By now most brands are aware of the importance of creating their own content. Many brands now even employ their teams of journalists, essentially operating small newsrooms. And it's a smart strategy. In the age of social media, you can't sit around and wait for another news outfit to tell the stories that matter to you. You've got to tell your own stories, and tell them in such a way that people want to share them. Even Microsoft gets this now.

Still, if content is more important than ever, that doesn't mean the goal should simply be to pump out as much content as possible and hope sales go up. As with any marketing effort, strategy is a critical part of a content campaign. Every piece of content you create should have a clearly defined target audience. And that doesn't mean simply knowing who your customers are and what interest them. It means understanding how different types of content can be deployed for the different stages of the buying cycle or sales funnel.

Top Of The Funnel Content

When people think about content campaigns, they're often thinking about "top of the funnel" content. These are the blog posts, infographics, and other lighter material that's aimed at answering basic questions and sparking more curiosity about your products and services.

As noted by Frank Isca over at the Whole Brain Marketing Blog, your top of the funnel content shouldn't have a strong sales pitch. Rather, it should be content that's engaging and sharable.

For example, a doctor looking to promote his private practice might have a list of health myths on his homepage. A supermarket chain might create branded calorie charts, and so on. In some cases, an general e-book that establishes your authority in your field or industry can also work at the top of the funnel.

Middle Of The Funnel Content

At the middle of the funnel, you're creating content for a different type of customer. Now you're focusing on someone who has demonstrated an interest in your product, and you need to be able to provide resources that answer specific questions.

In other words, you need content that can function as lead nurturing. This is where you want to move from the e-book that provides an overview to the e-book that includes case studies. Or, in the case of video, from the brief informational segment to the detailed product demonstrations. White papers that provide easy-to-digest research on the state of the industry can also be useful at this stage.

Bottom Of The Funnel Content

Many content marketers believe that they have little role at the bottom of the funnel. That's where the sales guys are supposed to step in and seal the deal. But, so long as you're thinking of content in the broadest sense, there's still plenty for content marketers to do at this stage.

Katrice Svanda at Digital Impact suggests that, at the bottom of the funnel, content should include free trials and demos, free consultations, and quotes or estimates. In other words, as with all bottom of the funnel marketing, your bottom of the funnel content is often only as strong as the product or service you're selling.

If what you're offering doesn't add value to people's lives, all the content in the world isn't likely to help. But if you're selling something worthwhile, then targeting your content to the different stages of the sales funnel can make all the difference.

What did we leave out?