Content Vs. Copy: What's the Difference?

If you don't have time to read this post, here's the gist: Content Tells & Copy Sells. Read on for a more detailed explanation!

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I've noticed that Content and Copy are often used interchangeably by clients and many people in the business world. It's no surprise; few people know the difference.

And that's such a shame! Since there's a large difference in both the purpose of each one, and the skillset needed to write them, it's really useful to know how and why they're different.

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This is key if you're planning to write your own business messaging, but it's arguably even more important if you're looking to hire a writer to help with your communications. Writer ≠ the ability to sell your product or service. 'Writer' is a general term; it does not mean that everyone who writes can communicate your business to your customer.

So, here's a basic breakdown of what Content is and what Copy is - hopefully helping clarify which one you need for your project and to achieve your biz goals. 

Content (Tells)

  • Content is the written word (and other forms of communication - we'll get to that) used to inform, inspire or entertain the reader.
  • It is taking a subject, potentially a complicated one, and explaining it in a way that the reader will be able to understand it.
  • This subject is - in some way - related to your business, but is not necessarily about your business.
  • It could be explaining research and facts, sometimes it is ideas and thoughts, sometimes it's trends, sometimes it's case studies, sometimes it's a story.
  • Its purpose is relationship building, intended to build an audience.
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  • Content used to be in the form of books, magazines, and white papers.
  • Now it's more likely to mean something digital; blog posts, downloadable guides, an email series, a video explainer, a webinar, an infographic, social media posts, a listicle and so on.
  • Content should be crafted in an engaging way, one that has personality and a strong 'voice'. (For the record, so should Copy.)
  • It is about forming a relationship with the reader or listener (vs. directly selling to them).
  • It is not about bragging or focusing on your business.
  • Good content builds this relationship with the reader and leaves them with an emotive response. For example, a positive feeling about a company, a sense of trust in their expertise, a sense of familiarity and likability.

Here's the biggie: Content is all about your reader not you.

Copy (Sells)

  • Copy, on the other hand, is using the written word in order to sell something directly.
  • It is interruptive. It is not usually writing (reading) that is sought out for pleasure!
  • A good copywriter, therefore, should be able to communicate what the benefits of a product or service are in a succinct and persuasive way.
  • It is short, smart & snappy. "To the point". It is your product descriptions, book synopses, blog post titles, email subject lines, Facebook ads, bus stop ads, magazine covers.
  • It is encouraging you to take an action.
  • It is not (usually) your about page or social media posts. Your Twitter, LinkedIn & Facebook posts should be 80%+ content, not copy.
  • Good copy pushes the readers emotional buttons, honing in on their needs and desires. It speaks to them in a way that makes them feel listened to and understood, leaving them with the feeling "I need this [product / service] in my life. Now!" 
  • Copy is usually obvious; it is benefit-driven and feels more salesy. There will also be several calls-to-action* included.*A 'Call to Action' is simply an action that the reader is encouraged to take, such as 'Buy Now', 'Sign Up', 'Register for 10% off', 'Find out more' etc.
  • Whilst Content is all about your reader, Copy is all about YOU. It's your permission to boast.

Content and copy are not mutually exclusive. Many marketing campaigns will - and should - include both. But understanding the difference and knowing how to use each one strategically is helpful in achieving your goals.

Any questions? Fire away!