If there’s one mantra reported over and over again in the world of online marketing it’s that content is king. But, cautions Debbie Williams chief content officer at SPROUT Content, don’t just post content for content’s sake. Everything you create should have a purpose, plan and reason.

“Sometimes the reason is to really help your audience with a specific need, and other times it’s to spark up a conversation on a lighter level,” she says. “But content without strategy is like a house without a plan; and you don’t need a content strategy but an audience strategy.”

We recently checked in with Debbie, who offered us valuable advice on what makes for engaging content, how businesses can form more meaningful relationships with clients and why being transparent is so important.

Hi, Debbie! Tell us a little about SPROUT Content. What services do you offer?

SPROUT Content is a marketing agency that helps B2B companies and entrepreneurs build relationships with their customers through strategic content channels. Through a combination of inbound marketing, content strategy and fresh, premium content, we help our clients connect with their target market by understanding their needs and giving them the information they really need. We’re also a HubSpot Certified Agency Partner.

What sets you apart from other content marketing agencies?

We really specialize in the SMB market… and we joke that we love “boring” content! Unlike many agencies who compete for the same big brand names, we focus on the 99 percent of businesses in the country. We love the challenge of “boring” industries and revealing the interesting stories in every type business, giving them a voice and helping them build relationships. We also think that B2B marketing has been tragically misunderstood. It’s really all about P2P, making those person-to-person connections; you’re still doing business with people. At SPROUT Content, we approach different industries fairly similarly– getting to know their audience and digging into those insightful nuggets that make them stand out from the competition.

How can businesses write more engaging content?

I really feel it can be really simple and so many businesses complicate things. If you clearly identify your audience, understand their needs and how your products/services make their lives better in some way, and offer information in a way that is truly different (because it is your own), you will succeed.

When evaluating an inbound marketing strategy, what components should brands be looking at?

Your customer is on a buying journey and your website is a 24/7 educational tool that can guide them through each stage of that journey. You have to make it easy for your target buyers to take action by leading them through your sales funnel and increasing the number of qualified leads that come your way. Make the most of your website traffic by getting to know your visitors as human beings and helping them solve real people problems.

You write about building meaningful relationships with clients. Why is this important to you? Why should brands be concerned with forming meaningful relationships with the people and businesses they’re marketing to?

We talk a lot about that in our book “Brands in Glass Houses.” Honestly, if you expect people to spend their hard earned money with you and you’d like them to do that more than once, then you have to make it worth their while. People don’t want to do business with big corporate entities, but feel like they are working with people who really get their needs and want to help them. And, if you do it well, you will have a slew of brand evangelists that sell your brand for you.

Why is it important for businesses to be transparent?

We believe that being honest, authentic and transparent is essential to doing business today. Being real will help you earn consumers’ trust and loyalty, position your brand as a thought leader and build stronger relationships with customers (who are people). I think people are fed up with the inauthentic and just want the truth. For years marketers and advertisers spun stories and told lies to people just for financial gain. Now, people expect more from the businesses they spend their (and their company’s) money with.

Can you share some brands you think do a particularly good job maintaining transparency with their customers?

On the consumer products end, Method Product, Patagonia, Stonyfield Farm and Toms are just a few. On the more technical business end, Zendesk, Oren International and They are truly authentic and real with the information they share about their business philosophy and how their products are made. It also shows that great content doesn’t necessarily have to be dramatically innovative. If it solves a problem or makes a process easier, it works. We offer a ton of examples in our book (“Brands in Glass Houses”), also.

Why do you think some businesses struggle with transparency?

The biggest source of resistance we hear is that they’re afraid to reveal too much. We know that if you let people in to the workings of your organization and reveal the story behind your products and/or services, you will be seen as an innovator and someone to be trusted. If another company tries to mimic you, which happens all the time, then it just proves that you have something worth copying. It’s that simple. And, you can never truly copy authenticity, can you?

What’s the wrong way to be transparent? How can you do it in away that won’t alienate customers when there’s something negative to share?

There is a way to be honest yet tactful and remain professional, yet human. There are so many examples of when companies get themselves in a social media or PR snafu (like Target recently did with its security breach) where they try to hide from it, which really discredits them further. If you own your issue and confront it with class and honesty, people will respect you for it.

Thanks for the quality time, Debbie!