Content marketing is quite clearly a red-hot topic in the world of marketing – it seems like we’ve had nonstop conversation about it for at least two years. And despite all that talk, there still seems to be a lot of confusion over what is and what isn’t content marketing. Some people favor a very broad definition – it’s all content! – while others think it’s better to have a narrow focus on the definition, which can make those of those that feel that way seem a little curmudgeonly.

Some may say it just doesn’t matter, but I think it’s important that we put some parameters around the term; if the definition is too broad, it becomes meaningless.

Therefore, here are some of the parameters for content marketing and content execution that I think are important… so much so that I’m pretty adamant about them. In fact, I consider them truths, not just assertions. My list:

Content marketing isn’t content marketing unless it’s audience-focused.

Content that is inward facing is not content marketing, at least not in my book. I’m not saying that you should create sales collateral and press releases and the like; I’m just saying it isn’t content marketing. Content marketing must be useful or educational to the prospective customer, and educating her about your wonderful products doesn’t count. And that’s because….

The buyer is in control.

The buyer’s journey has changed. Thanks to the Internet, the buyer can research and browse as she sees fit. Two-thirds of the buying process now occurs digitally, as the buyer conducts research before ever engaging with the potential provider. That means the buyer dictates the when, how, why and what of the content they consume. Content marketers therefore need to bend to the buyer’s will and play the game.

The goal of content marketing is to build trust.

Because in 2014, the buyer has many options. If they don’t trust you, they won’t buy from you. Content is an awesome way to build that trust. By delivering thought-provoking content that helps your audience live their lives or do their jobs, you’re giving them something important – your thinking. Once they understand your beliefs and approach to solving their problems, they’re far more likely to want to do business with you.

Content marketing never ends, so you better be in this for the long haul.

With content, the campaign approach to marketing is dead. If you’re going to build trust, you need to make a commitment to the audience. A commitment lasts longer than a fortnight.

Content marketing requires an editorial sensibility.

There have been plenty of attempts to “engineer” content, to apply algorithms to figuring out the audience. But the content marketing teams that have an innate understanding of the audience  – what it wants, how it wants it, when it wants it – is going to have an advantage. You need people with editorial training to bring this to your efforts.

Emotion is extremely important.

Just because you’re writing about accounting, or the law, or ERP software, doesn’t mean you can’t bring it to life. Content that brings emotion to the reader is far more likely to break through. We’re all inundated with information, and just adding to the pile of lifeless jargon-filled content isn’t helping anyone.

You need to figure out your editorial promise.

This should align with your brand promise. What do you stand for? Once you figure out that, how does your content support that raison d’etre?

Simply hiring a copywriter probably won’t fulfill your content marketing needs.

Because you need a strategy, not someone to just bang out copy. Additionally, I can pretty much guarantee that you’re going to take that writer and give them a list of possible blog topics… but first you’re going to have them write a speech for the CEO, and maybe provide their thoughts on that PowerPoint for sales. Next thing you know, you have a writer who’s very busy, but that isn’t doing any content marketing.

Content marketing without strategy is a waste of time.

There are plenty of organizations that are blogging about any ol’ thing. Or that blog once a quarter, because they don’t have a plan. You must, must, must have a strategy for content, that identifies key themes, an editorial calendar, an execution plan and goals and metrics.

Everybody has a hard time with content creation.

There, feel better? It isn’t easy to continually create a flow of high quality content. It requires passion, stamina and talent. It requires commitment. However, the potential benefits make it worth it. If you’re practicing content-driven inbound marketing and you’ve ever sold a prospect that had consumed your content, you know how easy it is. Trust us – you’ve never made an easier sale.