In a simpler time, a copywriter was called a copywriter. Then along came content. Now a writer can be called anything from a Content Writer and Content Copywriter to Creative Content Writer, Copy/Content Writer, Digital Copywriter and everything in between. Some writers aren’t even called writers. They’re Content Creators or Content Managers.
Confused yet? We don’t blame you.
Knowing the difference between copy and content is one of those things that people question but don’t ask aloud because it seems like the answer should be obvious. Yet it’s a growing source of confusion in the industry. So we thought we’d try to sort it out.
What is copywriting?
Copywriting is the art of strategically driving people into an action of some sort – typically to buy a product or service (but by no means limited to that alone). Copy can sell ideas, values, politics and religion. It can challenge people’s beliefs and change the way people behave.
Copy can be generated for anything from a slogan or strapline to printed ads, scripts, direct mailers, outdoor ads, leaflets, websites…the list goes on. But no matter what form it takes, it typically ‘reaches out’ to people, sometimes unobtrusively meeting them in their world and other times crashing in to be disruptive, noisy and impossible to ignore. The punchline is that copywriting sells.
What is content writing?
Content writing, on the other hand, is more about ‘attracting’ people to your brand and business. Rather than reaching out to sell, it’s designed to draw people in.
Content can sit on websites (like this blog), be part of a brochure, or even a social media post. It’s all written with the purpose of bringing people closer to a brand or business to be informed, enlightened, delighted, entertained – pretty much anything but directly sold to.
On paper the differences might seem easy to distinguish. Copywriting vs content writing is simply a case of persuading vs educating, right?
In reality the lines are heavily blurred. For example, you could argue that content writing employed in a structured inbound marketing funnel is a crucial part of the selling process, albeit indirect. Each piece may be educational in spirit, but there is always a call to action or a strategic link included, and the entire process is designed to lead to an end sale.
It can also be said that before content became a thing, many copywriters were doing both as part of the brief. And for the most part, many still do. Think brochures, information collateral, marketing material, website content.
So unless a copywriter purely writes slogans and ads, chances are they’re also writing a little content somewhere along the line. And unless a content writer is solely producing blogs, ebooks, information pieces, and commentary, they’re probably also writing some copy.
The truth is, advertising writing today involves both ‘selling’ and ‘telling’ customers something. In the end, does it really matter if people understand the difference between them?
Write well, no matter what you’re writing.
It’s certainly helpful to understand where both writing disciplines have come from and where they stand today. But apart from the obvious pitfalls of wrongly advertising a pure Copywriting job as a Content Writing gig (and the other way around), no it’s probably not essential for most people to know the difference between them.
As we’ve established, a lot of writing roles will involve a mix of both. So let’s not be sticklers about this: the most important thing is writing well. Which doesn’t mean simply using spellcheck and putting commas in the right place (that should be a given!), but crafting a message for your audience to achieve the end goal – whatever that may be.
When that’s done well, nothing else really matters.
“The reality is, ad writing today involves both ‘selling’ and ‘telling’ customers something.”