You've heard it all before. "Content is King" and "Context is Queen". But why is it that some content delivers sales while most does not? What's so special about the content that does drive sales and how is it different from virtual tsunami of content that simply does not?

On May 19th, I will be in Las Vegas kicking off the performance (measurement and analytics) track of the Content Marketing Conference. This is a sneak preview of what I will be sharing there along with a much deeper dive on the topic.

There are 4 time-tested rules that, when followed, will consistently deliver sales results. The first 3 rules establish your foundation, but the 4th rule will ensure that your content delivers at the sales level you're expecting.

Rule #1: Your Content Must Fill a Void for Your Ideal Customer
This is the very first place where most companies get it wrong. Really bad marketing starts with content that is focused on how great a company's product or service is rather than having an astute understanding of a very real pain point your ideal customer has. Without a well-researched and clearly defined problem (i.e. a "void" to fill), you're better off not investing in content at all.

There are many ways to research and define your ideal customer's problems. One way Trepoint, my digital marketing agency identifies and clearly defines problems is through social media listening. By actively listening to what your ideal customer is saying on various social media channels, we can identify multiple pain points and determine which tools we can offer to solve them.

In this way, all content must be created around filling that clearly identified void. Really effective content is never about you, nor your company, nor your products. Instead, content that drives commerce starts with acknowledging a clear problem and shows the best ways to solve it (including your company's solution). It's important to note, however, that when you put your customer's needs above your own, you need to acknowledge alternative solutions that in no way benefit your company. This builds trust and ensures that your content stands out above your competitors who are likely to only talk about themselves and their solution.

Rule #2: Your Content Must Deliver a Clear Call to Action
After delivering a stellar solution to the problem you've identified that your ideal customer has, you need to be crystal clear on the action you want them to take. If your company caters to other businesses (B2B), know that only about 5% of your audience is likely to be "sales ready" depending on your specific offer and industry. So often times that clear call to action should NOT be "Buy Now."

Instead, if you've mapped your customer's journey, you should know what else they are looking for during their pre-sales "Discovery" and "Activation" phases. The best call to action is to be an incredible guide who helps them get to the logical next thing they need to discover in their journey. This could be anything from an entertaining video or infographic to a fully customized webinar or in-person seminar. The more value you can add for the least investment from your ideal customer, the better.

For businesses targeting consumers (B2C), what can you offer them for free? The more value you can deliver as part of your content strategy, the more likely your ideal customers will engage and ultimately transact with you. If you're product is something you buy regularly, can you give the first one away free? Or, can you offer a free sample? Knowing the lifetime value of your customer, you will quickly realize that it's NOT the initial sale you're after, but rather the regular, ongoing sales.

A clear call to action coupled with delivering something of real value will not only yield higher conversion rates, but ensure that you're standing out head and shoulders above all the rest of the content in your industry.

Rule #3: Your Content Must Be Measurable
Sounds obvious, but I can't tell you how many talented marketers get swept up in all the hype and end up jumping into content marketing without having clearly defined Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that tie directly back to sales. Knowing full well that you can't manage what you don't measure, there's no excuse for a lack of measurement in your content marketing. There is always a way to track and measure your content--and not just the impressions, clicks and time spent metrics either. I'm talking about working backwards from the cash register so that you can directly attribute what's driving the sales of your business.

For pure play ecommerce companies, this is dead simple. You can create custom landing pages, unique offer codes, referral URL tracking and even leverage affiliate marketing tactics to ensure you know where your sales are coming from. This should be standard operating procedure across every product launch and website promotional effort.

For B2B companies, it's a combination of your marketing automation platform and your customer relationship management (CRM) platform. Your content should be integrated into your well-defined customer journey map so that you can evaluate where each prospect is in their decision making process. With each step of the buyer's journey, you're leveraging technology to monitor how "sales ready" your ideal customer prospect is and when they will be ready for a phone or in person meeting in order to close a deal.

For B2C companies (especially ones that are sold in brick and mortar locations), you have a few more steps in your process, but there is no reason you can't also work backwards from the cash register. From loyalty cards and coupons to packaging codes and gifts with purchase options, you have an arsenal of tried and true tactics that will allow you to monitor and measure your results. Two resources you will likely find valuable include Measuring the ROI of Social Media and my previous article on Influencer Marketing delivers 11 times ROI over all other forms of Digital Media. Both have specific examples of how your peer companies are doing this.

Rule #4: Your Content Must Be So Insightful That It is Shared
Peter Drucker once said that "the purpose of business is to get customers." But today, that's no longer true. Today, the purpose of business is to get customers that get you even more customers. This is the element of "advocacy" which is the last part of the customer journey and where the vast majority of businesses fail today. If your current customers are not raving fans, then you must step up your game.

This starts with your content creation. It's not enough to simply fill the void for your ideal customers; you need to blow them away. Your goal is to make them feel responsible for sharing what you've given them. If you need some pointers on how to do that, read this article on why your in-bound marketing strategy requires social triggers. Only when your ideal customer is compelled to share what you have given them will your content truly drive commerce. Without this last step, you're going to struggle because your content will only be worthy on a "one to one" basis. And by that metric, you're going to be spending a lot of money on marketing just to get your content seen by your ideal customers. To build a solar powered money making machine, you must not only get them to buy-in to what you're selling, but make them feel almost guilty for not sharing with their network what you have bestowed upon them. Only then will your content truly drive commerce and your ROI be truly maximized.

Want Even More?
If you'd like to dig deeper into how content can and does drive commerce (along with case studies and additional insights), please join me and some of the industry's top content marketing experts in Las Vegas on May 18th and 19th for the Content Marketing Conference. It's sure to be an insightful event chalked full of actionable insights. And if you're planning on attending, hit me up on Facebook so that I can be sure to connect with you in person while at the conference.

Published on: Apr 25, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.