One year on, are we still making the connection?

Have the extraordinary developments in 2020 changed how membership bodies use content to connect with their core audiences, asks CPL's Martin Bewick

This time last year, CPL and Ashridge Communications published The Content Connection, a report that highlighted how membership organisations often face similar challenges in attempting to meet the varied demands of their membership. Five key areas of concern were:

  • Member data
  • Tone of voice
  • Content channels
  • Paywalls
  • Targeted content

But that was then and this is now. In a world realigned by the Coronavirus pandemic, have priorities shifted for those organisations? In a word, ‘Yes’. But also probably, ‘No.’

At CPL, we have worked with a diverse range of membership organisations to help them react, adapt, plan and pivot through the altered landscape of 2020. What is immediately apparent is that clear communications and useful, relevant and informative content remain in great demand. Let’s look at those key takeaways from The Content Connection again.

Member data
Across interviews conducted for the report, a common question was how customer data can play a greater role in organisations gaining new members. Membership professionals also said they were keen to use data to a greater extent to future-proof their business. A year later, we are seeing member data as a crucial tool in sharing best practice and expertise, and delivering tailored information to members as circumstances change at pace. More than just for acquisition, data is also at the heart of galvanising the support of long-term members, driving renewals during difficult times and assessing how to modernise organisations so they can continue to serve their sectors.

The old marketing adage of ‘fish where the fishes are’ applies – but in 2020 the fishes are more dispersed

Tone of voice
Respondents to the survey in 2019 said that developing a coherent and consistent voice across all their content is a continuing challenge. Leap forward a year and the potential complexities of the challenge have increased. With organisations sometimes having needed to deliver information to members on a daily basis as the pandemic unfolded, and to unpick the nuances of new advice and regulations, more people have become involved in creating content, with less time for it to go through the usual production and editorial processes. With more chefs and less time, it’s a recipe for inconsistency that needs continuing attention.

Content channels
How ‘traditional’ and digital media work together in harmony towards a common goal was a key theme in The Content Connection. When content is a cost centre, this question is really one of where to make your investment, and how best to use your available resources. The old marketing adage of ‘fish where the fishes are’ applies here – distribute your content wherever your audience will see it. But in 2020 the fishes are more dispersed. In-person events have been cancelled and print media might sometimes not be practical. At CPL, we have seen and supported many clients in making the switch to new digital content channels including webinars, podcasts and community platforms. Where and how to use content remains a high-priority question.   

Exclusive member content adds value, but distributing articles beyond your membership base can raise awareness of your organisation and its work, and support acquisition. In 2020, we have seen organisations throw open the doors to their content, sharing previously exclusive information and guidance so any professionals in the sector can benefit from it during a time of crisis. Many have also created a hugely increased amount of free content, via news updates on websites, email newsletters, webinars and more. A year ago, The Content Connection recommended organisations ask themselves why their free/paid-for content split existed, and what had changed since the last time it was challenged? Those questions still stand today.

Targeted content
The Content Connection summarised that although organisations recognise they can use content better to grow membership, they shouldn’t all adopt the same approach. In 2020, it may also be the case that there is no one ‘new normal’ towards which all organisations must pivot. In a fast-changing global situation, targeting content to the specific needs of a particular audience is increasingly important. Simply splitting that audience into members and non-members may not suffice. As different regions face different challenges, location-based targeting might be useful. Segmenting audiences by demographics or with persona-based personalisation may help organisations reach members at different stages of their careers, or those who hold particular roles within the sector.

Despite these tumultuous times, the foundations of member content creation remain strong. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and while organisations in the membership sector share similar experiences when connecting content with membership, the size of an organisation, its maturity, commercial outlook, sector-specific challenges and internal culture all contribute to differentiated – and evolving – aspirations.

Plus ça change, as they say, plus c’est la même chose.

Download The Content Connection.

Watch the 25-minute CPL webinar, Content after covid.

Martin Bewick – CPL Content Marketing Strategy
Martin Bewick
is content strategist
at CPL

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