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The key to a successful cover letter consists of five elements: professional, concise, interesting, error free, and relevant. The most problematic of course is being concise. It is easy to say something with many words, but extremely difficult to deliver the same message with just a handful of words (without losing meaning).
The reason why a cover letter must be concise is that 95% if not more of employers/HR managers/recruiters only skim through your cover letter. They never read more than the first few lines, and if something does not catch their eye, they will place your resume in the recycle bin along with the thousands of other resumes and cover letters that didn't make the cut, this isn't an exaggeration or hyperbole.
General/Generic Cover Letter:
The general cover letter should not simply reiterate what is in your resume in paragraph form even though the same cover letter will be used for several potential employers with little to no change. This practice is a common misconception that can be detrimental to your job search. Even general cover letters need to be tailored to the applicant and cannot be a generic/form cover letter or rephrasing of your resume. Let the employer know something unique about yourself.
Targeted/Tailored Cover Letter:
The targeted cover letter will do more than the generic/general cover letter, but more specifically it will highlight your relevant skills and experience relative to the company and/or position you are applying to/for in an interesting way. However, it can only be used for the one particular company and/or position.