You've heard it on this site and pretty much everywhere else--content is vital to success in today's marketplace. So you spend a lot of your time writing blog posts and creating videos, or you pay someone else to do it. And you wonder, is it worth the investment? What are the chances that your carefully crafted content will actually result in sales?

It will--if you use the right strategy, says Matt Certo, CEO of Findsome & Winmore and author of Found: Connecting With Customers in the Digital Age. The secret is to reach customers at what he calls their "parachute moments." He explains: "If a salesman stands at the front of a crowded theater and announces he's selling parachutes, no one will be interested in him. However, if that same salesman announces he's selling parachutes on an airplane right before it crashes, everyone on the plane will want to purchase a parachute."

Your online marketing goal should be to connect with your customers at those parachute moments, offering them precisely what they need at exactly the moment they need it most. Content marketing can be a very powerful tool for doing that, he explains. Here's how to make it work:

1. Focus on your customers, not your product.

Don't give in to the temptation to focus your content on your product's new feature or the award it just won. Effective content marketing starts from the question of what your customer needs to know, not what you want to tell. "Your content should inform or influence but not advertise or sell," Certo says. "True content marketing depends upon helpful content that is not 'salesy.'"

2. Find their parachute moments.

Chances are, you already know what sorts of situations lead your customers to desperately need your product. If you don't, think back to some of the easiest sales you've made, the times when customers didn't hesitate or haggle, the times they paid extra for a rush delivery. If you're still not sure, try conducting some informal research by talking to your customers or sales team.

3. Figure out what they'll search at those moments.

Because--make no mistake--they will turn to their favorite search engines in those moments of need. "Research tells us that we now consult the internet with questions more frequently than family and friends," Certo says. "The best way to connect with those who are searching is to anticipate the frame of mind your customers are in when they most desperately need your product, and think about questions they might be asking."

For example, he says, someone who needs adhesive remover might search How do I get carpet glue off my hardwood floors? Someone planning a wedding might search What do I look for when hiring a wedding photographer? Be sure to focus on the questions a customer would ask before making a purchase and not after, Certo notes.

4. Provide the answers they need in the right format.

"Once you have a good feel for questions like these, the next step is to answer these questions in the form of blog posts, diagrams, videos, or tip sheets," Certo says. "If the content is useful and informative, you stand a really good chance of being found by your customers when they need you most."

There are a couple of traps to watch out for, though. Besides making sure your content is squarely focused on answering customer questions and not describing your product, you must also make sure the content is succinct and goes right to the customer's concerns from the very first word. And it should be mobile-friendly as well. As Certo points out, your customer "may be reading the answer on her phone while stopped at a traffic light that's about to change to green."

5. Lay out a path.

Once you've managed to grab potential customers' attention by supplying the answers they need right when they need them, make the most of that attention by providing a path that makes it easy and natural for a customer to buy. "Instead of thinking of yourself as a keyword strategist, position yourself as a tour guide," Certo says.

To do this effectively, you have to get inside your customers' heads, so he suggests starting with an informal storyboard, setting out a series of sticky notes that map out a customer's journey. "Make sure your website gives her an easy path to follow to take the next right step in engaging with you--calling you on the phone, buying your product online, filling out a contact form, etc." Certo says.

6. Create different content for different customer segments.

Not all your customers are alike, and they won't all have the same needs. "Spend time figuring out your audience segments and what they care about," Certo advises. "Develop profiles of them. A fitness club shouldn't just think about 'customers,' but specific segments of customers. Consider the 65-year-old male who wants to stave off diabetes, the 32-year-old female who wants to get in shape for her wedding, and the 16-year-old male who wants to make his varsity team next year. Then create really great content that speaks to each of their needs, especially at their parachute moments."

7. Raise your social profile as much as you can.

If the above sounds like a lot of work, it is. But the fact is, the more great content you create and publish, the more likely you'll be to reach your customers at just the right moment, and the more visible you'll become. You can increase that visibility by posting on social media, responding to others, engaging with your social network, and curating other great content as well as creating your own.

"Publish as much as you can," Certo says. "All the while, develop your personal and corporate social presences, and share as much content as you can." The more you do, the better your investment in creating content will pay off.