Are you one of the marketers who has recently jumped on the content marketing bandwagon? The theory is that if you put more content out there, prospects (clients, job candidates, members, etc.) will find it, self-identify and then beat a path to your doorstep.

The benefits of investing in content are legion: an easier education and sales process, better quality leads, better conversion rates, reduced cost of client or member acquisition, and a group of engaged ambassadors who willingly spread your good word throughout their networks. With so many benefits, an organization would have to be foolish not to invest in content, and invest in it significantly. (Which is why most now do.)

Unfortunately, many of these benefits are never delivered — and the reason is clear: Content in and of itself has zero value. Content only has value as a tool to help the target user achieve a goal or solve a problem. To turn this around, a viable content marketing program must include three elements:

1. Relevance: The right content must be available for the right audience in the right format at the right time. If the audience feels the content is irrelevant, it will see the organization as ... irrelevant. If the quality is poor, it will see the organization as poor. A common mistake is creating content that is important to the sponsoring organization and not the audience. This is a sure-fire interest-killer.

2. Relationships: The underlying goal of any content marketing program is to build a relationship with the target user. The relationship moves from awareness, to preference, to trial, and ultimately to commitment. For this reason, the goal of each content piece must also be aligned to these four relationship curve stages. This blog post, for example, achieves the goal of awareness (in case you discovered this from an email link or Google search) as well as preference (since reading many posts builds affinity and trust).

3. Results: If the goal is to deliver results by improving relationships, how do you know when you are successful? Or if you are producing the right content? Measuring engagement and conversion allows for easy mid-course corrections, and a more aligned content strategy.

In a certain sense, content marketing is like a magnet. When done well it serves to attract, but when done poorly by not following these three R's content yields the opposite effect. It diminishes the brand.

Is content dead? Yes and no. Dead content is dead, but relevant content that builds relationships and delivers results is alive and well.

This week's action plan: Look back at all of the content that you have produced over the last year, whether it be newsletters, blog posts, whitepapers or video, and evaluate it against these criteria: How did each piece grade for relevance? For building relationships? And most importantly, for results?

Marketing insight: As more organizations flood the market with their content, the value of content will be driven lower and lower. Quality content, on the other hand, can differentiate your organization, achieve higher Google rankings and increase social shares. If you are building content today, it is competing for attention with the better quality content of tomorrow. Build it right the first time and it will have a stronger, and longer, tail.