As content marketing has grown and evolved, the brands that have cracked the code are the ones that have an audience-centric strategy. At least that’s what two industry thought leaders — Newscred’s own Michael Brenner, and Nick Stein, SVP of Marketing, Vision Critical – plan to illustrate in their upcoming SXSW presentation, “The Secret to Killer Content Marketing.”

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A former journalist who was a staff writer for Fortune magazine, Stein is a seasoned storyteller who has migrated into the world of content marketing. As the SVP of Marketing at Vision Critical, he’s responsible for the brand, story, and vision of the company, and helps generate demand for its products and solutions.

Nick Stein

Stein shared some thoughts with NewsCred on the state of content marketing, and even gave us an inside scoop on what the SXSW session will cover. Take a look:

What should be the top goal of any content marketer?

NS: Understanding your audience is the most important thing. When I first started, content marketing was an idea that was just staring to gather steam and momentum. Understanding that the way people buy has changed, and the way they look for information is a lot more self-driven. The convergence of social and mobile and the Internet created a new paradigm where all of a sudden the balance of power between the companies and the people that buy from them has really shifted. Now it’s about trying to educate in a very specific way with the content, and engage people at the level of ideas. Get them excited, get them interested, and find a way to transition that into a discussion about how your products and solutions can address the challenges they are facing in their day to day business life.

When approaching content strategy, where do you start?

NS: One of the things people often do backwards is they feel they can somehow propel the audience or customer through a journey or path to purchase. That’s backward. Customers come in at different stages of the buying cycle, and they are trying to educate themselves. We really need to provide them with all kinds of different entry points to learn about us at the highest level, which is thought leadership that engages people, all the way through to content geared to how a particular product or solution can help them achieve whatever their goals may be.

Ask yourself: Are we creating content that will be able to engage our audience in a meaningful conversation no matter what stage of the buying cycle they might be in?

What’s a great example of a company doing content marketing right?

NS: Hubspot – they really laid the foundation in a lot of ways that other companies have built upon. They’re a great example of really knowing your audience. Content has to find this balance between being aspirational and being prescriptive. If it’s too prescriptive without inspiring you to do something better or different, it’s not going to grab your attention as a reader or viewer. And if it’s too aspirational with no real takeaway or you don’t know what the next steps are, then it’s failed in its mission as well. It’s finding that balance, and Hubspot does a really great job at that.

What’s a major challenge that content marketers are facing in 2015?

NS: I think that a few years ago there was much less volume. When you look at all of the different platforms and channels that we have at our disposal to disseminate content there’s so much noise, that helping your audience to find the signal in all of that noise is the biggest challenge. How does your content stand above the massive amount of content that is now pouring out there? What’s happened is there were a lot of small to medium companies that didn’t have the marketing budget or doing huge ad buys, so they were at the forefront of building and developing content marketing. Now, a lot of huge Fortune 500 companies are seeing the value in this approach and are increasingly investing in it. They have a lot more resources, and the result is this proliferation of content.

You have to create content that will differentiate you. Make it clear what your unique position is in the marketplace.

The CEB – Corporate Executive Board — wrote this book called “The Challenger Sale,” which talks about the approach to engaging today’s buyer and how buyer behavior has changed. They talk about how it’s not enough just to provide thought leadership, you have to provide commercial insight. What that means is you have to be able to teach your audience something that is unique and valuable to them, but that is also connected to your unique value proposition as a business, something nobody else can do in the same way that you do it.

Can you give a sneak peek into your SXSW presentation?

NS: The massive thing that has been overlooked through content marketing over the last few years is the audience and actually engaging and working with your customers to develop content. It seems like a no brainer to do that.

If you think about the way tech products get built now, you keep going out to your customer base, get feedback on that product, and then over time make it better and more closely aligned with what your customer is looking for. Being able to actually engage your customers in the content creation process is the key or the secret to producing content that will be that signal among all the noise. You know it’s going to resonate with your audience because it came from your audience.

The focus of our talk is going to be why is it important to engage your customers when you’re thinking about creating content, and how do you actually go about doing that?

There’s a reason why there are some publications that continue to resonate and reach readers year after year, and others that come and go. It comes down to understanding who your audience is and providing them with compelling stories that will connect with them in a meaningful way. You may have been able to get away with pushing out subpar content that didn’t connect in a real way to your audience at one time, but in the landscape today, with the volume and quantity of content that is out there, if you can’t find ways to separate what you’re doing from everyone else, you’re going to have a hard time.

Don’t miss Stein and Brenner’s SXSW presentation, The Secret to Killer Content Marketing, on March 16.