email marketing service allows you to target certain email contacts based on the type of content you are sending and whom you want to target. For example, if you’re sending out a call for proposals, you may want to target those in your contact list who are educators or teachers. If your meeting is being held in a specific location or relates to a particular geographic region, you’ll likely only want to send emails to people located in that specific area.
Make sure emails include a compelling subject line, links and graphics, and try not to be too wordy. Most important, always include a call to action—what you want your audience to do when they receive your email (“register now,” “sign up for updates,” etc.).
Use email strategically to reach the right audience.
As for email content, there is no shortage of what you can promote, but some ideas that tend to attract engagement include:
- A feature on the keynote speaker
- A breakdown of education sessions
- Top reasons to attend the conference
- Special events, such as happy hours or tours
The best practice at USGBC is to send a promotional email about an event once a week.
4. Make use of your company’s website or blog.
Similar to emails, online articles and blogs can reach large audiences, but unlike emails, can also provide a hyperlink to further information that you can share with your audience or post on social media. To keep content consistent, consider coordinating your blog updates with your email schedule. That way, you can repurpose much of the same content and reinforce your message to your audience.
Blogs also let you expand on the ideas you are promoting in emails. You can publish a Q&A with the keynote speaker, describe education sessions in more detail, provide additional links and resources your audience can access for further information, provide a wrap-up with key takeaways from the event upon its conclusion, and more. You won’t need a new article to correspond with every email you send out, but consider a blog update promoting your event every two weeks.
5. Leverage social media.
In additional to email marketing, social media marketing is also one of the most effective ways to reach a large audience. Coordinate with your social media team to make sure any content you’re sending out by email or through a blog is also making it onto your social media stream.
Social media posts with images garner a lot more attention, so be sure to create graphics highlighting your speakers, education sessions and any other noteworthy events taking place at your conference.
6. Reach out to news media.
Promoting your event through emails, articles and social media is a great way to garner immediate attention around your event, but engaging with traditional news media is also important to continuing attracting attention around your event and organization in the long run.
At USGBC, we often partner with media outlets to help us promote events through digital and print ads, interview opportunities with key spokespeople and opinion pieces or bylines from organizational thought leaders. Reach out to trade publications in your industry, or publications that cover the topics you’ll be presenting at your event.
You should also create a targeted media list that includes journalists who are both regionally located and who write about the topics that will be covered at your event. Inviting relevant media to attend and write about your event also helps in garnering attention during and after the event, and builds goodwill and publicity for your organization and for any future recurring events.
Promoting events, whether they take place in person or online, takes a great deal of coordination and planning. Over the past few years, virtual webinars and conferences have been steadily growing in popularity, but now, in this unprecedented time where businesses have largely gone remote, we still have the chance to meet with our colleagues and discuss important issues that affect our organizations.
If you work in content marketing but look to sources outside your organization for content, you probably engage in content curation. This can mean simply aggregating and sharing content that you know your audience will be interested in, or it can involve doing research to generate your own content, when you are not a subject matter expert yourself.
Either way, you want to make sure that you are going about it the right way and providing well-sourced information. Here are a few things to keep in mind when curating content from the web to share with your audience:
Use the most authoritative sources.
Example: With our consumer-focused website, Green Home Guide, USGBC publishes articles not just on LEED homes, but on general green living and choices the average person can make to have a healthier home. Our marketing staff often does online research to find the best data and resources for our readers.
When finding content to cite or share, we make sure to focus on authoritative sources—websites from organizations that have a reputation (the U.S. EPA, the International Energy Agency)—and sometimes we also use well-known sustainability blogs. The name/recognizability, Google ranking and professional appearance of a site are all factors that can help you recognize a good source. Never use Wikipedia as a source, since it can be edited by anyone.
Check the footer if you’re not sure—sometimes, sites hide what they are really about and by whom they are run. What seems initially to be an informational article on indoor air quality and health may actually be a marketing piece by a litigation firm. If content is from a website run by a company related to your industry, make sure that the content is not overly promotional.
Search with strategy.
Be smart about the keywords with which you search—focus on the most relevant terms, and avoid emotionally or politically loaded keywords. If I am writing a piece on how new, clean energy technologies are helping to slow the effects of climate change, I will get back more scientific and useful results by Googling “climate change mitigation” and “energy-efficient technology,” than if I look up “global warming disaster” or “how to stop oil and gas industry.”
Also, if you are sourcing data from a news article, follow the links back to the original source: the academic study, publication or release being described. Use that original link in your piece.
Save time by zeroing in on what you need.
There’s a lot of information out there. Save content you come across as you find it, for future reference. I started a spreadsheet of academic studies relevant to our work at USGBC, with statistics on green building, nature and the environment, green jobs, and human health and wellness. I can go back to this document to use quotes and statistics when I’m writing on one of these topics.
When you’re doing research, scan potential content sources quickly, and don’t waste time wading through entire articles to get to the info you need. If what you need isn’t reflected on the first page of an article or clearly pointed out in a subhead, move along.
Then, take the time to craft the piece.
It takes time to create even short articles, if you want them to be useful. After doing your first draft, think about what questions the reader might have, based on that copy, and then answer those questions in your second draft. In my experience, the average time spent researching and writing a 300-word curated content piece is about 2–4 hours, depending on the complexity of the subject.
Structure your article to allow for easy scanning by the reader. Whether it’s a straight curation of other sites’ content, as in a weekly content roundup, or a weaving in of cited sources to an original article, make it simple for the customer to get the point, to scroll down for more detail and to click through to useful links for more information.
When presenting content you’ve researched, never cut and paste. That’s plagiarism. Always rephrase or summarize the source’s information, and link to the page where you found it.
Pro tip: Once you’ve got a good library of content, curate your own content and do a roundup of previous resources that had high engagement.
Doing your due diligence to present the best, most recent and most authoritative content for your readers will pay off! When I began generating more of our content in-house this way, we saw our pageviews almost double. Respect your audience’s intelligence, and they will return to your company for more of what they need.
What is a brand? The professor who teaches my “Branding Concept” class put it really well: If your organization is a pyramid, your brand is the top piece of that pyramid. As your organization expands its operations, it should continue to follow the guidelines set by the triangle at the top of the pyramid.
Scale your brand choices and keep them consistent.
That lesson can help when making small marketing decisions about brand interpretation, like what swag to give away at an event. For USGBC, it makes more sense to promote our organization on a sustainable tote bag or reusable water bottle, instead of a koozie or pair of sunglasses. That’s an example of how this global brand manifests itself in individual marketing choices. Referencing that top pyramid guide can help you make decisions as detailed as what emoji to use in an email subject line.
Create a positioning statement to clarify your brand.
Need help finding who you are as a brand? Try writing your positioning statement. A positioning statement is an internal document that helps clarify what problem you are solving for customers. What “job” does your brand do for people?
- For [a target audience, based on needs]
- Our brand is [frame of reference—category in the consumer’s mind]
- That provides [3 key benefits]
- Because [reason to believe]
For USGBC, that might look something like:
- For professionals in the built environment who need to quantify their environmental impact
- Our brand is the independent green building certification organization
- that provides education, verification and guidelines of environmental standards
- Because we wrote the definition of what is environmentally friendly in buildings and sites
Ultimately, anything your business does can be replicated by some other organization. Your brand is the only thing that cannot be taken or copied. Your reputation is specific to you, and the brand is what people identify you as. Your brand is your identity.
It’s been a busy year for all our communications, marketing and design folks at USGBC. Here’s a handy guide to our tips from 2019, broken down by category.
Tips for graphic designers
- Keeping up with graphic design trends
- USGBC’s new LEED v4.1 advertising campaign
- Designing the Greenbuild booth for a great attendee experience
Tips for social media teams
- Social media strategy for live events: Working on-site
- Social media strategy for live events: The planning stage
- Social media strategy for live events: Post-show reporting
Tips for digital and content marketers
- 3 ways quizzes can help your marketing
- How to edit your own writing
- Sourcing sustainable merchandise and vendors
- Articles that point users to existing resources
- How to enforce brand guidelines
- Top 5 takeaways from Digital Summit DC
- Top 2019 updates to the AP Stylebook
- Tracking your marketing impact with UTM codes
Tips for email marketers
- Create a personalized email experience through segmentation
- The dos and don’ts of email subject lines
Tips for web designers
- Case study: Redesigning the Greenbuild international website
- How different web browsers affect user experience
What inspires us
Outside of a small minority, people don’t often think about what browser they are using when accessing the web. Indeed, most people in the United States use the same web browser, Google Chrome. However, for digital marketing professionals, it is still worth considering the landscape of web browsers and the effect they can have on the user’s experience.
Understanding how browsers work
First, it’s important to understand how a web browser actually works.
When a user visits a website, the browser sends a request for that page to the server, which sends back a whole bunch of code in return. In order to display the page correctly, the browser has to know how to read and interpret that code correctly. This is done by something called a rendering engine.
The guidelines for how a particular piece of code should appear to the user is laid out in detailed specifications, but how each rendering engine actually goes about interpreting the code is different from engine to engine. This individualized approach can lead to a website looking different in different browsers.
A decade ago, the disparities between browsers were huge. Some sites were developed to work only with a specific browser, usually Internet Explorer, and developers would have to resort to crazy workarounds to make their content consistent for all users. Since then, things have standardized, and the specifications have become mature enough that modern browsers are largely consistent outside of edge cases and newer features.
However, it’s important to be aware that there are still differences between browsers that have to be contented with, especially on projects that are more complex.
Strategies for avoiding browser compatibility problems
1. Be careful of new features.
As I was building out mockups for a redesign of the Greenbuild website, I toyed with the idea of using a blurred, semi-transparent background behind the banner text to give the site a modern feel. I liked the effect, but testing across different browsers quickly revealed a problem. The CSS backdrop-filter property that I was using is relatively new and isn’t compatible with many browsers, including Safari and the mobile version of Chrome.
Google Chrome (left) renders the backdrop filter property correctly, making the text over the image easy to read, while Safari (right) doesn’t render the property at all, leading to the text over the image being difficult to read.
To avoid this, I recommend searching CSS features on Can I Use, a helpful website that will tell you the support available across a range of browsers for any feature, as well as share usage data for each browser. Once a feature is implemented, it’s also a good idea to manually check the website for problems, using as many different browsers and browser versions as possible.
2. Use graceful degradation and progressive enhancement as workarounds.
Just because a particular feature isn’t supported on all browsers doesn’t mean that you can’t use it, however. To get around a lack of support, web designers can employ a combination of strategies: progressive enhancement and graceful degradation.
The idea behind progressive enhancement is to build a site to the lowest common denominator, then layer on additional features to enhance the experience for users with capable browsers. Graceful degradation is similar, but in reverse: A website is built for modern browsers, but essential functionality is preserved for users with unsupported browsers. Which strategy you use will depend on the specifics of your site and your audience, and most likely, you will use a combination of both.
3. Consider your audience.
As always, everything comes back to your audience. If you know what browsers your users are likely to be using, you can be careful to avoid using features that those browsers don’t support. Similarly, if you know what browsers your users aren’t using, you may choose to use features despite a lack of support in those browsers.
For example, according to GlobalStats Statcounter, 65% of all desktop users in the U.S. are using Chrome, while another 26% are on Edge, Firefox or Safari. This means that 91% of users in the nation have a modern browser that can likely handle the most advanced features.
However, there are still 8% of users who are using some version of Internet Explorer, an old browser with a bad reputation for not supporting features. Depending on your industry and who you expect to be accessing your site, it may or may not be worth putting in the extra effort for that 8% of users.
Overall, while browsers have become more consistent over the past several years, keeping in mind the different experiences that people have when visiting our various websites is still important. If you are overseeing the implementation of a website, it’s worth asking whether everything you want to do will work for all users and to explore your options for mitigating the risks of browser incompatibility.
For Greenbuild 2018 in Chicago, our creative team had the opportunity to totally redesign our presence on the expo hall floor. We designed a 70-by-60-foot (4,200 square feet) booth that showcased both the USGBC and GBCI brands. The ideal booth design needed to have a longevity of three years.
Our main goal was to build brand awareness for USGBC and LEED, as well as each of the GBCI brands (Parksmart, PEER, SITES, and TRUE) and their various products and services. We also wanted to be sure to provide an inviting space for attendees to learn about each of the brands, for staff to hold sales meetings with customers and for local USGBC community members to network. Part of this goal also included providing a designated space for our GBCI Certification Work Zone.
We started to design the booth from the basic floor plan, and then moved into the actual design of the physical space. One side of the space was devoted to our GBCI Certification Work Zone—this meant we included tables and chairs for meetings, a check-in desk and planters to clearly divide the space. We split the other space into two sections, one focused on USGBC’s merchandise, with a counter and shelving, and the other devoted to community meetings and networking.
We selected all the interior furniture and carpet. We also created a specific space to showcase Arc, and a spot to mount the plaque display. The entire booth space was framed by recycled cardboard walls.
Our next step was to design the recycled cardboard walls and focus on messaging. The interior facing walls included our USGBC logo, the LEED logo and messaging from our overall mission, such as “Better buildings are our legacy.” The goal was to create an open space showcasing the brand, without creating too much stimulation to detract from presentations or meetings. We also included mounted TVs as a way to incorporate digital signage and video within the booth.
The panels facing the exterior of the expo hall featured messaging focused on our current membership campaign. We wanted to show off that we are a diverse community of real estate leaders, governments, developers, contractors, architects, engineers, educators, innovators and companies working to build healthy, efficient and equitable buildings and communities for all.
Seeing the booth go from sketches to the final product was such a cool experience! We worked on-site at Greenbuild to interact with customers, meet with members and provide further information about all of our products. Watching the space being used as suggested, and seeing people actually experience our brand in person, was rewarding for me.
This year at Greenbuild Atlanta, we will be using our booth again—but every year, we get a chance to improve the experience. In 2019, we will have new flooring provided by Interface, new digital visuals, Arc demonstrations and information, opportunities to meet the experts, merchandise for purchase and some giveaways. Will you be attending Greenbuild this year?
This past summer, we transitioned our website for the Greenbuild international conferences from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8. While this change on the back end didn’t have to mean change for our end users, we decided to leverage this opportunity to rebrand and refocus the site. Here are three key takeaways that we gathered from the process.
Create and maintain consistency in user experience.
Over time, it is easy for a website to develop minor inconsistencies in branding and presentation, and this is especially likely when multiple teams in an organization have a stake in the content. What starts out as a minor deviation to satisfy an immediate need can lead to a user experience down the line that feels less cohesive.
As always, it’s for the marketing team and brand managers to try to limit these deviations and keep the entire experience feeling unified and coherent. It helps every now and then to revisit an existing web property to clean up the inconsistencies. Scheduling regular revisits of websites, preferably in a staggered manner so that you can devote time to each one, can help you to avoid procrastinating on compounding branding problems.
One of the drivers of inconsistent branding can be a lack of adequate default options baked into the content management system. When analyzing the areas for improvement with our Drupal 7 site, we found that a lack of tools and templates meant that content managers were coming up with creative workarounds and solutions to common problems.
To combat this, we created a robust set of templates using the Paragraphs module in the Drupal 8 Core. The goal was to give content managers on the site an easy, standard set of options for adding and editing content, making brand consistency the default rather than the exception.
Achieve a sleek site with more images and less text.
Trimming text-heavy sites can be tough when every piece of information feels essential, but the truth is that nothing makes reading a site feel more like a grind than large blocks of text. Lightening the experience by removing unnecessary text and integrating photos and visual elements is a great way to keep users happy and on your site.
For the Greenbuild website, we decided to add visual appeal by separating text into colored sections, adding more decorative and illustrative images, and giving some pop to headers with colorful backgrounds. The result is a site that has more shape and texture with which the user can engage.
We added images, modular blocks of text and headers to the new Greenbuild international site.
Focus on what’s most important.
Of course, not all content can simply be trimmed or removed—a lot of it is important! However, being strategic in how you present this content to the user can make a big difference in how they interact with the site. While a piece of content may be important, it isn’t necessarily important to every user, every time they visit a site.
With the redesign of the Greenbuild site, we decided to rethink how we presented some of the content. For example, we took information that was common to each of our five international conferences and moved it to a separate homepage. We also took content that would be interesting to specific users, such as the schedules, and separated each piece out to its own page.
It’s a good strategy to allow your users find the content that they need, rather than making them sift through all of the content that you want to give them. The key balance to strike is making all of the information on your site easily found by those who need it, while keeping it out of the way of those who don’t.
The purpose of the Greenbuild site is first and foremost to drive attendance and engagement for the conference, and reworking the site gave us a chance to refocus on that purpose. By creating brand consistency, integrating more images and visual design, and focusing on content that promotes the key motivating factors for attending or sponsoring the events, we were able to better serve the website’s core purpose.