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 The updates also clarify the meaning of “racism” and discuss terms that are becoming outdated and should be avoided.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.
As a designer, one of my biggest fears is getting tunnel vision. So how do I ensure I am up to date on current design trends? Look. At. Everything. I mean everything! I take time out of every day to read or look over at least one thing that gives me insight into current branding, design, font or logo trends in the world. It helps influence my daily design and keep me on my toes. It’s easy to fall into a rut—especially when you work in-house.
Let me share a few resources that have helped me track trends so far in 2019.
Adweek is an amazing source of news and insight across platforms including print, digital, events, podcasts, social media and so on. I have a BFA in advertising design, and I love reading about how to create meaningful brands. I need this kind of content to help me do my job better. Adweek’s recent article on branding pointed out some really key points we need to remember at USGBC for 2019:
“…brands need to accomplish three things: delivering the products and services they say they’re going to deliver, improving people’s lives and playing a role in society.”
99 Designs is a global creative platform that makes it easy for designers and clients to collaborate and connect. It’s a great resource for quick reads about current design trends. “10 Creative Branding Trends for 2019” talks about how to present yourself as a brand and effectively use branding trends. I pulled out a few main trends to remember as we take USGBC forward this year:
The branding trends for 2019 divert into two definitive and opposing paths, “futuristic” and “nostalgic,” and consumers use these trends as signals to determine which side your company falls into.
Serifs—those little tags at the end of letter strokes—have been a big “no-no” for modern, minimalist branding in the past. But they’re making a comeback in 2019, perhaps because of a return of old-fashioned styles, but mainly due to their unique ability to communicate a brand’s personality.
Minimalism: even less details, even more negative space, combined with flashy colors and bold typography, etc.
Pentagram is the world’s largest independently owned design studio. Their work includes graphics and identity, architecture and interiors, products and packaging, exhibitions and installations, websites and digital experiences, and advertising and communications. Pentagram is a fantastic source of current design, and it comes from all 23 partners. I recently looked at an environmental digital installation in Bangkok that can help influence our presence at conferences and events.
As designers, we have a responsibility to see what else is out there. It’s how we do our job better. Picasso once said that “good artists borrow, great artists steal,” and I think that’s something to remember. Looking at current trends should influence your work. You shouldn’t actually be stealing designs, but it’s important to focus on where design is moving, so you aren’t left behind.
Being a meaningful brand can seem like a daunting task, but by looking at everything around you and reading varying perspectives on trends, you can educate yourself to avoid tunnel vision.