A few months ago, I stumbled across an interesting Moz article entitled “The Marketing Department of the Future.” In this theoretical marketing department, there are four main groups: strategy, creative, communications, and analysis. Within these four, there are various sub-groups and the functions they perform. As a writer, what particularly piqued my interest were the two distinct functions of the creative department: creating both copy and content. Although both refer to the written aspect of a marketer’s job, there is implicitly a difference. So the question is: what is that difference?
The official title of each writer here at Dsquared is “Content Writer.” At other agencies it is likely to be similar: “content manager,” “content marketers,” etc. So what is content, and how is it distinguished from “copy”? The distinction is summed up in one simple phrase: “content aims to inform.” Content usually takes the form of a written blog, but it can also be a video, infographic, or podcast. Any marketing collateral that is used to attract customers through uniquely valuable information can be considered content.
In this way, content is a relatively new idea. It is and parcel of the inbound marketing philosophy. That is, the idea that going out into the world and bombarding consumers with junk mail, spam and commercials no longer works. The rise of digital communications means that your audience has to find you. They find you by typing a relevant keyword into Google (SEO) or stumbling across a Facebook post that went viral (social media marketing). Either way, it’s content that attracts them to your brand.
This leads to copy, which has been the traditional role of writing in the marketing field for decades. There is a reason the creative staff in AMC’s Mad Men are called “copy writers” and not “content writers.” Content as it was previously explained did not exist. Writers were instead tasked with writing magazine ads and scripts for television commercials.
If “content is king,” as the phrase goes, then why is copy still relevant? Because content only does half the job. Content can attract and inform, but by definition it cannot sell. However, writing quality content will keep the consumer engaged with the brand, and eventually they will stumble onto a landing page that convinces them to make a purchase. The product specs, features, and anything written on that page was copy — copy, not content, was responsible for the conversion.
The difference between copy and content may seem like semantics, but the fact remains that writers actually have two jobs: informing and selling. It’s important to distinguish between the two in order to do each effectively. People are unlikely to continue reading a blog post if it is too self-promotional. They will not listen to a podcast if the host continuously interrupts the show and says “buy my product.” Likewise, they will lose interest in a landing page that has no value proposition and no well-written phrase that convinces them to convert.
Here is a rough, general outline of what each aspect entails:
What are your thoughts on the distinction between copy and content? Are they essentially the same or can you see the differences? Share your opinions with us!