When it comes to content marketing, as the great philosopher David Lee Roth once said, “Everybody wants some!”

Content strategy is on every marketer’s lips these days. Yet, at best, content strategy is vaguely understood. At worst, it’s simply a term du jour used to “content wash” current marketing efforts in order to keep the C-suite happy. So, let’s cut through the hype and get a common definition of content strategy.

In my opinion and experience, content marketing is a modern extension of public relations that utilizes newly available technology platforms and capitalizes on organizations’ newfound ability to publish content directly. If PR is the art of influencing and shaping perceptions and desired behavior in your target audience, then content strategy is the way in which content can help you to achieve that influence.

In the simplest of terms, developing a content strategy means determining five basic pieces of data:

Obviously, you must first recognize with whom you are communicating. In other words, who is your audience? The best way to define the audience is by creating personas and then segmenting those personas by mapping a buyer’s journey – audience behavior from awareness to exploration to evaluation to decision. Next, you must know and understand what you want your audience to do. These desired outcomes are your goals and should later serve as a strategic measurement of your content program. You need to identify the words or images that will influence, provoke a response or drive your audience to take action. These are your core messages. You must identify what information your audience finds interesting and meaningful. This is about making your content relevant and in context for them. Finally, you need to understand how and where your audience consumes content. This identifies your channels.

When you can bring together all of these components, your strategy starts to take form. With that in hand, you can focus on the critical tactics that bring it to life: auditing the content that you already have to see where there are gaps, developing a calendar of the topics and the forms of content needed, editing and developing great content in a variety of forms (assuming it’s what your audience wants, according to your strategy) and then finally implementing ways to measure the tactical and strategic impact of your content.

Too often, organizations skip directly to the fun part: the tactics. They start producing content and throwing it out there to “see what sticks.” It’s critical to remember that content marketing is an ongoing process that requires consistency and a commitment to a strategy.

Although content is intended for consumption, force-feeding content to your audience may do more damage than if you did nothing at all. Alternatively, a good content strategy actually creates a discussion with your audience over a nice meal about something that interests you both.

In his 1984 dissertation on the challenges of fine-tuning the right content marketing approach, Dr. Roth perhaps stated it most eloquently when he said, “And I know, baby, just how you feel. You’ve got to roll with the punches to get to what’s real.”