The concept of content marketing is not a novel one, but it’s currently one of the most buzzed about parts of the marketing mix. It’s a powerful method for brands to connect with consumers. We’re seeing businesses loosen their purse strings to spend more on content marketing: Two years ago, budgets were 12.6% of total marketing spend, while they now have a 23.3% share. Over the next two years, they’re expected to grow from an average of $18.4 million to $12.1 million.

With this much talk and money, it’s important to reach a consensus on what content marketing truly means. During a roundtable hosted by PluggedIn BD, industry experts representing various brands and platforms gathered to define content marketing, address the challenges they face, and discuss proven strategies for success.

1. Be relevant and valuable.

So what is content marketing? In general terms, it’s the providing of a service beyond just the product and establishing a connected conversation with consumers. More specifically, according to the Content Marketing Institute: “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

The key words here are “relevant” and “valuable.” For example, one beauty brand at the table uses a mix of brand-produced and user generated videos on its YouTube channel. The value comes from beauty advice, while relevance is found in the authenticity of content from beauty bloggers. According to Brendan Latrell from Grapevine, we’re going to see a major shift from brands pushing messages to consumers delivering the message on behalf of brands. While there’s some risk involved in giving up that control, the reward is great: a message this is truly trusted. That’s when the magic happens.

2. Let consumers express themselves.

One of the biggest challenges of content marketing is finding the right balance between providing and getting value. Sure, content is becoming more consumer-centric, but brands still need a return on investment. You’ll be amazed by how effective it can be to just let users express themselves with limited moderation, creating something that’s not over-produced.

Melissa Rosenthal, Vice President of Creative Services at Buzzfeed, made a point that getting content to really resonate is about hitting three pillars: utility, emotional reaction, and shared experiences. And in order to do this, brands need to learn how to be comfortable with giving up a little bit of control.

3. Find the right distribution mechanism.

Another challenge is creating consistency across channels while also taking into consideration the differences between the various audiences. (This is where relevancy comes into play again.) Technology can be a key to finding the appropriate fit. Zack Rosenberg’s platform, KeyWee, analyzes content and generates hundreds of variations of paid posts, each targeting highly qualified audiences. As he said, it’s not always possible for people to sift through the mountains of data and get granular enough to produce relevant segmentation. Technology does that number crunching for us, plus it becomes smarter with time.

4. Define the measurements that are most meaningful to your brand.

We need a better way to measure and track the efficacy of content. There’s a real struggle to prove ROI. But there’s also no standard of content marketing KPIs to measure. The various measurements being used include: continued engagement on site, shares and share ratios, sentiment analysis, brand perception, customer acquisition cost by channel, and lifetime value. What’s a brand to do? With so many possible data points, brands simply need to decide which ones mean the most to them.

5. Take a hands-on approach.

There is no “holy grail” to perfectly calculate ROI on content (sometimes, in order to measure that investment, you have to follow the consumer path from online to offline, where the actual conversion happens). Whether it’s creating valuable content, delivering it to a relevant audience, or measuring its success, each brand needs to take a hands-on approach to building a content strategy that works and meets their individual needs. This includes everything from choosing a metric to choosing the right content and technology partners. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Find the right throne for your content king.