Case Study

Air Force Association

Founded in 1946, the Air Force Association is an independent, non-profit professional military and aerospace education association currently serving 93,000 members across 200 chapters. AFA’s first national president was the Medal of Honor recipient, General Jimmy Doolittle. You know him as the noted aviation pioneer most historically linked with the 1942 Tokyo ‘Doolittle’ raid. His first act as president? To establish AFA chapters across the country.


  • Digital Discovery and Strategy
  • Website Design and Development
  • Content Strategy
  • Copywriting

While AFA has grown to be a connected military community for airmen, their families and civilians, it needed to modernize its membership. The first step was to create a new website experience to act as the central hub for all AFA communications. The Air Force is very technical in nature. However, AFA’s website did not reflect a transformative technical presence.

AFA turned to Bates Creative for its experience working with military branches and associations along with its expertise in digital design and development, particularly Adobe Experience Manager (AEM). Understanding that AFA is rich with content and member resources, Bates Creative rebuilt AFA’s digital structure with member-first experiences.

Several of AFA’s website redesign goals included:

  • driving growth and revenue to its membership
  • promoting professional development
  • generating more ad sales
  • increasing awareness for AFA’s contribution to the community it serves
Discovering a New Website Strategy with AEM

Unresponsive, stale and dated, AFA wanted to reposition its website as a member-acquisition power tool. At the time, AFA’s average member was 70 years old. And while AFA still welcomes these more senior members, it was challenged with combating the common misperception that AFA is exclusive to senior officers and pilots.

To pair with the modernization of its brand, AFA began targeting younger Air Force generations. Its first step to attracting this younger demographic? Rethinking its content and digital strategy to support a new website experience. AFA sought a website CMS that provides scale, security, power and personalization.

After thorough research, AFA selected AEM as its new CMS. AEM is an agile and robust enterprise CMS that transforms the customer journey. It takes the complexity out of reaching the right audiences with your digital experience. With less hurdles to jump through, AFA will leverage AEM to create more meaningful connections with cross-channel content and assets.

AEM is also a component of Adobe Marketing Cloud, an overarching system of solutions that have the power to integrate with one another, including AEM, Adobe Target, Adobe Campaign, Adobe Analytics and more. Together, the solutions amount to a complete digital marketing powerhouse.

Recreating AFA’s Content Strategy

Bates Creative kicked off the discovery phase for the website redesign by developing personas. Each persona provides insight into the respective segment’s primary goals and challenges.

Not only do these personas anchor AFA’s content strategy, they also help ensure that AFA is speaking to each target audience’s specific needs and expectations in a memorable way. With personas acting as the foundational structure for the website’s content framework, AFA’s messaging fluidly shifted from a brand-first content strategy to a member-first content strategy.

Once the content strategy framework was built, Bates Creative mapped out the website’s user journeys. These user journeys illustrate pathways a user may take to reach their potential end goals on the website. The ultimate purpose is to map out a journey that guides users as quickly and seamlessly as possible. With this completed, Bates Creative developed the new information architecture. The information architecture dictates AFA’s hierarchy, division, relationships and how the pages relate to one another in the website.

Upon completion of the information architecture, Bates Creative interpreted the content flow into wireframes, leading the team into the design phase of the redesign.

Complementing Content with Design

Bates Creative kicked off the design phase knowing it had creative flexibility for the website design. Creative flexibility also means complementary harmony with content. Bates Creative used AFA’s new member-focused messaging strategy as a benchmark for the new design. The final visual experience is a hybrid of sophistication and edge to satisfy AFA’s expansive membership gamut.

Powerful photography of Air Force personnel welcome visitors to the website in addition to a sleek color palette of deep and light blues with pops of yellow. AFA’s former website was over saturated with information and content, which created a cluttered aesthetic. As visitors scroll through the new website, they will see a clean balance of design and text.

The new website design acts as a visual pathway that helps visitors reach their goals while creating opportunities to engage with the content.

Empowering AFA’s Website with AEM

Bates Creative worked with a back-end development partner to bring all website elements together in the development phase. First, Bates Creative’s development partner packaged front-end development files, so the solutions architect could then optimize the files for AEM. A total of seven AEM templates using 20 components were customized.

Using the agile methodology, development was divided into two-week intervals of sprints. Each sprint consisted of a review to ensure functionality was completed. Following development, Bates Creative began the content migration process. And to wrap everything up, an SEO audit was conducted to ensure improvement upon AFA’s search rank with the new content.

Airmen, their families and civilians are the heartbeat of AFA. The association will leverage the power of AEM to spawn regional chapter sites from the main parent website to create personalized connections between local chapters and its members across the country. Now empowered with AEM, AFA’s website will continuously evolve and grow with the association.