Use Content Strategy to Leverage Your Biggest Business Assets

Content Strategy July 18, 2018 By: Hilary Marsh, Dina M. Lewis, CAE, and Carrie Hane

An organization-wide content strategy helps you seize opportunities to inform current and prospective members about the value of your association, but most organizations don’t have one. Ongoing ASAE Foundation research examines how associations can cultivate and leverage content more strategically.

A primary function of associations is the creation of products, services, resources, and tools that help members in their profession. So why does the Marketing General Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report [PDF] find that a perennial top challenge for associations is “difficulty in communicating value or benefit” to potential members?

One possible culprit: Most associations don’t have an organization-wide content strategy. A full-fledged, holistic content strategy encompasses all the products, services, events, resources, tools, and information created and maintained by an association. A content strategy ensures that an association produces content that is aligned across channels and shared in a way that highlights the organization’s benefits and value.

Early findings from an ASAE Foundation research study, Association Content Strategies for a Changing World, indicate that many associations could be producing content more strategically. Two themes have emerged: that the size of an organization does not affect its ability to implement an effective content strategy and that associations need to be clear about the distinction between content strategy and content marketing.

Success at Any Size

Associations of all budget and staff sizes are practicing content strategy to varying degrees. The research found advanced levels of content strategy practices in small, regional associations and more basic content strategy at large, international organizations.

Factors such as organizational complexity, culture, industry, and staff skills affect an association’s ability to be strategic about its content. Association leaders who think they do not have the capacity to implement content strategy practices can be encouraged by these findings.

A successful content strategy connects the organization’s strategic goals to the offerings designed to achieve those goals.

Beyond Marketing

Some association leaders think they’re doing content strategy when they are actually doing content marketing. Content strategy is defined as planning for the creation, publication, dissemination, and governance of useful, usable content across departments and functional areas. A successful content strategy connects the organization’s strategic goals to the offerings designed to achieve those goals.

Content marketing, on the other hand, is more focused on driving customer behavior. When associations’ marketing teams or agency partners focus on promotional content or marketing activities such as social media, blog posts, and the like, these activities are content marketing, not strategy. Content marketing is a great tool for member engagement and lead generation—and should be used to support the content strategy—but content marketing has a different set of goals and metrics.

An organization-wide content strategy goes far beyond marketing and deeper than engagement. It touches the association’s core work. Adopting a strategic approach to content is likely to affect an association’s staffing, budgeting processes, internal collaboration mechanisms, member engagement—and its very culture.

Next Steps for Research

The initial phase of the study included a comprehensive review of more than 60 articles, reports, and conference presentations; surveys of more than 600 association executives; and 15 in-depth interviews.

From these sources, the study identified 17 common content strategy activities, tactics, and artifacts and identified the extent to which associations are adopting each of them.

The second phase of the research is underway. The results of this phase will quantify the adoption of the defined tactics, assess how content strategy outcomes are being measured, and define content strategy staffing and management models.

Hilary Marsh

Hilary Marsh is president and chief strategist of Content Company, Inc., in Chicago.

Dina M. Lewis, CAE

Dina Lewis, CAE, is founder of Distilled Logic, moderator of, and incoming vice chair of ASAE’s Communication Professionals Advisory Council.

Carrie Hane

Carrie Hane is founder of Tanzen, a content strategy consulting firm.