Birgit Diggins

PRO

16 November 2016

Content and copy – how these opposites attract your ideal audience

Birgit Diggins ruminates on the difference between copy and content

I’m a “content marketing strategist and writer” and sometimes I get asked about my job title.

Why don’t I just call myself a marketing consultant or a copywriter?

Firstly, it’s because I’m a bit of both.

But secondly, it’s because I feel that neither job title nails what I offer.

When explaining my work from a marketing angle, conversations seem to quickly become focused on sales and on traditional marketing, in which promotions get pushed out to your target audience, either via leaflet flyers, advertisements or other direct marketing. And of course, websites, email campaigns and e-newsletters get mentioned too.

On the other hand, when trying to approach this from the copywriting side of things, the main attributes that copywriting seems to be associated with is some sort of uber-original and creative artistry and, again, commercially-focused tactics such as advertisements, sales collateral and email campaigns. So in a way quite similar to marketing.

It gets a little bit easier when I distinguish between traditional and content marketing. The first being the old style of image projecting, outbound and push marketing, while content marketing is the relatively new approach of attracting (pulling) audiences towards you through relevant, valuable and honest content.

Even pointing out that my work is solely focused on written content – rather than for example video and audio, which are both also firm part of the content marketing family – seems do-able and not causing too many question marks.

The discussion gets particularly tricky when I am asked about the difference between copy and content.

A Google search** (for copy vs content) reveals that I’m not the only one that went on a mission to formulate the differences – or perhaps similarities – between these two often interchangeably used terms.

Copy and content: opposite sides of the same coin

Strictly speaking, copy and content are not opposites.

Both use words as their main vehicle to carry their messages, and both ultimately have the same goals: to generate leads that convert into happy and well paying customers.

Having attempted to lay out some characteristics for both in the below table, one of my conclusions is that it is their focus and their means of getting there that sets them apart.

Copy
Content
Technical excellence (styling, grammar, call to actions, magnetic strap and headlines) Strategic purpose and value adding focus (solutions, benefits, insights)
Landing pages, sales pages and collateral, advertising, direct mail, campaigns – both print and digital (and TV and radio) Blog content, website content such as ‘about  us‘ pages, whitepapers, e-books, infographics, video, audio
Short pieces and short shelf-life content (eg. emails get deleted, ads get blocked, brochures end up in the bin) Evergreen long-form content (educational and thought leadership pieces)
Outbound, interruption marketing, advertising Inbound, attracting, organic marketing
One-way, direction (call to action) Dialogue, connection (nurturing to conversion)
Portraying, positioning, manufacturing (easier to outsource) Being (real, authentic, honest, ‘you-nique’)(outsourcing requires close relationship to really convey personality)
Self-centred Audience-centred
Emotional Intellectual
Selling, persuasive, artful, pushing Telling, explaining, compelling, inspiring

Copy and content: nothing without each other

Things may not be as black and white as the table suggests; the lines are definitely blurred, and it can be argued that some of the aspects compare traditional and content marketing rather than just copy and content.

But overall there are quite a few obvious differences.

So if the old notion that “opposites attract” holds true, I wanted to know what happens when copy and content meet.

To come straight to the point: they go hand in hand.

Copy and content are nothing without each other.

Think about it.

To develop your audience you need to attract it and build trust (according to the table this is where the content comes in) whereas to direct and encourage the sale you need to interrupt and call to action (this is the copy’s work).

For example, a long thought leadership piece (perhaps an e-book or white paper), as relevant and popular as the topic may be, will not attract any interest if it has no structure, no styling, is wordy, full of typos, and fails to call the reader to action!

On the other hand, a super stylish, visually enticing and grammatically flawless email with that big eye catching ‘buy now’ button is likely to be completely worthless if behind that button and image there is no strong brand, or indeed a product that meets your customers’ needs.

In Sonia Simone’s words: “if you do a brilliant job packaging and marketing crap, all you do is efficiently get the word out about how bad your crap is. Not the result you’re looking for”. On the other hand, content without the copywriting art doesn’t convert, as headlines might be dull, call to actions not clear or missing altogether.

“Content without copywriting is a waste of good content” ~ Sonia Simone

 

Or, as Ann Handley puts it:

“You can be a great writer without being a great marketer but you can’t be a great marketer without being a great writer.”

As for my job title and work, my post really helped me bring to light not just some crucial differences between writing copy and content, but also clearly showed me how these two opposites complement each other and work together to attract and convert customers.

What are your thoughts? Does this distinction make sense? Is it necessary?

While to the best of my knowledge, I have not cited any content from the following articles, I have taken lots of inspiration and therefore would like to give credit to and say thanks to:

Image credit: © Tsung-lin Wu | Dreamstime.com


What do you think?

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Charlotte Fleming

November 17, 2016 at 10:02am

Interesting article, and I loved your list of differences. But maybe I’m a bit old-fashioned: to me, the content is “copy”, whatever its purpose.

I was also intrigued by your job title; we obviously do the same thing but come at it from slightly different angles. I call myself a copywriter who specialises in content marketing, but then I’ve always been more of a writer than a strategist!

PRO

Birgit Diggins

December 5, 2016 at 11:21am

Hi Charlotte, thanks so much for your comment, which must have missed the approval queue for some reason as I only just saw it by coincidence. I find your feedback really useful as I still often wonder about my job title. While it really resonates with me, it doesn’t necessarily resonate with clients. So I can see how copywriter who specialises in … may be much clearer/more accessible. Just shows that we always need to put ourselves in the customers’ shoes and put their needs first! Many thanks!

PRO

Gareth Chadwick

December 5, 2016 at 11:06am

Interesting piece Birgit, but a copywriter whose writing does not nail all the points you’ve listed under ‘content’ would be a pretty poor copywriter!

PRO

Birgit Diggins

December 5, 2016 at 11:13am

Thanks very much for your comment, Gareth. I agree with you and think that the point I was trying to make was that indeed both skills need to go hand in hand with each other!

PRO

Geraldine Jones

December 5, 2016 at 5:49pm

I’ve often wondered about the distinction between the two terms, so it’s interesting to see how you’ve separated “copy” from “content”. On the whole I agree with your differences/similarities, but I would argue that ‘landing pages’ also belong under Content as they are inbound by their very nature.

On a separate note, you might want to remove the image credit as there isn’t one!

PRO

Birgit Diggins

December 6, 2016 at 7:23pm

Hi Geraldine, thanks very much for your feedback, which I find very useful and valuable. I definitely agree that you have a point there! Regarding the image credit, that belongs to the image you see on the blog home page, so I think it probably needs to stay (to be on the safe side). Thanks very much!