Copywriting and Content Marketing: The Key Differences
Let’s get this straight – content marketing (when delivered in the form of blog posts) cannot exist without copywriting. This is because ‘copy’ essentially refers to words on a page – be it digital or paper.
The very post you’re reading now is a form of copywriting. But it’s also content marketing.
You’d be forgiven for scratching your head at this juncture and wondering how on earth the two practices can differ if they inherently rely on one another. But they really are very different indeed.
To create great content marketing, you need to be able to string together sentences in a meaningful fashion. That’s copywriting in its most basic form, but this type of word construction goes far deeper than that and, when discussed in the context of marketing, relates to something else entirely.
What is copywriting?
If you run a business, you’ll have products or services you need to sell in order to make a profit. To do that, you need to engage with your target market and prove to them that you have answers for their burning questions.
Typically, this form of selling is initially performed with words. They may be on a website, PDF brochure or contained within a television or radio advert. Wherever they’re placed and however they’re communicated, they will have been devised by a copywriter with one goal in mind: promotion.
Copywriting is about writing words that sell.
Old tradition, same rules
Copywriting is a traditional phase that harks back to the early days of commerce. If you’ve ever watched Mad Men, you’ll know how prominently the skill featured in the boom time of advertising agencies in the 60s and 70s. Snappy headlines, attention-grabbing straplines and product descriptions that wooed audiences were the holy grail, and they still are today.
When performed poorly, copywriting can have the opposite effect. A hastily thrown-together bunch of paragraphs on a website strewn with errors and clumsy sentences will do nothing more than increase bounce rates. Similarly, an ill-judged play on words can alienate and – at worse – offend the target audience.
Think of great copywriting as you would a beautifully painted picture. Words need to be as attractive as the images they accompany, which is why copywriting will forever remain a vital aspect of marketing.
What is content marketing?
The internet is a noisy place. If you’re searching for an answer to a specific problem, the first bunch of results you’re presented with on Google is akin to a beauty parade. Which one stands out? Which one appears to be offering you an answer to your conundrum? They’re all vying for your attention and doing their best to shout as loud as possible.
The eventual link you click will likely take you to a blog post. And that post will do one of two things; it’ll either force you to click the back button, quickly, or draw you in with a compelling answer to your question. If it’s the latter, those behind the post have nailed their content marketing campaign.
It’s important to note at this juncture that content comes in many forms. While we’re focussing primarily on blogging, the prevalence of video content, podcasting and imagery all play an identical role to that of words.
Content marketing is designed to inspire, share knowledge and build loyal followings.
Is content marketing new?
Nope. Just as copywriting is steeped in history and tradition, the practice of copywriting has existed for decades. Look no further than the famous agricultural manufacturer, John Deere, who launched The Furrow magazine in 1895 with the sole aim of raising the profile of the company by offering actionable advice for farmers. It worked, spectacularly, and still exists today.
The long game
On face value, content marketing appears to be completely counterintuitive. It focuses on positioning businesses as experts within their field by producing regular, unique, helpful content that does nothing more than provide answers to questions posed by their target market.
For example, a diamond ring retailer may focus its content marketing efforts on offering actionable advice for choosing the best engagement rings and explaining the differences between the types of metal from which jewelry is made. At no time during that process will they pitch their own products.
Sound daft? That’s understandable if you come from a traditional sales background. In those environments, you’re taught to grab every opportunity and use every trick in the book to elicit a sale. In content marketing, you have to adopt the ‘slowly, slowly, catch a monkey’ mindset. Those sales will come, but it takes time.
Content marketing is a long game because it relies on building a layer of trust between the business and potential customer. The latter starts off curious, finds help, acts on said help, desires more help and continues this process until they utterly trust the provider. At that stage, a switch can be flicked and full sales mode engaged.
For content marketing to be truly successful, it needs to be adopted company-wide. That means creating a culture that accepts that it will take some time to build an audience and one which encourages everyone within the organization to get involved in the content marketing effort.
So, what separates content marketing from copywriting?
Content marketing is about educating first and selling later. Copywriting aims to sell, immediately.
We could end the assessment there, but there’s a little more to it.
Three key differences between content marketing and copywriting
Despite the obvious links between the two practices, if you’re responsible for copywriting, and the person next to you is shouldering the burden of content marketing, you’ll have rather different priorities.
We’ve picked out what we believe to be the three key differences between content marketing and copywriting.
Long-term engagement vs quick-fire sales
If you’re tasked with writing a piece of copy for a new product, it has one purpose – to encourage the people reading it to reach for their hard earned money and send it your way. It’s a simple premise, but one that requires great skill to get right; there’s an incredibly fine line between tempting someone to buy and turning them off entirely.
Content marketing, on the other hand, seeks long-term engagement. It doesn’t ask its audience to do anything drastic or make any immediate decisions – it simply encourages them to stay in touch and read future content in the full knowledge that, eventually, they may well turn into a customer.
Neither practice is foolproof, nor do they guarantee results, but of the two, content marketing usually offers greater longevity when it comes to customer engagement and retention.
Knowledge sharing vs telling
Copywriting plays a vital role in the advertising of a product or service. In order for prospects to turn into customers, the words have to be succinct and capable of breaking down features and benefits into digestible, engaging sentences. Copywriting tells a story.
By contrast, content marketing plays an advisory role. It’s there to help the audience answer burning questions and it does this by willfully sharing knowledge and advising on best practices. Think of content marketing as the helpful friend who’s always on hand, whenever you have a query that needs addressing.
A copywriter sells, whereas a content marketer makes recommendations. Two very different things indeed.A copywriter sells, whereas a content marketer makes recommendations.Click To Tweet
Knowledge sharing vs promotion
Anyone who is from a traditional sales background may struggle to comprehend the benefits of a form of marketing that rarely – if ever – mentions the products offered by the business, but face-to-face sales tasks in the modern age are increasingly forced to take this content marketing approach.
Consumers are tiring of traditional sales techniques, preferring instead to drive the process themselves by proactive seeking answers to their questions. As a result, the salespeople that can advise honestly and without immediately reaching for their brochure are likely to be far more successful.
This is where content marketing and copywriting work hand-in-hand; the former is unafraid to share it’s most valuable secrets, while the latter promotes the solutions. It’s just important to bear in mind that those solutions may not be of interest early on in the buying cycle when the prospect simply wants to increase their knowledge of a subject.
Again, patience is a virtue!
Hopefully, you’re no longer scratching your head. Content marketing and copywriting rely on one another but are two very different marketing practices. The former requires patience, planning and a deep understanding of the target market, while the latter can be considered more of a traditional salesperson, tasked with achieving quick wins by telling engaging stories about products and services.
We now live in a consumer-driven society where online reviews and tireless research inform buying decisions. This makes both content marketing and copywriting equally relevant, but for entirely different reasons.
As people research answers to their questions, they need help. That’s where content marketing comes in. Once they’ve found help and identified that a purchase is required, they need convincing of the best product to go for. At this stage of the buyer cycle, great copywriting ensures they’re hooked in at the earliest opportunity.
Businesses that combine the best elements of content marketing with brilliant copywriting will ensure they keep the modern, inquisitive consumer firmly within their grasp. Sure – it’ll take time (sometimes, months), but if you’re prepared to educate first and sell later, you stand a chance of making it in the digital economy.