Why failing to target content properly is a “wasted opportunity”

CPL has teamed up with market research specialists Ashridge Communications to create a new report on how membership organisations use their content


Most membership organisations need to get better at targeting their content to specific audiences.

This is among the key findings of The Content Connection, a new research report that assesses how organisations in the sector use content to grow and retain membership numbers.

Thirty-five out of 37 membership organisations surveyed for the research said they tended to be limited to a “one size fits all” approach to content.

“Many membership organisations have segmented their internal and external audiences by, for example, creating special interest groups,” say the report’s authors Emma Thompson, from Ashridge, and CPL’s Mike Sewell. “However, that doesn’t mean they have extended this approach to their content strategy. This is potentially a wasted opportunity.”

The research was carried out during summer and autumn 2019 with in-house team members responsible for communications with members. It involved a combination of quantitative research and more detailed one-to-one interviews, which feature as case studies in the report. Professional bodies, trade associations, royal colleges and trades unions – ranging in size from fewer than 5,000 to more than 400,000 members – were among the organisations surveyed.

Each is at a different stage in its development and many have different internal cultures and commercial outlooks. But some common themes emerged, and these are identified as the five ‘key takeaways’ in the report.

In addition to the need to target content better, the other four key takeaways in the report revolve around:

  • Member data: most respondents said they had a fair amount of data about their members, but they were aware they did not use it well. For example, only three out of 37 organisations said they use data to identify members likely to respond to particular content, or to focus specific content activity on those members least likely to renew their memberships.
  • Tone of voice: developing a coherent and consistent voice across all content channels is an ongoing challenge. “If you don’t get the tone of voice right and have a clear house style, you risk confusing your members, diluting the impact of your message and reducing your influence,” says CPL’s Mike Sewell.
  • Content channels: with the research revealing that at least 15 different channels are used to attract new members, it’s important to take a nuanced approach to content. The transformation to more digital channels has made communication easier, cheaper, faster and more direct, but most organisations acknowledge they could be using digital technology more effectively to aid recruitment and retention of members.
  • Paywalls: 59 per cent make at least some of their content available to non-members, normally to encourage conversion to membership. A third say their printed member magazine is made available, in some form, to non-members. But many also say their magazine is their No 1 member benefit – a reason why they are reluctant to make it more widely available.

A key priority for CPL and Ashridge was to make the findings as useful and relevant as possible. Each of the five takeaways also includes five key questions that membership professionals need to consider in the context of their content strategy. 

Among other findings from the report are:

  • 68 per cent have a defined content strategy, 24 per cent don’t and three per cent are not sure
  • 59 per cent make ‘some’ of their organisation’s content available to non-members, 38 per cent make ‘a lot’ available and one organisation makes it ‘all’ available
  • The five most popular channels used to attract new members are website (89 per cent), social media (84 per cent), advertising (57 per cent), annual conference (54 per cent) and magazine/journal website (49 per cent).

The report, which was launched during November at two events for those who had taken part in the survey, is available at:

To receive a hard copy, or to share your views and experiences of using content to grow and retain members, please contact or call him on 01223 378008.

Mike Sewell
is managing director
at CPL

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