Content Marketing Offers a Powerful Opportunity for Associations
By Amanda Darvill, Director, Marketing & Communication Services, SmithBucklin

Your association’s marketing team might have mentioned content marketing in a recent board meeting, or you might have glanced at an article about the topic in the Forbes online edition. You suspect content marketing is important, but, truthfully, you are not quite sure of its value. As a board member, you are wondering if content marketing is a topic the board should investigate.

Join the club. And the answer is yes. Content marketing is garnering increased attention from marketers in almost all sectors. In many cases, traditional marketing budgets are being allocated to content marketing strategies.

In the simplest terms, content marketing is a smarter way to secure the attention of your members, constituents and other key stakeholders of your organization. The connection is possible because you engage them with compelling content from your association that meets specific needs that they have. Your content delivers value. Unlike traditional marketing, which emphasizes “pushing” content to broad audiences, content marketing “pulls” people in because it gives them something they find useful. And when your association pulls them in and meets those needs, engaged members or constituents will often reciprocate by sharing the same material with others the association may otherwise never have reached. This ripple effect is one that many traditional marketing approaches cannot deliver.

Here are three modern-day realities to underscore why content marketing is important for associations to consider as an approach to retain existing members, recruit new ones, expand into new areas or become an industry or professional category’s most sought-after source of relevant information:
  • Content offers associations 24/7/365 reach. Opposed to years past when content was primarily delivered to association members through only print publications, content now flows through channels such as blogs, emails, e-newsletters, social media and various online content-streaming services.
  • It cuts through the clutter. There are many forms of digital communications that compete for our members’ attention. Delivering focused, compelling content cuts through the clutter as well as resonates with members and keeps them coming back for more.
  • It builds relevancy and trust online. Association members may search industry keywords online when they are trying to address an issue or challenge. However, there is no guarantee the information they find is helpful or factual. Associations, though, can tap subject-matter experts to offer highly accurate, credible and relevant information to meet members’ needs.
Most associations are swimming in compelling content. It comes from webinars, annual conferences, education curricula, white papers, case studies, blogs and membership surveys, as well as a myriad of other places. So launching a content marketing strategy does not mean starting from scratch or having to allocate significant financial resources for content creation. Implementation can simply require:
  • Repackaging existing content in shorter, more visual forms (e.g., videos, podcasts or infographics);
  • Creating new content that will help meet member needs or target a new audience;
  • Taking advantage of new channels (e.g., blogs, social media, etc.) to share content;
  • Targeting specific audiences (e.g., existing members, prospective members, former members, etc.); and
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the outreach by reviewing available metrics (e.g., email open rates, click throughs, blog visits, etc.).
Content Marketing at Lamaze International

Content marketing does not always require a significant financial investment, but it does require thinking differently about the content your organization has today and how it uses it. For example, Lamaze International capitalized on this approach to connect with two related but different target audiences: expecting parents and childbirth educators who offer classes, counseling and mentorship to expecting parents.

Like many associations, Lamaze routinely conducts research to determine what is most important to its two member segments. For parents, research identified that they wanted educational content on the birth process, tips about life as new parents and information on topics such as breastfeeding, postpartum depression and returning to work. Lamaze educators, on the other hand, wanted content focused on certification and education, as well as new tools, resources and training programs.

With those specific needs in mind, Lamaze leverages its existing content along with accessing available research and reshapes it to meet the unique needs of each member segment. Infographics — topic-specific graphics that include images, statistics, charts, graphs and other useful information — have been among the most well-received vehicles. For example, Lamaze developed a visually appealing infographic on epidurals that accomplished the following:
  • Identified the issue (“Is an epidural my only option?”);
  • Presented the pros and cons of an epidural in a quick, easy-to-understand presentation;
  • Educated parents with tips as well provides other options and questions to ask their healthcare provider; and
  • Culminated in providing information to help expecting parents connect with local Lamaze childbirth educators.
Because the infographics are delivered via social media, satisfied parents can then share the content with other prospective parents via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Lamaze’s strategic use of infographics is an effective, efficient and inexpensive way for the association to drive and expand its thought leadership platform.

Content Marketing at LMA

For the Legal Marketing Association (LMA), content marketing provides an effective way to target and attract new members. To drive these efforts, LMA uses content from its members-only magazine, Strategies, which is published six times per year. Here is how LMA does it:
  • LMA chooses an article relevant to a particular target segment;
  • LMA creates and places advertisements on social media channels offering the content for free;
  • Those interested in the content will click on the advertisement and visit a landing page;
  • There they provide their contact information in order to download the content;
  • LMA adds the contact information provided to its prospect database; and
  • Over time, LMA sends these pre-qualified prospects additional content and offers to encourage them to engage with – and ultimately join – the organization.
Since the program’s inception, LMA has identified a significant number of new member prospects. While not everyone who sees the advertisement clicks it and not everyone who clicks it fills out the form, everyone who sees the advertisement is of course reminded about the role LMA is playing to educate the industry and fulfill its goal to be “The Authority for Legal Marketing.”

Content Marketing Will Continue to Evolve

People are changing how they consume and respond to information. Increasingly, traditional marketing strategies are not always able to meet the needs of associations. In today’s always-on, social-media-savvy world, delivering valuable content is one of the best ways to stay relevant. If your board wants to strengthen its brand identity, stay relevant and position itself as the industry or profession’s thought leader, then reshaping your existing content collections into an accessible, online and visually appealing content marketing program could be a powerful addition to your strategic plan.

  Amanda Darvill is a director of Marketing & Communications Services at SmithBucklin, where she has overall responsibility for team performance, client service delivery and operations for marketing and communications in the SmithBucklin Washington, D.C. office. She also is the marketing and communications lead for client organizations such as Lamaze International.

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Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for 70 years.


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